BMW’s stunning new Z4 roadster.

Designed by an all-female team, the new BMW Z4 is instantly recognisable as a Z4, remaining remarkably arresting to the eye with its new lines and design improvements. It may be more refined, but it’s also significantly more masculine and cohesive. Mambaonline attended the national media launch in Cape Town and left thoroughly impressed.

BMW’s roadster heritage is stamped all over the exterior design, with the long bonnet and -wheelbase still there and driver seating just in front of the rear axle. However, the madness of Chris Bangle’s original flame surfacing has been softened and sculpted into a design masterpiece. The fusing of elegance and aggression brings a new modernity to the inherent sportiness of the original design, accentuating the muscular nose, flared wheel arches and taut back end.

The most notable new design feature is however the fully retractable hard top of lightweight aluminium that goes up or down in 20 seconds, effectively replacing the Z4 coupe – for now – as it serves both purposes. Fit, finish and materials are of top quality, with the general design and layout exhibiting an elegant functionality that’s neither bland nor busy.

Two tone colour schemes work best to open up the snug cabin, and the Pure White option is worth every penny. As with the 6-series, the leather upholstery now also features BMW’s sun-reflective technology that significantly lowers the leather’s temperature if left in the sun with the roof down.

The new Z4 range comprises three derivatives, all burdened with clumsy monikers that now include “sDrive”, similar to the “xDrive” nomenclatures used on the X5- and X6-models. The entry-level model in the new range is the Z4 sDrive23i, which is followed by the Z4 sDrive30i and the Z4 sDrive35i (see what I mean?). Unfortunately, only the latter two were available for evaluation, with most of my time spent behind the wheel of the sDrive35i.

The Z4 interior.

The sDrive35i is powered by BMW’s award-winning 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine with Twin Turbo and direct fuel injection. Our launch model was also fitted with the superb 7-speed double-clutch gearbox, a R28 700 option available only on the sDrive35i. The familiar engine develops 225 kW at 5 800 r/min, with maximum torque of 400 N.m being available from 1 300 to 5 000 r/min. Acceleration to 100 km/h takes 5.1 seconds with the DCT gearbox, electronically limited to 250 km/h.

The sDrive35i possibly best reflects the new Z4’s dual nature. In the normal urban commute, it’s as smooth as silk, the power easily modulated and the roar from the exhaust sedated to a point where you also want to purr like a kitten. The increased visibility (from the new hard top) makes a major difference when driving in the city and as such the benefits are evident from the get go. Unfortunately, there’s significant wind noise at any speed higher than 60 km/h.

But it’s on the open road where the car excels, though. The power is immense, the exhaust note orgasmic. We drove many back roads, with the Z4 impressing with its road holding, sharp and secure steering and absolute eagerness. It does however get quite choppy on roads with noticeable imperfections.

All in all the new Z4 is quite simply magnificent and will have BMW enthusiasts in a state of obscene excitement. Its performance and pricing does however place it in a league where its main competitors offer something similar, albeit with different (and, some would argue, better) personalities.

One such rival comes from Audi. Currently the top model in the TT range (until the TT RS is released), the TTS is powered by Audi’s equally legendary 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI engine, this time around tuned to churn out 195 kW of power and 350Nm of torque, combined to a 6-speed manual or S-tronic automatic gearbox aided by Quattro all-wheel drive. The interior is top notch but now seems dark to the point of being morbid and suffocating.

Audi’s TTS.

Outside it’s differentiated by new – and larger – alloy wheels and a few minor styling tweaks typical to S-models. Understated, to say the least. It is however immensely powerful and quite fun to drive, but in a strangely clinical way; everything works the way it should, with an almost robotic approach. In the top model Z4, there’s an emotion and passion that the TTS sadly doesn’t show.

Prices for the new Z4 range are from R506 500 for the base spec sDrive23i, to R583 500 for the standard sDrive30i and R682 500 for the sDrive35i without the DCT gearbox. The TTS coupe and roadster retails for R527 500 and R563 000 respectively (lower models priced between R390 000 and R533 500).

The new Z4’s biggest draw card is the best-of-both-worlds retractable hard top that redefines what a BMW roadster is, especially the sDrive35i. I’d choose it over the TTS roadster or coupe any day, regardless of the significant price difference. Perhaps the TTRS will sway my opinion? However, I’d shop around when looking at the smaller engine variants. At R441 500, the standard TT roadster 2.0T FSI remains my pick.

BMW South Africa paid for all flights and accommodation in Cape Town.

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