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BMW Z4 Review: Top-of-the-line Z4 sDrive35i Tested!

Text & tester: Syed Shiraz
Photos: Kahkashan B.

Confession: I just didn’t want to give this car back to BMW. I even contemplated boosting it…

But, I guess, there is a reason why BMW gives cars like this one to journalists like me (who won’t be able to even shell out an EMI for the Z4 from their monthly remuneration) without asking us to sign over the house papers, and/or bonded labour for life. The reason is simple – they are smart enough to know that us mortals just won’t be able to handle the massive attention such cars get. Anywhere in India. I wonder how chaps drive their Lambos, Ferraris, etc… Anyway, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this test vehicle for a decent amount of time, to put miles on it gingerly, I had to find an alternative way to test it properly. But without needing to avoid the precariously lane-changing Mahindra Scorpios driven by Honey Singh (or Justin Bieber) fans in the city.

A quick, touch-and-go, roadtrip seemed to be the only way out to not only test the car in peace, but also to check if there’s more to sports cars than just flash/snob value. In other words, I wanted to find out whether a sports car, in India, goes beyond transporting its owner to his favourite five-star in style or is it just a rich middle-aged man’s toy, which, he feels, will compensate for his receding hairline…

You may be a poser or a genuine connoisseur; in either case, there’s no denying the fact that the first thing that would grab your attention is always the design of the car. Here, the BMW is heads and shoulders above the rest. Let me elaborate that for you. The Z4’s competition primarily comprises the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes SLK 350, Audi TT, Nissan 370Z, and the Toyota GT86. Since the latter two are not available in India (the Nissan was, but not anymore), you may take it for granted that I am referring to only the Germans if I use words such as “the competition”, “this segment”, etc., further in the review, unless otherwise mentioned.

Well then, to the naked eye, the Boxster looks like a 1:1 scale diecast model, and the Audi TT looks like something Lindsay Lohan would drive in Herbie’s sequel. In contrast, the Z4 feels so manly that it would grow a beard if left unattended for sometime. Heck, it actually seems like the brat that would not act with restraint and end up giving a red rose to the pretty TT at the traffic light.

There is a reason why the current Z4 (E89) looks like that — it has been designed by two beautiful women; Juliane Blasi and Nadya Arnaout. Now, you can’t call me sexist if I say that the Z4 is definitely a male among demure PYTs; a handsome Husky among cunning felines…

That being said, I have always maintained that it does not really matter what I, or any other tester, thinks of a car’s styling. In this area, all we hacks can do is provide our opinion, and that’s it. I have already done that, but at the cost of repetition I shall say it again — it’s a no contest with the roof down; the Z4 is in a class of its own. And even with the top in place, it’s the BMW that rules, followed by the SLK. In fact, it’s only the former that personifies the term “roadster” in this segment. That long and muscular bonnet, coupled to a short derriere, gives the Z4 an identity that won’t ever be mistaken for any other.

But that’s again majorly what I think of it. The prospective buyer would want to know how many heads does it turn, right? Well, the answer is — all of them. Everywhere. As I had mentioned earlier, it became a bit too much for me, but I guess if you are in the market for such a car, being subtle figures nowhere on your priority list. Being noticed does, and the Z4 sort of comes with the manufacturer’s guarantee that it will make you a star, even if God has not been too kind to you in the looks department. If nothing works, just play with the roof that will have people stop dead in their tracks for those 20 seconds that it takes to either disappear into the boot, or emerge from it. And the scene will always remain more dramatic than the opening of any hypercar’s scissor or gullwing doors. Only Autobots turning into cars & trucks for real someday will trump the Z4’s and SLK’s best party trick…

It’s the same story inside. The interior is uncluttered and classy. I love the fact that nothing is hidden or wants to play hide & seek with you; every button, dial, switch, knob, stalk, etc., is visible in plain sight.

Plus, the quality of everything is second to none. BMW has, thankfully, retained the analogue dials for the speedo and tacho in the Z4, and I, for one, prefer them over those gimmicky digital speedos that are threateningly becoming a norm nowadays.

The seats are fantastically supportive and can be electrically adjusted in myriad ways, so finding the best driving position is a cinch in this one for all shapes and sizes. Speaking of which, the Z4 is perhaps the only car in its segment to accommodate drivers of XXL dimensions comfortably — in-cabin space is the BEST in segment. And talking of space, the boot space, at 310 litres, isn’t too bad either.

Can it get any better further? Yes indeed! As unlike in the Porsche Boxster, where even the floor mats are an optional extra (!), the Z4 in India comes fully loaded with almost every imaginable safety/comfort/luxury feature standard on it, off the shelf. Double clutch transmission with paddle-shifts? Check. Separate air-conditioning for driver and passenger? Check. But if the two of you need separate climate control in a two-seater, you just shouldn’t be in the same car together…

Anyway, the list includes everything save for Izabella Skorupko in a tight leather outfit (though you may still try for her in this car…) and a reversing camera. No BMW, despite your Park Distance Control (parking sensors) being quite accurate for both front and rear, a car at this price point has to have a reversing camera, period. And while at it, please also replace that stupid fixed antenna with a powered one if you can’t substitute it with the shark-fin one elsewhere on the car…

But, trust me, one won’t even bother to register these non-issues once they press the starter button. Why? Because it wakes up one of the best petrol engines ever made by man. Or woman. Don’t take my word for it; just look up “BMW N54” for yourself. If you’re not dyslexic, you’ll notice that in its almost nine years of existence, it has won exactly as many awards! I’d buy the Z4 for that engine itself. The 3.0-litre twin turbocharged engine sounds absolutely glorious too. In fact, no inline-six motor should be sounding this good, but this one does! And it’s not only when you press the loud pedal; lift off and it burbles like a V8 — damn! Forget the TT or the Porsche; those two will never sound half as good. Only the SLK provides real competition in this aspect, but its engine-gearbox combo falls a little short on giving it the absolute muscle power needed to back its deep-throated confrontation.

No such thing with the Z4 as its 400 Nm of torque is available between 1,300 to 5,000 rpm (thanks to two small turbochargers), and is harnessed beautifully by a brilliant seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. No, it’s not just brilliant for having seven ratios; I called it that because it’s the same gearbox, minus the 11 ‘Drivelogic’ settings, that most of the bonkers (and expensive) M cars get. The result? Linear, unrelenting build up of power that will see you getting speeding tickets almost on every outing in the Z4, if you don’t keep your right foot in check. The top speed has been electronically limited to 250 km/h, which should be more than enough in any part of the world. Oh, and it is quicker than all in the segment; yes, the Porsche Boxster included!

Now, I don’t usually ‘test’ the top speed of cars as I see it pointless to do so. I say that because any vehicle capable of cruising at 120-140 km/h all day, without blowing a piston through the hood, is good enough for our traffic conditions. Therefore, the top speed of a road car is purely academic in India. But then again, what’s the point of testing a sports car if you don’t even attempt to test what happens when the throttle is kept buried for a few seconds more than usual?

Well, 240 km/h happens. In less than half a minute, from a standstill. That’s what I managed on the speedo, and the Z4 felt capable of much more (if you remove the limiter). The grip provided by the fat rubber, 255/35 at the rear and 235/40 at the front, is just phenomenal. Even after crossing the double-tonne, never did the car threaten to leave its trajectory, nor did it require constant steering corrections to keep it in the desired line. And this was in the softest, “Comfort”, setting! That should tell you a lot about the car’s dynamic ability. The other two settings — Sport & Sport+ — further sharpen throttle and steering response; quicken gear-shifts, and even firm up the suspension. Keep these two settings, and the paddle shifts, for track use, or for when a Boxster rolls up next to you at the lights… To get away from regular forms of traffic, only part throttle in Comfort will be good enough…

The steering is, of course, very precise, but I don’t know why I wished for more FEEL from this one. It might be due to the precedent set by the other BMWs I have tested recently (especially the X1, an SUV!), which has raised my expectations (to unrealistic levels, perhaps) from anything coming out of the Bavarian stable, or BMW’s efforts to make the Z4 appeal to a larger audience (read “SLK buyers”) might be responsible for it. But, whatever the reason might be, the truth is, I was expecting more.

Don’t get me wrong though; the Z4’s steering is better than every other car’s in the segment, save for the Boxster’s (yes, the Porsche is better here, though not by a big margin, but it’s better), and I am really nitpicking here, but I had expected it to be something really out of this world. But again, that might only be me, as nine out of ten Z4 owners might not be ready to live on the edge all the time behind the wheel. And when they are, there’s always the Sport+ and DSC OFF buttons…

Oh, I almost forgot to share this: a couple of years ago (mid-2013 it was, if I remember correctly) an acquaintance, who had not gone beyond 160 km/h in his last gen (E85) Z4, was cribbing about ‘high-speed stability’ and ‘ride quality’ of his car. I remember suggesting a suspension check-up to him, and also getting a “no, it’s immaculately maintained” as an instant reply. I hadn’t driven the E85 Z4 at all so I didn’t know whether the car had these issues or this particular example, owned by my acquaintance, was not taken care of properly. I still don’t, but the topic was perhaps forgotten that same day. Or so I’d thought…

Fast forward to 2015; I get this shiny E89 Z4 to test, and that conversation suddenly plays in my mind. I must admit, I did face a peculiar fear; something on the lines of, “I hope this does not disappoint”. And well, it didn’t. You have already read about the Z4’s stability at speeds over 200 km/h and let me now tell you about the ride quality too. It’s a SPORTS CAR, and not a Lincoln Town Car for God’s sake! It HAS to be stiffly sprung so that you can take that corner like a hero without eventually appearing like a dummy used in NCAP crash tests.

So yes, like all ‘true’ sports cars, the BMW Z4 is also a taut one, but even after driving it for more than 600 km in a day over ‘mixed’ roads, not only my innards stayed where my creator had intended them to be, I felt no aches or sprains in any part of my body. It certainly won’t be an exaggeration to proclaim that I still felt like the proverbial daisy. I reckon this car to rewrite the by-road travel times on maps, provided roads are good all along (there are many now in our country). Of course, you will have to come down to a snail’s pace on bad patches to prevent damaging the bumpers and scraping the underside.

Talking about GT ambitions, I don’t know how much would the km-per-litre stuff matter to the prospective Z4 owner but we have to test it nonetheless. Here it is then: the Z4 gave an exact 8.8 km/l in this run. Therefore, you may expect nothing more than 8 km/l in city and a maximum of 10 km/l on highways if driven with a lighter right foot… A 55-litre fuel tank translates into a more than 500 km range. That’s frigging good for something so quick and fast.

So there you have it people — a proper sportscar, and not a me-too wannabe based on a hot hatch (the TT, for the uninitiated). The Z4 looks brilliant, goes like a firecracker, and sounds like one too! It also has the best engine in the business, the classiest interiors, the most equipment, and, at INR 73.90 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) still costs a whopping INR 30 lakh less than the bare bones Boxster S (the base Boxster is not available in India). I’ll take the Z4 and a MINI then. Or, excuse the heading, can we have the sDrive35iS in 2016, please?

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