Overall rating: 3/5
Tweaks to the BMW Z4 roadster make it more appealing than ever, with new equipment and trim options and a new entry-level model. However, while it's a fun and good looking car, it just can't compete with the Porsche Boxster for dynamic ability. That's emphasised in the super-fast sDrive35is variant.
In the Metal:
You'll need to know what you're looking for to spot a 2013MY BMW Z4. One of the new optional colours helps. The folding hardtop roof, for instance, can be specified in non-metallic black or Glacier Silver metallic. It opens or closes at up to 40km/h or by holding down the open button on the key fob. The internals of the headlamps have had a mild makeover and the side indicator surround has been redesigned too. Other than that it's pretty much down to new colour choices and wheel designs. Mineral Grey and Glacier Silver (both metallic) are new, as is the striking Valencia Orange hue of the car pictured. This is paired with the oddly named Design Pure Traction package.
Specify that and the interior gains a black and orange theme that extends to a tactile orange Alcantara trim panel in the doors and an orange finish for the lower half of the dashboard. Black leather sports seats feature orange stitching. Too much? Buyers can swap black for orange in places. The distinctive metal weave dash insert is part of the package too - which is available with other exterior paint colours incidentally.
All examples of the new Z4 get more gloss black trim inside and more options to choose from.
In isolation, the BMW Z4 is a fun car to drive. The unique seating position close to the rear axle means the sensation of yaw is strong, giving the roadster its own appeal. In spite of this 'rear led' attitude it's surprisingly dependable at the limit. There's a lot of grip front and rear and the suspension copes well with mid-corner bumps to reduce the car's tendency to go off line. The steering is direct, but lacking in feel, and choosing Sport mode only adds weight with little gain. We found the brake pedal lacking in feedback either, though their power was never in question.
Indeed, given the performance of this model we were thankful for the large discs. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine really dominates the experience. It sounds great whether you're ambling around town or seeking out tunnels to bounce the exhaust note off at high speed. It's quick too. Even the non-S model is fast, but this sDrive35is adds 34hp and up to 100Nm of torque for 360hp and 500Nm respectively. That latter figure may 'only' be on overboost, but, given that it's produced at just 1,500rpm you'll forgive the air quotes... The power delivery isn't as smooth and step-less as the naturally aspirated straight-sixes of yesteryear, but that probably adds to the excitement - if not the smoothness.
You're waiting for a 'but', aren't you? It's the competition. In our opinions Porsche's Boxster is considerably better to drive. That's emphasised at this model's price point, but is more forgivable lower down the line-up.
What you get for your Money:
This sDrive35is model may outpunch the latest PDK-equipped Porsche Boxster S in a straight line and it's a couple of grand cheaper, but it's just not as complete a package. At least it's well equipped, with 18-inch alloys, leather upholstery, electrically adjusted sports seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth etc.
We reckon the smart money goes on the new entry-level Z4 model, called the sDrive18i. This costs €45,860 in its most basic format and has 160hp at its disposal. Though no firecracker, it is relatively efficient and comes with the same high-quality interior as the rest of the line-up. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which employs all the same 'TwinPower Turbo' technology used in the sDrive20i and sDrive28i.
It's a shame that BMW chose to showcase the mildly updated Z4 in its fastest and most expensive guise, as the sDrive35is is the least accomplished model in the line-up - especially when compared with direct competitors. The new entry-level sDrive18i model could turn out to be a gem though so watch this space on that...