First drive: BMW Z4
What is it?
The Z4 is in its 'mid-life' phase so has undergone some minor exterior changes to keep it looking young and spritely. New front light clusters, side detailing with chrome surrounds and a fresh selection of alloy wheels complete the exterior overhaul but perhaps the tastiest nugget of news comes in the form of a new entry level engine. A 18i model is now available and it comes in at over £2,000 cheaper than the previous entry level 20i. The 18i uses the same four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol as the larger 20i and 28i models but delivers just 154bhp and 240 Nm torque.
What's under the bonnet?
That depends what tickles your fancy, really. Hairy-chested lunatics will love the 35is with its meaty 3-litre, turbocharged petrol engine, which pumps out an impressive 340bhp and makes a satisfying noise while doing so. But those with a tighter budget, an aversion to petrol stations and a love of their licence will likely drift towards the new, entry level 18i. It might not be a ludicrously quick driving experience but it is fun. Those who want the middle ground can also go for the 20i with 184bhp or the 28i with 245bhp. Basically, there's something for everyone.
What's the spec like?
The new base price of £26,660 may sound attractive but that money doesn't really buy a great deal. Customers will be pleased to know the likes of Bluetooth, DAB radio plus all the safety aids one expects on a modern sports car come as standard but it is very easy to go wild with options. 18-inch alloys are a must; they tag on an extra £1000. Adaptive M Sport suspension is also well worth it - that will set you back £970. And then there's the issue of satellite navigation, a screen to view it on and some fancy leather trim to really make your Z4 sparkle. Tick all of those boxes and you have a car that costs nearly £40,000. Customers may be smarter simply opting for the 20i that comes with leather and bigger wheels as standard.
There is a wide variety of rivals, each with traits that will attract or put off roadster buyers. The Mercedes SLK is getting on a bit but some will find its interior more attractive and a greater amount of kit comes as standard. The Audi TT looks fresh thanks to a recent update but it is not quite as compact nor refined as the Z4. Then there is the almighty Porsche Boxster that provides a far superior drive and a brilliant engine line-up. So,really it is down to your personal taste, budget and performance needs and if that means gravitating towards the Z4's curvaceous folding metal roof and gloriously elongated bonnet rather than what's sitting underneath it, we wouldn't hold it against you.
What's it like to drive?
That really depends on the engine selected. Take the 35i out for a spin and you'll find it slithering and scratching at the road surface as it tries to put its power down. The traction control system is nannying to an irritating level; turning it off allows for a little extra rear axle slip and much quicker progress. The chassis is fairly harsh in Sport mode but rolls far too much in comfort, it is a shame there isn't a happy medium. The 18i is a completely different kettle of fish. It requires ringing and working to get the most out of the little turbocharged engine but it is good fun to drive quickly and really makes the most out of the optional M Sport suspension. Owners may soon tire of the lack of grunt when overtaking but as a country blast to blow away the cobwebs, it isn't bad at all.
The AOL Cars verdict
The new Z4 is a handsome car that will suit those with an elastic budget who require an attractive cruiser for trips to the continent. It will likely disappoint the hardcore petrolhead who wants to test the limits of BMW's chassis - those folk will be better off taking a trip to the nearest Porsche showroom.
Model: BMW Z4 18i
Engine: 1.8 litre, four cylinder turbocharged engine
Max speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Emissions: 159 g/km co2