There's something about a two-seat roadster that makes you want to go driving for no other reason. The latest BMW Z4 now comes in three guises and having already driven the range-topping M40i, we turn our attention to the entry point in the range, the 2.0-litre sDrive20i.
In the metal
We wouldn't go as far as to say that this latest BMW Z4 is a conventionally beautiful thing, even if it does maintain the classic roadster proportions, with a curvaceous rear, pronounced hips and a long bonnet. Designer, Calvin Luk, one of the youngest exterior designers on BMW's books, set out to give it a sharper image this time around. Has he succeeded? We'll let you have the final say in that, but the Z4 certainly makes an impression.
Sharing the same platform as the BMW 5 Series, the Z4 has noticeably more presence than its predecessor, helped along by wider front and rear tracks (98- and 57mm respectively) and an 85mm increase in overall length. That said, the Z4 is lighter than before and retains a 50:50 weight distribution. The Z4's new layout also means that you no longer feel like you're sitting on the rear axle. Differentiating this smaller engined Z4 from the M40i is the twin round exhausts at the back. On the more potent M Performance car the exhaust outlets are of a trapezoidal design, but frankly, we reckon that the more classically styled round ones on the sDrive20i better suit the car.
Space in a two-seat roadster like this is always going to be limited. Along the base of the doors are very shallow storage bins, though few everyday items could easily fit into them. Similarly, there is some storage under the centre armrest, which is also home to the car's two cupholders, but using these requires leaving the split armrest open, which can catch your elbow from time to time. First world problems, right? The better news is that, when the fabric roof is lowered, it doesn't impinge on the 281-litre boot.
That larger size and relative roominess inside, as a result, means that the Z4 is quite usable as a daily driver. The more compliant suspension on this Sport version contributes further to the usability, but doesn't prevent you from exploring the performance and abilities of the car's chassis.
Some of our routes involved sweeping wide mountain roads that let us wring out the Z4's engine utilising the automatic transmission's Sport mode. The paddles are there behind the wheel when you want to get more involved, but the eight-speed transmission does such a consistent job of serving up the right gear regardless of driving mode that you don't miss out much by leaving it to do its own thing.
The turbocharged four-cylinder isn't a work-shy engine; in fact, it is slightly reminiscent of how a Mazda MX-5 encourages you to run longer in each gear and make the most of it. Then there are those cheeky rapid-fire exhaust pops on the overrun when you have it in Sport mode.
With the roof down you get the full aural experience. The decibels increase a little more with Sport mode engaged too. A simple wind deflector slots in between the roll hoops and up to approaching motorway speeds there is little buffeting as long as you have the side windows up. The roof itself retracts in 10 seconds and, usefully, you can put it up or down on the move at speeds below 50km/h. Weather permitting, you'll want to keep the roof down to properly enjoy the driving experience.
Thanks to the increased track width and retention of BMW's fabled 50:50 weight balance, the Z4 rewards the driver. BMW's steering engineers have done a thoroughly good job in fine-tuning the electrically assisted rack, as well, resulting in a feel that is nicely weighted and buttery smooth. The power output should satisfy those who enjoy the occasional Sunday drive, proving fast enough on a winding back road without requiring an open track to get the most of it.
What you get for your money
The sDrive20i is the most basic of the Z4 range, and the Sport model sticks with the softer suspension in comparison to the stiffer M Sport specification. It features 18-inch alloy wheels and a black and grey interior with Vernasca leather. All models get the eight-speed automatic transmission as standard, the Live Cockpit Professional digital instrument display, M Sport seats, LED headlights, ambient lighting and a leather upholstered multifunction sports steering wheel.
To make it easier for customers to upgrade, BMW offers a choice of packs that group together the different optional extras.
A Visibility Pack adds the adaptive LED headlights and a high beam assistant for a cost of €1,250. The Comfort Pack adds the essential wind deflector that slots in between the roll hoops, Comfort Access that automatically opens and locks the car, a heated steering wheel and a through-loading system from the boot, all for €1,041.
A more costly upgrade, but one that we think is worthwhile, is the Technology Pack, which will set you back €2,500. This set of options adds the enhanced Bluetooth connectivity combined with a wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones, a Harman/Kardon speaker system, Parking Assistant and a large head-up display.
Even though it possesses what is less than two-thirds the power output of the range-topping BMW Z4 M40i, the simpler sDrive20i version isn't lacking in fun or performance. Its four-cylinder engine is never going to be a match for the sublime straight-six, but it punches comfortably above its weight. More serious driving enthusiasts will be drawn to the beefier M Performance car, but for those who love the sheer pleasure of driving and want to enjoy open-top motoring, the more modest Z4 has lots of appeal.