People often ask me what I get up to in my job and when they do (and even if they don’t) I go ahead and entertain them with lively anecdotes about motoring adventures in exciting destinations such as, to offer a few recent examples, Liverpool’s vibrant waterfront and the city’s tranquil Wirral hinterland, the challenging hill roads outside Barcelona, or the seemingly endless metropolis of Shanghai.
Well, this week I nearly squashed a Yorkshire terrier in Penge (as opposed to a Penge terrier in Yorkshire which, I concede, would make for a better story).
The yappy 6-inch tall mini-mutt was no match for the BMW’s 19-inch “bicolour” silver and jet black “799 M double-spoke” alloy wheels, and I am glad that dog and machine never came into contact. The screaming owner’s contorted face will stay with me for the rest of my days. Thank goodness I missed the Yorkie only by about a couple of yards.
That, though, is not the only memorable thing about the BMW Z4. It’s handsome for another thing. If you tick the right option boxes, as the BMW press team did with this test car, you can create an-almost entirely black “edition”. This lends the Z4 even more of the air of a stealthy night beast, a black panther of the roads, though I hasten to add not one with pedigree toy dogs as its ideal prey.
BMW Z4 sDrive 30i MSport 2.0i
Price: £47,685 (as tested. Range starts at £36,000)
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre petrol; 4-cylinder; 8-speed auto
Power output (hp): 258
Top speed (mph): 149
0-60mph (seconds): 6.6
Fuel economy (mpg): 38.7
CO2 emissions (g/km, WLTP): 170
The traditional BMW grille has been adapted so that the usual vertical slats are replaced with a honeycomb pattern within each half of the “kidney” design. It’s got the same sharp “nose” that the finest BMW sports cars and saloons have boasted since the 1960s, only now it’s wider and lower slung.
So, yes, the Z4 looks better than any of its rivals, up to and including the Porsche Boxster, a sales sensation that has robbed BMW of much of the Z4’s clientele over the years. This new model should help them win a few back.
The problem for BMW is whether to accept the challenge of engineering a car that is as hard-charging and sporty as the Porsche, thus going head-to-head with a very accomplished competitor; or whether to veer off to the softer, grand tourer side of things, sniffing around the sort of folk who might usually buy a Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar.
This time BMW seem to have defied conventional wisdom and attempted to do both. They’ve succeeded.
The looks certainly help, as it is better styled and thus more desirable than its rivals – and this is especially crucial in this “look-at-me” part of the marketplace. However, it also drives and rides exceptionally well. It does everything, in fact, superbly well.
Now, it is fair to say that the smaller-engined four cylinder version of the Z4 doesn’t offer the same sort of outright acceleration on the straight as a Boxster, but the six cylinder certainly does. Yet in either case, the Z4 is plenty rapid enough and handles just as sweetly as any hot hatch, and its owners will rarely get into trouble, unless they are reversing carelessly in a suburban street populated by dogs well below the radar.
But it is the ride and the stance that really makes the difference. It is set just right above the ground to make ingress and egress easy and progress, on any of the variable suspension settings, is invariably rapid but cushy. The underpinnings of the Z4 are shared with the Toyota Supra, so the huge development costs can be spread and the results of the two brand’s co-operation are impressive.
I suspect BMW know that their audience is an older one, less agile than they used to be, and it generally has the feel of a car built for the boulevardiers of West Coast America. Which is fine. It is like the nicest soft leather sofa you can imagine being propelled, without crises or spilling your drinks, to about 150mph. Boris and Carrie should try it.
Indoors, the atmosphere is almost unnaturally calm (in the Z4 rather than Camberwell) and, specced up, you can have head up display, a heated steering wheel and premium Harman Kardon sound system. There’s a clever wild defector at the back of the tiny cabin, which stops things getting too blustery for the occupants when the electric canvas roof is wound down.
At about £50,000 the Z4 represents the sweetest of sweet spots in the new car market. That is certainly not cheap – but it is value for money in the sense that it gives its driver an extraordinary amount of pleasure for the price.
It is, in other words, and allowing for everything, one of the best value cars out there – and you can get the wind in your hair. Or, if it’s too late for that, feel the thrill of your syrup giving way at twice the legal speed limit*.