BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) review

Published:22 June 2009

BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

BMW's new twin-turbo sDrive35i Z4 has garnered all of the headlines so far, but how does the Z4 at the other end of the price spectrum deliver? BMW claims there are no current plans for a four-cylinder version of the new Z4, so for now this 204bhp 23i version is the entry-level roadster. Read on to find out if it's any good.

Z4 sDrive23i? Looks like the password to my online bank account.

Yes, it’s a stupid name, but the important bit is the 23 suffix, which signifies the engine under that long bonnet. But in typical BMW style the 23 is misleading and the naturally aspirated straight-six actually displaces not 2.3 litres but 2.5, enough for 204bhp.

No turbos, just 204bhp! I’m losing interest.

Hang on, this is a BMW engine we’re talking about. The 23i makes up in smoothness and economy (33mpg) what it lacks in punch, and anyway it feels amply quick from the driving seat. Sixty rocks up in 6.6sec and the top speed is only 4mph short of requiring an electronic limiter. The bigger engines go fast for less effort but you can rag the 23i harder because you need to which gets you more involved in the drive.

Involved? That wasn’t a word you used in the 35i review, except maybe preceded by ‘un’.

If you’re looking for Boxster-style engagement, you won’t find it here. The Z4 feels more like a really well sorted saloon than a sports car. The steering is meaty and accurate but rather dead, the handling is nose led and washes out into understeer at the limit without even a suggestion that you might want to drive it on the throttle.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our BMW Z4 sDrive 23i first drive

You might as well stop writing now.

Give me a chance to get to the good bits, like the blend of ride comfort and body control, which is perfectly judged for a car intended for everyday use. Noise levels are low too, and the cabin build quality is way ahead of the old Z4’s cheap-feeling interior, with hints of BMW’s old Z8 roadster. The four circular air-con controls that mimic an old sports car’s supplementary gauges are a nice touch and the real instruments are much larger and easier to read than before.

You certainly feel like you’re in a sports car, too: drop the seat to its lowest setting and sub-6-footers will struggle to see over the scuttle.

And the roof?

It takes 20 seconds to complete a cycle – twice as long as the old cloth-topped first-generation Z4 needed – but is very quiet in operation and, once in place, makes the cabin feel as safe and refined as a coupe’s, although we did notice a few creaks over bumps. As with an SLK, you need to have the luggage cover in place before the roof can be stowed. Boot space is nearly 30-litres down on an SLK’s.


The 23i makes the most sense of all the Z4s. At under £29k, it’s cheap enough not to have to deal with more involving sports cars like the Porsche Boxster, yet you still get the same impressive refinement, mini-SL looks, and proper sports car performance. You wouldn’t want to take it to a track day or set the alarm at 6am to paste it across an empty B-road, but does that matter to you? If it does, save for the Porsche. For everyone else, the Z4 23i makes a great buy.

>> Click 'Add your comment' and let us know what you think of BMW's Z4 sDrive 23i


Price when new: £28,650
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2497cc 6-cyl 24v petrol, 204bhp @ 6400rpm, 184lb ft @ 2750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.6sec 0-62mph, 151mph, 33mpg, 199g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1480kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4239/1790/1291


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  • BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 23i (2009) CAR review

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker