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Roadsters… ah… what cars. Driving a roadster is perhaps the closest you can come to feel like riding a motorcycle but with four wheels and a steering wheel. The wind in your hair, the organic oneness with nature, and the gasps on the road are part and parcel of the roadster experience. And while there are many cars that try to pull off this ‘sacred’ act, not many come close to the OG- Z. BMW Z. In this particular case, the new BMW Z4 M40i that we recently got to drive.
That is a tall claim but the stature and the legacy of the BMW Z4 is more than enough to stake that claim. How many times have you seen 007 go topless (in perhaps the only way it matters to us petrolheads)? Not many. And the few times it has happened, Bond found himself at the helm of a BMW Z. The Z3 in Golden Eye (1995) and the Z8 in The World is Not Enough (1999).
Heck, even our desi Greek God found himself driving one in probably one of the most iconic songs of the 2000s. In the blockbuster film that we shall not name, the better Hrithik Roshan drove a BMW Z3. I think just these 2 examples are enough to ascertain the popularity that the BMW Z series has been enjoying for a while. Now before we start to talk about the latest iteration, let’s talk a little bit about what the Z is all about.
Starting with the name itself, Z in the name stands for Zukunft which is German for the future. Pretty self-explanatory. If it isn’t, Google BMW Z1 and you’ll know. That is a car from 1989, mind you. It was then followed by the aforementioned Z3 which we believe has been the most popular Z. Of course, there was the Z8 which is arguably the best looking Z, but it was a limited run. In fact, it was touted to be just a styling exercise but the foundation laid by the Z3 and the fresh design of the Z8 meant that the demand was high and the propeller Marquee had to oblige.
And finally, the BMW Z4 came out in 2002 and since then, there have been 3 generations of the car with the 3rd being the latest and the one that we got to drive. We have driven the Z4 quite a few times before both, in India and abroad. We’ve always been fond of the German seriousness mixed with the roadster playfulness and the overall approach of the car. Not a lot of things in this world can evoke that guttural feeling of happiness. Not a lot of people even know that feeling but take the Z4 for a drive on some scenic routes and you’ll know exactly what we are on about.
The new Z4 was a long time coming and it sure took its own time. It seems like a lot if you consider the fact that it has been in development (jointly with Toyota) since 2013! But then, the kind of brand that BMW is and the level at which they play, it is justifiable that they spent a good amount of time on a car that is supposed to carry forward the Z legacy.
Coming to the visuals, the usual identifiers of the Z4s of the past have been the long snout, a short tail, sharp-ish headlamps, slightly rounded lines and, of course, the kidney grille. The latest Z4, especially the Z4 M40i, is perhaps the most significant overhaul of the design across all the prior generations. The Z4 of the today is more angular, more aggressive in both stance and design elements, and quite a bit more purposeful looking.
The easiest change to spot is the kidney grille which instead of vertical bars from the past, uses a mesh design. There are sharp style lines everywhere, from the hood to the sides and all the way to the back. It is a much busier looking design which, since executed tastefully, works in expressing the aggression that the new Z4 supposedly flaunts.
The highbrow headlight with beautiful DRLs complement the sporty front bumper very well and with the top down, the Z4 M40i looks the most like a supercar among its predecessors. The roof this time around is a retractable soft-top instead of a hardtop. And since it is black, it gels with the ‘Frozen Orange’ M40i that we got to drive.
Having a retractable hardtop may have its own advantages, but none trumps a lower centre of gravity and less weight. Form and function come together and the only place where form seemed to have jumped off a cliff is at the rear. Yes, it retains the iconic Z silhouette but it could have been done a little differently.
Personally, we really like how the design flows and more importantly, it has a lot of potential. In the past, BMW has used the Z4 as a base to make GT competition cars and a big-a** spoiler on the rear and a wide-body kit is the potential we’re talking about. It’ll probably be the sickest-looking Z competition car ever made!
Moving on to the performance, because if cars only had to look good, they would probably stay in the concept stage and we’d see a new one every day. They have to go like that too. In the case of the Z4, we have the ‘basic’ sDrive variants and their ‘basicness’ shows as well. What we drove, the M40i is the cream in both looks and, of course, performance.
Before we even start this bit we’ll have you know that the sDrive variants are roadsters, lookers, and have decent performance so if you want your roadster for flaunting, that’s the direction you head towards and save some money in the process. If you’re serious about driving… serious driving the M40i is what you want. The ‘M’ explains a lot but we’ll try our best as well.
Let’s talk engine first. The BMW Z4 M40i is powered by a 3.0L twin-turbo inline 6. It is good for 500 Nm of torque which is very well spread between 1,600 rpm and 4,500 rpm where the peak is. The peak power, 340 bhp of it, arrives between 5,000-6,500 rpm. That is lofty for a car but anyway, the car can rev up to 7,000 rpm, a spot you’d like to visit very often because of the aural kick. And because you’re in a roadster, it is even better.
The power and torque figure are ample for a car of this class and it shows in the real world. The Z4 M40i is capable of a lot of fun if you want it that way. BMW claims 0-100 km/h in 4.5s for this car. We neither contested that claim nor tested it. We just had fun. It accelerates briskly and the 8-Speed Steptronic Sport transmission is more than enough to keep the fun going.
The way this engine has been tuned, it seems BMW tried to give you the best of both worlds where you get actual drivability because of the torque available from just 1,600 rpm and then some rev-bombing fun as high in the rev-range is where you find the proverbial ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’.
Rear-wheel drive means that there’s a lot of power being transmitted to just one set of wheels so you may have to hold those horses back a hair so as to avoid seeing the tail of the car. It can be done voluntarily but we are not sure if we have the roads for that. At any rate, the engine is more than capable of delivering some tail-out fun in addition to actual, civil, leisurely driving.
We’ve come across quite a few people who were not big fans of the multi-faceted engine and took the comparison straight to an M2. So, a somewhat similar engine (with generational differences probably) powers the M2 so you know that the engine is capable of producing power north of 400 horses.
The M40i makes less but honestly, we’ve driven an M4 so we can tell you how focussed those cars are. The Z4 M40i is not a full-fledged M but is garnished with some M performance bits to just enhance the experience a little more. It is not a racetrack demon and it is not supposed to be. What you expect a vehicle to do and what it is meant to do may never coincide unless you try to understand and adapt. Once you do, the Z4 is nearly flawless.
Onwards to handling then. We consider ourselves lucky in the sense that we got to drive the Z4 of the prior generation in the Alps and this one in the ghats of Maharashtra. Both are places where you can experience the engineering that goes into making these cars so much fun to drive. And the new Z4 is undoubtedly the better one. Simply put, it is down to the lighter weight and lower CoG because of the soft top and the M-Performance parts as well, of course!
We found the steering of the Z4 to be pretty well sorted. It is quick and it is easy to point the front of the car wherever you want to go and the Z4 tracks the line of your choice effortlessly… well, almost. It is not all nervous and darty, it is simply responsive.
We just wish it was a little more communicative but we are of the opinion that the electrification (not the powertrain) will keep chipping off at the organic driving experience. Personally, we’d take more safety over that any day but still, a car that looks this good and with an engine that good, one would want it to talk a little more.
The suspension system is where you fall in love with it. It firms up and eases down depending on the modes and the driving style and it works surprisingly well both ways. In flowing corners, it is taut and devoid of that shaky feeling and on bad roads, it is so supple that it is perplexing. Those who compared this car to the M2, show it some bad roads and you’ll know what you want. Brakes come from the M-performance bin and therefore, there is nothing more you could ask for. You ask and it stops.
So the Z4 M40i is much better in terms of engine and dynamics when compared to the older Zs but even in general, this is a very enjoyable and a very approachable sports car. Accelerates well, sounds awesome, is composed during spirited rides and keeps you composed on less-than-ideal surfaces. There’s not a lot more you could ask for but BMW will give it to you regardless.
What we mean by that is the loaded interior. Let’s start with the most obvious bit, the roof. With the top down, the wind management inside the cabin is surprisingly good and despite being ‘open’ to nature, you are fairly well cocooned. The innards are spacious as well. We feel that the Z4 M40i will be fairly accommodating for people up to 6-feet tall beyond which things may get a little stuffy.
Predictably, with the roof down, things are even better inside the cabin and luxury car connoisseurs will not find a lot to complain about. We aren’t that and we prefer to keep the top down. Another good bit is that since it isn’t a hardtop, it does not eat into the boot space which is already pretty generous. The fabric roof folds into its own compartment and you have all of the 281 litres of the boot space to yourself. That private compartment for the roof is perhaps the reason for the slightly odd rear.
Moving on, the rest of the cabin, from the dash to the seats are also typical BMW. What we particularly liked is that the whole cabin feels bespoke to the Z. It isn’t your typical parts bin salvage job. We are hard workers and we like hard work. And there’s a lot that has gone on in here.
And finally, we have the iDrive system which is exactly the electrification we referred to earlier. A system with two screens (one for the instrument and one touchscreen for car controls) is what occupies the dash and it is beautiful to look at and intuitive to deal with. It may take a while though because the plethora of features it boasts of are not for impatient ones. Though a regular speedo and tacho with actual needles would have been more… full of feeling. We miss analogue stuff sometimes.
And hey, let’s not forget the 12-speaker Harman Kardon speaker setup. If you aren’t driving it like a sports car and there’s no engine noise to giggle to, the sound system is enough for the best possible (with an open-top) experience of your favourite songs. We recommend Kurt Cobain singing the Nirvana song- The Man Who Sold The World… I searched for form and land… For years and years, I roamed…
Anyway, so there you have it, folks. The lowdown of the Z4 M40i. But you know what, there’s something that we’d like to put out there. Many people have compared the Z4 to the M2 because of similar engines and whatnot without understanding the purpose of each car. The Z4 may not beat the M2 on the racetrack but take them both out for a leisurely drive in mixed conditions and let us know which one you enjoyed more.
Another ‘very popular’ comparison is with the new Supra and why not, the platform is the same after all. Let us tell you this, the Supra was one of the spearheads of the Tuner culture or the Japanese sports car culture. And invariably, the new one also follows the same ethos and despite the shared platform, these are monumentally different cars in terms of the experience. Supra is a car that is more akin to its own culture ie Japan’s tuner culture and the Z4 more akin to its own European roots. You catch our drift… or should we say Tokyo Drift? In conclusion, a lot of people say that the Z4 is no Supra and we agree. But the Supra is no Z4 either and if even if you don’t concur, take a test ride you’ll know what we’re on about.