The purity of the relationship between a driver and a car is supremely defined by roadsters, which essentially have two seats, low-slung chassis, four wheels, and a powerful engine. BMW's Z4 fits the bill pretty much to the T here. Then of course, there's an array of new-age electronic aids, which keep the Z4 in the contenders list for the geeks, and the electrically-foldable hard top. We recently got a chance to drive the Z4 sDrive35i in Delhi, and it was extremely hard to part away with that surprisingly cheap-looking plastic key to such a fabulous car.
The Z4 follows the design language of a true roadster, sporting a long bonnet, low-stance, rear-placed seats and a short boot. Featuring a hard-top also adds to the sense of security (especially in India) and better protection from external elements. The front grill with silver slats is reminiscent of a shark's face and pretty or not, is surely imposing and head-turning. The side profile and rear look aggressive and purposeful, fulfilling the visual character of a roadster.
The design highlight of the Z4 though is its folding hard top, which when tucked away in the boot, transforms the Z4 into a visual spectacle. With roadsters and convertibles still being a rare buy in India, the admiration and excitement you'll draw from onlookers is nothing short of crazy. The electric roof takes about 20 s to fold or open, and will work at pedestrian speeds too. With the roof down though, boot space is at best good for a couple of small bags, unless one drives it with the roof up, defeating the key purpose it was brought for – interacting with the environment rather than cutting through it.
The cabin is a remarkable example of merging form and function, while retaining the good old feel. Parallel-running layers of black and metal lend the cabin with a high-quality feel, which most modern cars trade-off in favour of plastics or newer materials. Tactile feel from the minimalist control layout is impressive as well.
The seats are placed just ahead of the rear axle and along with that long bonnet we couldn't help think of a resemblance with the WWII fighter plane Messerschmitt 109. While the cabin isn't particularly large, it seats two adults comfortably unless the height is six feet or more. Storage space is actually quite good inside the cabin including decently sized door-pockets and a storage area behind the seats with a net.
The pop-up infotainment screen utilises BMW's iDrive system and offers an experience similar to that found in other BMW cars. The screen tucks away inside the dashboard to protect it from vandalism if leaving the roof down but we aren't sure if that's going to be enough in India.
Summing it up, we found the Z4 to sport an impressive design with a strong and aggressive character with no room for softness. It might not look as pretty as the Jaguar F-Type or as iconic as the Porsche Boxster, but it surely holds spectacular authenticity to the family of roadsters.
The Z4 in India is offered with a 3 l TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine developing 306 hp and 400 Nm of torque between 1,300 and 5,000 rpm. The TwinPower turbo, actually a twin-scroll turbocharger, ensures there's very little lag in the lower revs, only to disappear past 1,800 rpm. The engine is comfortable puttering around at city-speeds but comes to its glory past 4,000 rpm, when the exhausts scream loudly with a note very close to music for the right ear.
From a standstill, the Z4 hit the 100 km/h mark in 5.5 s in our test, using a hand-held GPS device, making it a seriously quick car. One needs to be a bit careful with the throttle response though, which is pretty sharp and can be a bit uncomfortable in traffic. Adding to the acceleration and sensation of speed is the brilliant double-clutch seven-speed transmission, which shifts almost instantaneously, leaving no trace of a gap. Using the paddles lends more control of revs to the driver and is best enjoyed with the Sport + mode. Talking of modes, there are three available in this car – Standard, Sport and Sport +.
At the end of the drive, we were left addicted with the exhaust note, particularly with the roof resting in the boot. The powertrain didn't leave us wanting for more in any particular area but it could have been more fun to have the more powerful motor found in the Z4 outside India.
Ride & Handling
The Z4, owing to its nature and intent, is firmly sprung and the same firmness can be a bit uncomfortable but not bone jarring over broken surfaces. However, the Z4 was never designed to offer comfort but for offering a pleasurable driving experience and that it does in heaps.
The driver sits just ahead of the rear axle, which also means that his/her weight compensates for the heavier engine up front, leading to an equal weight distribution between the front and rear. This along with a low ride height and a nicely set-up chassis offers an exciting driving experience. Being seated near the rear wheels means that the driver's back is exposed to a rapid and intense experience of forces working on the rear axle. The entire driver's seat turns into a huge seismic unit, transmitting a myriad of feedback from all over the rear axle and wheels. The steering weighs up nicely in accordance with speed and the feedback although good, could've been better.
In Sport + mode, with the traction control (DSC) off, kicking out the tail just takes a firm push on the throttle. When pushed hard, the Z4 does tend to wander away from the intended line of direction due to its tail-happy manners but that is what makes it immensely fun-provoking over twisties. The ground clearance of about 130 mm might sound grossly inadequate but with some careful driving one can be spared of the embarrassment of going diagonally over bumps, one wheel at a time. Visibility with the roof down is great and average with it up. Overall, as a vehicle to have occasional getaway drives, the Z4 checks almost all boxes.
The Z4 is more of an experience than anything and cars like it don't exist to add numbers to annual sales but wow people, enhancing the brand's value.
As a machine in solitude, the Z4 does have its drawbacks in the form of an almost unusable boot with the roof down and the lack of a softer suspension mode to soften things in the urban jungle. Anything beyond would actually be nit picking, unless making a direct comparison with its rivals, which we haven't done yet. The BMW Z4 is a capable drop top and for almost Rs 69 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, it's good value too, provided hedonism is a belief you side with.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay