What if I told you that the new BMW Z4 is also a…Toyota? A German company famed for building the ultimate driving machines and a Japanese firm renowned for their ultra-reliable, value-for-money offerings have something in common? Surely not, you would think — but you would be wrong. You see, Toyota used to make a legendary sportscar called the Supra, and it wanted to resurrect that badge. BMW discontinued its own Z4 a few years ago, and it too was thinking about bringing that model back. Toyota was on the lookout for a partner, in order to reduce costs; BMW had an excellent 6-cylinder engine available and also wanted to save some money. The upshot was that the companies met, BMW offered the engine (plus the gearbox, chassis and electronics), and the two shook hands and then went their separate ways to interpret these components in the way each saw it fit.
The German end of this collaboration is the car I took for a spin; of course (Toyota will never launch the Supra here, not in a million years). If you were a fan of the older Z4, you’ll immediately recognise that the new one looks totally different — so different, in fact, that it’s probably the least BMW-looking model in its entire portfolio. Gone are the swooping curves of the previous car, the lot replaced with angular lines and aggressive slashes, with a prominent ‘power bump’ on the bonnet; BMW’s signature kidney-shaped split grille has a new touch as well, with a mesh pattern rather than the vertical slats that the brand is associated with. From the side, it remains a roadster (a convertible with two seats) in the classic sense — a long bonnet and a short rear end — and its best view is arguably from the rear threequarters, where it makes its sporting intentions clear. This is a car that divided opinion when it was launched last year — purists said it looked too ‘Japanese’, while others were won over by what they felt was a fresh design. Personally, I think it looks distinctive enough to make a case for itself.
The evidence of the confectionery, as it were, is in the driving, a department that BMW prides itself on, regardless of the model. The previous model — was criticised for being a little ‘soft’, so BMW made a few changes to this model — lots of aluminium bits to save on weight, a shorter wheelbase, a suspension set-up with a 50:50 weight distribution and an electronically-controlled active rear differential, set up for optimum traction and control. In India, the Z4 is available in two guises — the M40i, with a 3-litre, turbocharged 6-cylinder engine that puts out 340 hp and 500 Nm of torque and the sDrive20i, which is considerably less powerful and hence not worth getting into here (sue me, I’m a power fiend). The M40i fires up with a deep rumble that’s quite understated, to the point of being a little surprising; I expected it to sound more raucous. The 8-speed automatic gearbox gets things moving, and then you’re off.
The Z4 is perfectly happy to bumble along in slow-moving traffic, which makes it very useable on a daily basis if you were to so choose (may as well arrive at the office like a boss, eh?). In Eco Pro and Comfort mode, it keeps things nice and smooth, with the steering wheel lightening up to allow for effort-free use. Although it’ll do this all day if necessary, it would be a crime to not seek out some open roads (preferably with twists and turns in them) and flog the car, since that is what it was built for. With a long enough straight in front of you and the car in Sport Plus mode (with the engine, gearbox, steering and suspension at their most aggressive settings), slam the accelerator downwards and the Z4 is transformed. The rear squats, shimmies ever so slightly and then you blast off, with the engine now singing at the top of its voice, and 100 kph coming up in 4.5 seconds. Keep going for as long as you dare and you’ll see a top speed of 250 kph (I take no responsibility for the consequences of such behaviour). The most striking aspect of this engine is its torquey nature — from about 1700 rpm all the way to around 5000 rpm, the flat torque delivery makes near-instant acceleration and overtaking a breeze.
For the full roadster experience, you should drop the top so you can maximise the soundtrack and then head to your friendly neighbourhood twisties, where you can encourage the Z4 to dance. Once you begin throwing it around, you’ll appreciate its balance and the confidence with which it approaches dives into and exits corners. It must be said here that although the changes BMW has made to the car have definitely made it a far more capable handler, it’s not what you would call razor-sharp — that kind of territory is still the singular domain of the Porsche 718 Boxster, which feels like it’s linked directly to your brain. The Z4 has a meaty steering wheel, and it gives you enough feedback about the proceedings, and the car has generous amounts of grip, but it’s clearly been engineered to primarily be a boulevard cruiser that can also bare its teeth if required. The ride quality shows this to be the case too — it’s well-damped, and even through some of our legendary potholes, it doesn’t crash or thud sickeningly.
Sitting in the snug cabin, you’ll appreciate BMW’s attention to detail and the all-round high-quality bits. You can, of course, order various options, but even in standard M40i spec, you’ll have everything you need — sports seats, an excellent audio system, a head-up display, digital screens, a raft of safety features, BMW’s Personal Assistant and enough storage for a weekend trip for two. The only niggle I found was the unusual manner in which the speedo and tacho counters (both digital) are arranged — they’re semi-hexagonal, with opposed needles, and it’s a little difficult to get an idea of what’s going on at a glance. This is partly fixed by the head-up display, but it would still have been nice to have more conventional dials.
At 78.9 lakh rupees, ex-showroom, the new Z4 is a plaything for the well-heeled, naturally — it will almost certainly be the third or even the fourth car in a well-stocked garage. Its competition, principally the Porsche 718 Boxster and the Jaguar F-Type, are more expensive, but also more involving machines — the Boxster is the gold standard in driving dynamics, and the F-Type is an old-school bruiser, offering lots of drama. That said, the Z4 will offer most things to most people, and for that alone, it’s appropriate to congratulate BMW on a job very well done.
2998CC 6-Cylinder Petrol
Rs 78.9 lakh, Ex-showroom
All-round capability combined with ease of use
Slightly lacking in driving feel
Hud, BMW personal assistant, Sports Seats, Digital Displays