First drive of BMW’s new sporty Z4 convertible ahead of its UK arrival next spring

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ZZ top down: We


You’ll have to wait until the first stirrings of warming sunshine in spring next year to take delivery of BMW’s sporty new Z4 convertible.

But even as the leaves began to turn this Autumn I was able to savour the delights of wind in the hair open-topped driving in the German car-giant’s exceptionally capable new roadster which draws on generations of soft-top heritage including the Z1, Z3 and Z8 models and back as far as the pre-war BMW 328.

When the first photographic images of the Z4 emerged, it split opinion as something of a Marmite car. A bit of an ugly duckling. But up close in the metal and on the road, it really grows on you as something of a handsome beast, and almost a regal swan.

ZZ top down: We've been driving the all-new BMW Z4 roadster months before it lands in the UK

ZZ top down: We’ve been driving the all-new BMW Z4 roadster months before it lands in the UK

The new Z4  roadster  draws on generations of soft-top heritage including the pre-war 328 (far left) Z1 (second from left), Z3 (third from left) and Z8 models (far right)

The new Z4  roadster  draws on generations of soft-top heritage including the pre-war 328 (far left) Z1 (second from left), Z3 (third from left) and Z8 models (far right)

The new Z4 roadster draws on generations of soft-top heritage including the pre-war 328 (far left) Z1 (second from left), Z3 (third from left) and Z8 models (far right)

More than 2,400 Britons are expected to buy the new Z4 in the first full year of production.

At the global launch in Portugal – one attempt to guarantee some sun – I drove the top of the range Z4 M40i costing from £49,050. 

It is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-charged straight-six cylinder 340hp engine matched to a very slick 8-speed automatic Steptronic gearbox with manual paddle override.

There’s no denying the thrust as I pressed the pedal to the metal to experience acceleration from rest to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. 

Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, which is fine for de-restricted German autobahns but could cost you your licence anywhere else.

There’s also a launch control function for real petrol-heads who want to hard from a standing start without losing traction.

But it’s a wonderfully liberating feeling to have such civilised power under the bonnet while roaring down an otherwise deserted beach road with the roof and windows down and the sun on your face.

Ray Massey travelled to Portugal for the official launch to test the convertible in sunnier climates

Ray Massey travelled to Portugal for the official launch to test the convertible in sunnier climates

Ray Massey travelled to Portugal for the official launch to test the convertible in sunnier climates

The roof can be lowered in 10 seconds at the push of a button
You can drop the lid on the move too, but only at speeds of up to 31mph

The roof can be lowered in 10 seconds at the push of a button. You can drop the lid on the move too, but only at speeds of up to 31mph

BMW estimates that it will sell 2,400 Z4 roadsters in the first year it goes on sale in the UK

BMW estimates that it will sell 2,400 Z4 roadsters in the first year it goes on sale in the UK

BMW estimates that it will sell 2,400 Z4 roadsters in the first year it goes on sale in the UK

The Z4 has a powerful presence on the road with that bold BMW racing-inspired mesh on the traditional if ever growing kidney-shaped grille. 

The long bonnet and distinctive styling, with its suitably precise handling helped by a low centre of gravity and a stiff chassis, makes it feel firm, confident and meaty.

But it also has impeccable manners when promenading at slow speeds along sea-fronts or through quiet villages.

You can set up the car to suit your driving style and conditions, from an easy-riding comfort mode, into a more engaging sport mode right up to full-in sport plus.

The car’s ride height can also be lowered by up to 10mm for more engaging response. 

The MSport rear differential also keeps you on track by using an electric motor to aid the two rear wheels when cornering and help the car power out of bends.

While it's a significant style update compared to the previous model, it still has that traditionally long bonnet

While it's a significant style update compared to the previous model, it still has that traditionally long bonnet

While it’s a significant style update compared to the previous model, it still has that traditionally long bonnet

You can set up the car to suit your driving style and conditions, from an easy-riding comfort mode, into a more engaging sport mode right up to full-in sport plus

You can set up the car to suit your driving style and conditions, from an easy-riding comfort mode, into a more engaging sport mode right up to full-in sport plus

You can set up the car to suit your driving style and conditions, from an easy-riding comfort mode, into a more engaging sport mode right up to full-in sport plus

Ray loved the comfrotable seats and said the cockpit was a 'cosseting' place to be

Ray loved the comfrotable seats and said the cockpit was a 'cosseting' place to be

Ray loved the comfrotable seats and said the cockpit was a ‘cosseting’ place to be

The comfortable and supportive high backed leather M Sport seats with lumbar support and integrated head-rests keep you secure and alert, all within a snug cosseting cockpit clad in Alcantara leather.

The M40i rides on 18 inch double-spoke light alloy wheels as standard but with the option to go to 19 inch.

Two other engines will be available at launch in March next year.

The entry level sDrive20i priced from £36,990 has a 2.0-litre 197hp four-cylinder petrol engine that accelerates from rest to 62mph in 6.6 seconds up to a top speed of 149mph with an average 47.1mpg fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions of 138g/km.

There is also the sDrive30i costing from £40,690 with the same 2.0-litre engine but a higher 258hp that will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 5.4 seconds but shares the same fuel economy and CO2 emissions as the sDrive20i.

The new Z4 has grown in size as well as stature, being 85mm longer, 74mm wider and 13mm taller than its predecessor. But shortening the wheelbase by 26mm has helped improve agility and balance.

We drove the top of the range Z4 M40i at the launch, which costs from £49,050

We drove the top of the range Z4 M40i at the launch, which costs from £49,050

We drove the top of the range Z4 M40i at the launch, which costs from £49,050

The entry level sDrive20i is priced from £36,990 and is powered by a 2.0-litre 197hp four-cylinder petrol engine

The entry level sDrive20i is priced from £36,990 and is powered by a 2.0-litre 197hp four-cylinder petrol engine

The entry level sDrive20i is priced from £36,990 and is powered by a 2.0-litre 197hp four-cylinder petrol engine

There is also the sDrive30i costing from £40,690 with the same 2.0-litre engine but a higher 258hp that will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 5.4 seconds

There is also the sDrive30i costing from £40,690 with the same 2.0-litre engine but a higher 258hp that will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 5.4 seconds

There is also the sDrive30i costing from £40,690 with the same 2.0-litre engine but a higher 258hp that will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 5.4 seconds

The fully-electric fabric roof opens and closes at the touch of a button within ten seconds at speeds up to 31mph, which means you can get quickly under-cover if caught on the hop in a sudden shower, without having to pull over to the side of the road.

It comes in black as standard with an option of a greyish Anthracite with silver effect.

There is a choice of eight metallic and one non-metallic shades, with plenty of scope to add individual touches, if your budget runs to it. BMW ‘extras’ don’t come cheap.

The protective roll-over bars were in a Cerium Grey on my M40i, though those on other models include a satin aluminium or a high gloss black.

Roadster owners worth their salt really shouldn’t need to pack much more than a credit card and a tooth brush, but if you do insist on carrying excess baggage, the boot capacity has been increased by more than half to a decent 281 litres.

The model Ray drove has  a 3.0-litre turbo-charged straight-six cylinder 340hp engine matched to a very slick 8-speed automatic Steptronic gearbox

The model Ray drove has  a 3.0-litre turbo-charged straight-six cylinder 340hp engine matched to a very slick 8-speed automatic Steptronic gearbox

The model Ray drove has a 3.0-litre turbo-charged straight-six cylinder 340hp engine matched to a very slick 8-speed automatic Steptronic gearbox

The M40i can accelerate from rest to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, with the speed displayed on this futuristic digital screen

The M40i can accelerate from rest to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, with the speed displayed on this futuristic digital screen

The M40i can accelerate from rest to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, with the speed displayed on this futuristic digital screen

There’s also a bit of space behind the driver and passenger seat to squeeze in a jacket or a small soft bag, plus a handy narrow net along the back to stow knick-knacks. There are also large cup-holders under the central arm-rest – which folds open in two sections.

In UK spec, LED headlights will be standard though non-dazzle high beam and cornering lights are optional.

On the M40i car I was driving, many sporty enhancements – such as the powerful M Sport brakes and adaptive sport suspension, high performance tyres, and M Sport differential – come as standard or will be an option on other lower trim levels.

BMW Z4: Will it fit in my garage? 

Model: BMW Z4 M40i

Price: from £49,050

On sale from: March 2019

Seats: 2

Doors: 2

Length: 4,324mm

Width: 1,864mm

Height: 1,304mm

Wheelbase: 2,470mm

Engine: 3.0 litre turbocharged ‘straight six’ cylinder

Acceleration 0- 62mph: 4.6 seconds

Top speed: 155mph (electronically restricted)

Average fuel consumption: 38.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 165g/km

Fabric roof: Opens and closes within ten seconds at up to 31mph

Luggage capacity: 281 litres

To protect you while you are at the wheel there are a wide range of safety features including collision and pedestrian warning with brake assist, city braking and lane departure warning as standard.

The smart cockpit is uncluttered and packed with high-tech features including 10.5 inch instrument clusters and control displays. 

For the first time in a BMW roadster, the firm is offering the option of head-up display, which I find essential these days to help keep my attention on the road ahead.

Options, packaged up into various packs depending on the standard model spec, include a wind deflector, steering wheel heating for those frosty open topped drives, a through-loading flap when you want to slot your skis in, electric seat adjustment, Harmon-Kardon surround-sound loudspeakers, and active cruise control.

There are also all manner of parking aids, though frankly with the top down you can navigate perfectly well on your own.

But the clever reversing assistant stores where you have driven and automatically drive you back exactly along a given path for up to 50 metres where there is little room for error getting into a tight space.

You can also use your smart-phone to open the car using an electronic digital key which can be shared with up to five other people.

Although BMW is based in Munich, the new Z4 is being built under licence by Austria’s Magna Steyr in Graz, though to BMW standards. It’s also the product of a collaboration with Japanese car giant Toyota, who are producing their own sibling Supra model.

The first generation BMW Z4 was built at Spartanburg in South Carolina between 2002 and 2008.

The second generation Z4 was built from 2009 to 2016 at Regensburg in Germany and featured a retractable hard top.

The new third generation Z4 – a rival for the Porsche Boxster – reverts to a fabric top, paving the way for a potential hard-top coupe sibling.

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