THERE’S nothing retro about the look of the new Z4 but its Australian designer’s love affair with BMW sports cars goes way back.
“This one’s extremely emotional, because there’s such a personal connection,” says Calvin Luk. As a kid growing up in Sydney, he dreamt of someday working as a designer for BMW.
The brand’s Z-badged two-seaters were the main attraction. “I loved the roadsters the most,” he recalls.
Luk, now in his early 30s, has worked as a BMW designer for a decade. The new Z4 is his third exterior design into production, joining the current X1 and X3 SUVs.
Production of the previous Z4 stopped in 2016 and BMW’s bosses wanted a new look for its replacement. “We wanted to push for modernity,” says Luk. “There is a subtle nod to past Z cars but the overall push was to look forward.”
To kick off the process of shaping the new Z4, the design team spent a day driving old Z cars from BMW’s heritage collection, including the drop-doored Z1 from the late 1980s, the mid-’90s Z3 and the rare, retro-look Z8 from 2000. Luk drove to the museum-car meet in his own first-generation Z4, which went into production in 2002.
Luk says the front view of the Z8 influenced the design of the new Z4. “This one (the Z4) is a much more modern interpretation, still with those same proportions, the high-up headlamps and the low kidney grilles.”
But the side view of the new Z4 isn’t like any previous Z. “This car is really diving to the front, it’s really sort of attacking the road,” says Luk.
The visual effect is created by the lines flowing from the new Z4’s angled air breather slot just behind its front wheelarches. This distinctive visual feature “drives the whole sculpture”, according to its designer.
The new Z4 lives up to its looks — at least in top-of-the-range M40i form, which was the only variant BMW brought to the car’s international launch in Portugal.
As well as the M40i, which has a turbo 3.0-litre in-line six under its bonnet, BMW will produce the Z4 in 30i and 20i versions, both with turbo 2.0-litre fours. An eight-speed automatic is standard in all.
The three-model line-up will reach Australia in about March. BMW Australia hasn’t yet finalised pricing but the M40i is likely to be at least 25,000.
In the M40i, the engine is superb, delivering lots of luscious lunge accompanied by a pleasant bass exhaust note. This is one of the world’s best sixes, no question.
Equally smooth is the Z4’s excellent auto. It slurs from gear to gear when cruising but becomes a snappy shifter when the driver ups the pace.
BMW’s new two-seater handles as a sports car should. The suspension feels firm, though not over-stiff, even when the M40i’s Driving Experience Control switch is set to Comfort.
The payoff is that the car corners flat and fast, responding precisely to every tiny movement of its thick-rimmed, leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Selecting Sport or Sport + stiffens the suspension in increments for even sharper handling — it’s best saved for smooth-surfaced roads. In these modes, engine and transmission alike are more sensitive to the accelerator pedal, at the same time as letting extra va-va-vroom emerge from the tailpipes.
Roof-down on a snaking clifftop road high above the Atlantic Ocean outside Lisbon, the Z4 M40i really lived up to the maker’s Pure Driving Pleasure slogan.
Despite its feelgood focus, the new Z4 doesn’t ignore practical concerns. Compared to its predecessor, this one is longer and wider, and has a much larger boot.
The 50 per cent increase in cargo space is a result of BMW’s decision to give this one a proper soft-top instead of the space-hungry folding hardtop is used for the previous model. The 281L boot capacity is the same roof down or roof up.
With the fabric roof up, rearward vision is limited but the interior is a quieter and cosier environment. This is a speedy roof, too, taking only 10 seconds to operate at up to 50km/h.
The Z4’s cockpit provides supportive seating for two in a classy ambience in looks and feel alike.
There’s a high level of standard safety tech, too. Pedestrian warning with city braking function, collision and lane-departure warning are among the standard driver-assist systems.
The options list will include pretty well everything in BMW’s driver-assistance arsenal. It’s a similar story with the infotainment.
Modern and muscular to look at — and fine fun to drive on an empty winding road — BMW’s new sports car doesn’t neglect everyday driving needs. It’s the kind of sports car to make Sunday mornings truly memorable and Monday to Friday easily endurable.
BMW Z4 M40i
Price: 25,000 (est)
Safety: Not rated
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 250kW/500Nm
Thirst: 7.4L/100km (est)
0-100km/h: 4.6 secs