First Drive: BMW Z4 sdrive23i

This is BMW's entry-level Z4 – the sdrive23i. The new Z4 range now gets a folding hard top rather than a fabric roof that not only gives it a bit more refinement in the cabin, but brings it in line with the likes of one of its main rivals, the Merc SLK.

The extra weight of the hardtop hasn't done the Z4 any harm, though. It certainly looks good; its new styling is more aggressive and masculine giving it greater road presence. It also feels more upmarket with the hard top now, which can be raised or lowered in 20 seconds.

Inside the cabin oozes superb BMW build quality with plenty of high-end materials. It's slightly roomier in the cabin than the previous Z4 thanks to this new one being a bit longer and wider. The dash is simple in its layout whilst angled towards the driver for a more focussed driving position. There are decent storage options throughout the cabin and the boot offers up to 310 litres with the roof up.

Under the bonnet of the 23i sits a 2,497cc petrol engine offering up 201bhp and 184lb ft of torque. To put that into performance terms, 0-62mph is dispatched in 6.6 seconds and it will run on to a top speed of 151mph.

While it's an impressively flexible engine and sounds decent too, it doesn't feel epically quick. Peak torque and power come quite high up the rev range, so to get any kind of sparkle out of this engine it needs working quite hard. However, the Z4 is quite pleasant to potter around in urban areas and offers the sort of poise and refinement to make a decent motorway cruiser.

On the open road the Z4's driving dynamics are hard to fault as it feels beautifully balanced with responsive and well-weighted controls. Dynamic Drive Control allows the driver to switch between three settings – normal, sport and sport+ - which essentially stiffens up, tightens and sharpens the Z4's responses to vary degrees.

All Z4's come as standard on 17-inch alloy wheels and while the ride is bearable in normal mode, in Sport and Sport+ mode things get increasingly harsher. Most of the time only larger ruts and potholes seem to unsettle it seriously although that could change with larger wheels fitted.

Overall the Z4 is a decent proposition if you're after a well-rounded rear-wheel drive motor. If we're totally honest, at £28,650 – before you've had a look down the options list – we'd probably be tempted to stump up the extra £4k to get the 3.0-litre version which offers just that extra bit of grunt – 54bhp to be precise – while still getting the same combined fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
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