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BMW Z4 : Road Test

  • Jul 18, 2014
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Perfection. It’s an obsession! A state that people seek to achieve by working towards a well defined goal that in turn seeks to serve an equally well defined objective. And when people achieve perfection, the end result stops being of measurable form and becomes art.

Enter the BMW Z4, a car that is pure art in its complete sense. The Z4 looks like nothing else on the road and with BMW’s motorsport pedigree, the sportscar should be an absolute dream to drive. The recipe for this perfection is a swooping long bonnet housing a 3.0 litre straight six petrol engine at the front, a ridiculously tiny two-seater passenger cabin in the middle and rear wheel drive at the back.

In theory then, this BMW Z4 SDrive 35i is as apt as a driver’s car can be. I get behind the wheel of this beautiful sportscar to find out if its got what it takes to strike that cord of perfection on the road.

 



Exteriors

But before we get there, let’s talk some more about the exquisite and unique design language of the Z4. The design layout of the BMW Z4 can be identified with roadsters from the yesteryears rather well. It has a minimalistic approach towards everything but the long bonnet and large tyres. But the similarities end there as the BMW Z4 is a throughly modern offering with impeccable build quality and fit and finish.

Its performance oriented nature gives the car swooping lines that flow backwards from the nose of the car which is the northern most tip of the car. The front end is curved and the recent face-lift has given it restyled kidney shaped grilles and sweptback headlamps. The bonnet that gently rises upwards from the front of the car as strong bulges on either side and a V shaped recess in the centre, adding to the car’s eccentric design. The sleek triple air intakes at the bottom of the bumper further lend to the sporty appeal of the car.



 

The side profile of the BMW Z4 looks as unique as the front of the car and looks stunning with or without the roof. That long, upward swooping bonnet culminates in a very steeply raked windscreen with blacked out A-Pillars. The long front apron has a chrome garnish with indicators, the BMW badge and model lettering on the side. A sharp crease runs from the front of the bonnet, down the apron and onto the top section of the doors while a deep kink is present over the rocker panel, on the aprons and doors. The wheel arches are mildly flared and compliment the wide stance of the car rather well.

At the top, the short folding metal roof beautifully blends on to the body of the car, housing a semi oval shaped glass house. The rear section of the side profile is short and sweet with a downward sloping boot lid, wrap around tail lamps and a large rear bumper and that chrome exhaust tip sticking out prominently at the lower section.











 

And with the roof down. My God, is the car stunning. The A-pillars come to an end over the raked windscreen that has a curved design. The leather headrests are backed by similar shaped roll bars and the tiny rear windows come up automatically to reduce air turbulence inside the cabin. And then there is no C-pillar, but just a small downward flowing section behind the cabin for minimal rear overhang.

Around the back, the small steeply raked rear window has a retro look to it. The C-pillars are housed inside the body shell giving the car a bulging stance in the lower section. The large boot lid is slanted towards the top section, that houses a sleek stop lamp in the centre. The wrap around tail lamps are as unique as the rest of the car’s design with a hint of BMW’s family design language in the form of flowing LED lines inside and the tiny reverse lamps.



 

The large rear bumper has a distinct centre line running across it, while the lower section has a trapezoidal housing for the license plate with reflectors housed on either side. At the bottom, there is a prominent character line, below which the large circular chrome tail pipes are housed at the two sides.

The car we have here is the top-end Design Pure Traction variant of the BMW Z4 sDrive 35i that comes finished in this Valencia Orange paint shade exclusive to the variant.



 

All in all, the BMW Z4 has a very distinct profile and design language that is almost odd at some parts. But its a design language that works wonders and the sports car makes everyone gawk at the car, no matter which angle it is seen from. Its sleek, it's unique, it's low slung and it’s well proportioned. It looks perfect from every angle, for reasons that nothing but your eyes understand.

 



Interiors

BMW has worked in tandem with the exterior design of the car when it comes to the interiors of the sportscar. Most BMW cars have a standard layout that is identical and while there is nothing wrong with it, it does tend to get a bit monotonous to the eyes when you jump into one model from the other. Thankfully, this is not the case with the dashboard of the BMW Z4. While the texture of some of the materials is identical, the similarities end there and the layout of the dashboard is unique and stands out, more so in the Design Pure Traction (DPT) trim.

The top of the dashboard has a nice sleek outline with the passenger side sloping downwards towards the left, indicating the driver oriented nature of the car. The air vents are unique to the car, as are the air craft style HVAC controls that are finished in chrome and feel fantastic to use. The identical bits are the stereo buttons and DVD slot in the lower section of the centre console as well as the display unit for the iDrive system.



 

The excellently finished metal trim flowing across the centre section of the dashboard from the driver’s side to the centre console lends an upmarket appeal and also hints at the driver oriented nature of the cabin. This being the DPT trim, the car gets body coloured orange leather trim on the lower section of the dashboard. The orange and white stripes on the seats are also exclusive to the DPT variant.



The center console of the Z4 in typical BMW design has the gear stalk mounted in the centre with buttons for drive modes and traction control adjacent to it. The roof controls and parking sensor buttons are located in front of the gear stalk, while the hand brake button and iDrive controls are located behind it.

Due to the compact nature of the cabin, cup holders are located under the centre arm rest which needs to be left open should you need to use them.



 

Moving on to the ergonomics of the car. The two seater Z4 has a very low set seating position and for people taller than 6 feet in height, the cabin is a very tight squeeze. Otherwise, the ergonomics are spot on. The electrically adjustable seats are very comfortable and the bolsters can be adjusted in just about every way to find the most comfortable setting, making for excellent upper back and under thigh support. The driver’s seat comes with two memory settings. The seats are well padded and the leather makes for just the right balance between softness and firmness.





Don't think the Z4 is all tight about space though, as the boot offers an acceptable 310 litres of space with the roof up. Understandably, when the roof is down the car only offers 180 litres of boot space when the metal roof is folded into the boot. But that's still enough to pack two soft bags in for that weekend trip. It takes 19 seconds for the roof to fold and unfold, and it can be done while on the go as well up to speeds of 32 seconds.

 



Engine and Gearbox

The BMW Z4 SDrive 35i is powered by a twin turbocharged 3.0 litre direct injection straight six petrol engine. The straight six engine configuration has been perfected by BMW over the past decades and this unit is state of the art with direct injection and two turbos that keep the engine on the boil throughout the power band and is as active and responsive as any naturally aspirated motor out there.

The engine develops 310PS of power @ 5,800 rpm and 400Nm of torque from as low as 1,300 rpm all the way up to 5,000 rpm! This in essence makes the engine in the Z4 feel very punchy at all times and it pulls with absolute ease no matter which part of the power band you are in, making it extremely rewarding to drive every time you get behind the wheel. In fact, because of peak torque delivery happening so low down the rev range the Z4 is very quick to respond to sudden throttle inputs. An interesting observation I made was that, due to lots of torque at such low rpm and the stiff suspension, the traction control light comes on every time you drive over a small speed breaker!



 

The fantastic engine is also complimented by an equally good seven-speed double clutch automatic gearbox. The way BMW has setup the engine and gearbox combination is nothing short of perfect. Even if you leave it in automatic mode the gearbox changes gears at just the right moment depending on the way you are accelerating.

Seamless gear changes ensure a very comfortable drive in ‘Comfort’ mode and you can cruise around town with the hard top down, choosing between the nice stereo and the deep burble from the engine between 1,000 and 3,000 rpm to listen to.

 



Then, when you are in the mood, you can switch to ‘Sport’ mode that makes the engine and gearbox hold on to revs longer as well as sharpens up throttle response and gear changes. Put your foot down and the 3.0 litre straight six engine pins you to your seat as the Z4 snarls ahead as the engine note turns into a sporty tone as the revs climb to 4,000 rpm. And it only gets louder as you head towards the 5,000 rpm mark. But it’s right at the top, between 5,000 rpm and 7,000 rpm that the engine note sounds the best as the tone turns into a fast and loud sporty note that is absolutely intoxicating.



As you speed into the horizon you realize just how well the engine gearbox combination has been setup as there is absolutely no delay, no jerkiness and nothing to distract you from the job of driving. Go heavy on the throttle and change gears at the right moment and the Z4 rewards you with instant gear changes and continuous acceleration.



 

As an enthusiast, I personally prefer a good old fashioned manual gearbox as you can always control the response you want from the powertrain, allowing you to make razor sharp precise decisions on the road. And I have to say, that the setup BMW has provided in the Z4 is as good, if not better. You get the power exactly when you want it to, only in a perfectly smooth manner. This then is the perfect engine - automatic gearbox combination to have and I’ am completely in love with it.

Ofcourse, this also makes the BMW Z4 an extremely fast car. It is capable of going from 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds and power keeps coming in strong even past the 220 km/h mark with the car’s top speed being electronically limited to 250 km/h.

 



Ride and Handling

The BMW Z4 is under pinned by a double wishbone suspension setup at the front while there is a central arm axle at the rear with separate springs and dampers. The suspension setup is comfortable under most circumstances, however sharp bumps and potholes are rather pronounced and the ride can get bumpy over poor road surfaces of which we have many. This also does reflect at high speeds. The ride turns violently bumpy over the slightest of wavy roads at speeds in excess of 210 km/h.

When it comes to handling though, the stiff suspension setup of the BMW Z4 starts to make sense though. You can enter sharp turns at serious speeds and apart from a bit of body roll, the car stays absolutely planted and just grips and goes. The confident handling traits urge you to push this sportscar further to exploit the capabilities of the chassis and suspension setup.



In order to do this, you have to switch to ‘Sport +’ mode. And much to my liking this mode happens to automatically turn the traction control off! This just goes on to show that BMW designed this car to be an out and out fun to drive automobile.

And fun it is! Head into a corner, turn in, and give it a boot full of throttle. As you feel the rear tyres spin with too much power going through the axle and the rear end begin to slide out, you make the necessary corrections to get the car back in a straight line out of the corner.



 

This whole process is a beautiful one, thanks to BMW’s 50:50 weight distribution that has designed the car to be perfectly balanced, and have an equal amount of weight at the front and at the back. You can always feel what the car is doing at all times and when the rear end slides out, it’s happening right behind where you are sitting, letting you know exactly how much the tail is sliding out, giving you an accurate idea about what sort of throttle and steering inputs you need to make at all times. Although, while the steering is well weighed and has sharp response to inputs, it could have been a tad more feel some.



Nevertheless, this gives the BMW Z4 confident road manners that allow you to have fun in a perfectly safe and predictable manner. This being a convertible, torsional rigidity is affected to an extent, but due to positive drive dynamics and equal weight distribution the Z4 has very sorted drive dynamics.



Safety

The BMW Z4 comes loaded with safety features impact beams, crumple zones, anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control, stability control, traction control, an electronically locking rear differential, roll over protection, run flat tyre indicator and front and side airbags.

The BMW Z4 has a Euro NCAP safety rating of four stars.



Verdict

The BMW Z4 then is a very well rounded sportscar that appeals to driving enthusiasts looking for a two-door convertible. Its strengths lie in its gorgeous and unique design, excellent build quality and fit and finish, that fantastic twin turbo 3.0 litre straight six engine and seven-speed autobox combination, excellent drive dynamics and ofcourse, its metal folding roof that provides the best of both worlds as a hard top sportscar as well as an open top roadster when you are in the mood for one. I do wish though, that ride quality was a little more comfortable, making it more suited for our roads.

BMW is always praised for their well balanced and fun to drive vehicles and its road cars like the Z4 that have truly given them the cult status they have in the world of motoring. Achieving 50:50 weight distribution is possible, so is it to make a fast car, and to make a car drive well. But, that last bit where everything is synced to perfection in order to make a vehicle as good and fun as it can be, is not very easy. It’s something that BMW has managed to achieve with the Z4 wonderfully.

 



But that’s not all. Priced at Rs. 71.90 lakh (ex-showroom), the BMW Z4 sDrive 35i DPT is the most affordable two-seater sports car in India. The Z4’s engine makes slightly less power than its rivals, the Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 and Porsche Boxster S. Although, the Z4 makes a considerable amount of more torque much lower down the rev range.

The Z4 then, strikes the cord of perfection once again between your head and your heart. As for me, I’ am completely in love with the Z4 for everything that it is and would not change a thing about it. Except perhaps that stiff ride!
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