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BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) review

Published:19 March 2009

BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
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  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

It says something that the first-generation BMW Z4 is already off-sale, yet it still looks ahead of its time, and is still fun to drive. The second-generation model, then, has quite an act to follow. CAR has just driven it, in twin turbo 35i trim – a 23i and 30i are also available – and we can report that it’s a very good car, but quite a departure from the model it replaces.

This new BMW Z4 looks a bit bigger to me...

It is. The old 3.0-litre soft-top was 4091mm long, 1781mm wide and 1299mm tall and weighed 1340kg, where the new one is 148mm longer, 9mm wider, but 9mm lower, and a full 240kg heavier. The proportions are similar – especially that cartoonishly long snout and the doors’ side scallop – but the rear is less truncated than before, giving more luggage space.

And some stowage capability for that folding hard-top, I’d say.

Indeed. This compact two-piece roof folds quickly (around 20 seconds) and neatly into the boot (the rear screen section first lifts up to sit on top of the roof, then both sections drop into the boot) at the press of a button, but only if the roof storage tray is in place. This tray ensures that no luggage will get in the roof’s way (and in doing so reduces stowage space from 310 to 180 litres) but has to be manually put in place even if the boot’s empty. You also can’t open or close the roof unless you’re completely stationary – because the process would momentarily obscure the rear parking brake, apparently.

There are worse hardships in this world, sure, but it can be quite annoying to be forced to come to a complete stop, press the button, then find that your empty boot won’t accept the roof because the tray isn’t in place.

Roof up, it’s coupe quiet, and with it down you’re very well protected from the airflow, even at high speed.

>> Click 'Next' below to read how the new BMW Z4 is on the road

   

How does it drive?

Drive quickly over challengingly twisty roads and the new Z4 will do a passable impression of being a good driver’s car. It isn’t, but it’s still a lot of fun and no doubt the perfect compromise for the Z4’s intended customers – more on them later.

The front feels a long way away, and you soon learn that the Z4 driving experience is all about getting the front-end tucked in, rather than playing with the rear. Push harder and that feeling is borne out. There’s a high level of grip from the front, with an easy-to-read limit that eventually smears into light understeer, from which point the rear feels primed for action. Sadly, it never wants to really play (blame the lack of a limited slip differential and quite a sleepy twin turbo power delivery for that), but the overall balance still feels pretty engaging.

Despite the weight and the open top, the Z4 also feels very together and not at all wobbly when pushed hard.

Who are these new customers, then?

They’re a softer, more mature breed this time around, the kind of people who might also consider a Mercedes SL, but can’t stretch to the £63k starting price, but want more space than the SLK can summon.

They – like us – will love the Z4’s up-to-the-minute looks and the interior, which is a huge step forward from the old model. The cabin feels a little less cramped than before, is visually exciting and both the materials and technology on offer are leagues ahead of what went before – a fairly flaky concoction mated to BMW’s elderly pre-iDrive tech.

The drivetrain and chassis is also perfectly chosen. We sampled the dual-clutch transmission and it is sublimely refined, being fast and smooth on the move. It’s also perfect for low-speed manoeuvring – no judder, no shuntiness – with a seamless hill hold function. Not so good are the Porsche PDK-style rocker switches on the steering wheel where a pull on the paddle takes you up a gear, a push takes you back down. What’s wrong with conventional paddles?

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our BMW Z4 sDrive35i first drive

What about the rest of the drive?

The rest of the driving experience is as refined as the brilliant DCT gearbox. The brakes are effective, but extremely relaxed in their initial responses, the seats are softer than those in comparable Porsches and the ride is far more civilised than the old car too. But it doesn’t have to be, because this Z4 gets adaptable damping. Normal gives you a wafty ride, Audi TT-lite steering and a relaxed gearbox map for in-town pootling. Sport is the best all-rounder with a slightly firmer (though perfectly acceptable for passengers) chassis setting, more reassuringly hefty steering and a sportier gearbox setting. Sport Plus ramps things up a little further with a hyperactive transmission and overly bumpy ride. All in, though, it’s a well-thought out system.

The engine is smooth, torquey and pretty punchy without being gobsmackingly rapid nor as sonorous as Munich’s naturally aspirated units.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a drop-top driver’s car, you’ve come to the wrong place. The Z4 is the kind of car that will dazzle inexperienced drivers over a mountain road, yet leave keen drivers mildly amused but ultimately craving a little more interaction.

However, it’s perfectly judged for its intended clientele – refined, eye-catching, an event to drive, very well made – and the folding roof is good, despite the few niggles outlined above. Just don’t go expecting the old Z4. When you’ve got a tough act to follow, it seems, sometimes the best response is not to follow it at all.

>> Still want that SLK or TT, or craving that Porsche Boxster ever more? Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say

Specs

Price when new: £37,060
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2979cc 24v twin-turbo straight-six, 302bhp @ 5800rpm, 295lb ft @ 1300rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 5.1sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 31.4mpg, 210g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1580kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4239/1790/1291

Rivals

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  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009) CAR review

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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