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BMW’s iconic ragtop roadster returns to Mzansi in a bid to reignite interest in the shrinking small sports car segment for fans of the Bavarian brand.

As is customary here at Driven, when a new generation of an old favourite returns, we like to take a look at the model’s history. The BMW Z4 is no different.

First introduced as the Z1 in 1989, 8,000 units of BMW’s first Zukunft (German for ‘future’) car featured unusual doors which, instead of opening outward or upward, dropped down into the doorsills. Following the limited production Z1, the brand’s first mass-market roadster success came in the form of the Z3, which was produced between 1995 and 2002 at BMW’s Spartanburg, USA plant.

Although there was some overlapping of Z-car generations with the Z8 brought to market in 2000, the original Z4 introduced the roadster’s last name change in 2002, which was in turn replaced by the second version in 2009.


The new Z4 is being rolled out in South Africa in only two derivatives – a four-cylinder 2.0-litre entry model (140 kW and 320 Nm), and the 3.0-litre straight-six turbo M40i with 250 kW and 500 Nm of torque on tap.

Both versions carry the new Z4 design characteristics with graceful ease; the elongated rear end of the new car being of particular importance to its contemporary identity, having replaced the stout design from the previous generation.

Also strikingly different from the previous car, the kidney grille is longer, yet more drawn-out and links the upward sweeping headlights with a studded mesh fill-in design reminiscent of the style widely employed on rival Mercedes-Benz products.

In the cabin, though, the Z4 is all-BMW, with the dashboard and 10.25” infotainment system screen tilted toward the driver for easy reference of all controls. The updated BMW iDrive controller also grants access when touchscreen use is impractical, while additional buttons surrounding the controller activate the handbrake, and allow control of the retractable soft top.

Taking a mere 10 seconds to either open or close, soft-top manoeuvres can be completed up to a maximum speed of 50 km/h. An improvement over the hardtop of the previous generation, boot space is not compromised regardless of the position of the roof. Loading capacity is 281 litres in total, rivalling many hatchbacks.



BMW wanted the new Z4 to be more than a middle-class boulevard cruiser, and went some distance in ensuring the car has true sports car credentials. The car is wider overall – more so in the rear (by 98 mm) than at the front (57 mm) – to counteract the previous model’s penchant for oversteering when briskly thrashed about. The wheelbase has also been significantly shortened (by 27 mm), which translates to a more direct response to driver inputs.

Although we sampled only the Z4 20i, it soon became clear during our recent launch drive that the car’s underlying dynamics are well balanced and confident enough – even overly so for the less powerful car – that the M40i would experience the same abundance of grip across the steering spectrum.

In the urban environment, I was surprised with the Z4’s relatively compliant ride quality at low speeds. While some rivals compromise ride quality for handling prowess, the Z4 soaks up road imperfections almost as well as it negotiates mountain passes at speed.


Pinning down precisely what BMW wanted to achieve with its Toyota co-developed Z4 roadster is somewhat of an exercise in futility. Not because the car lacks in any department, on the contrary, it is by far the all-rounder leader in its segment at the moment. It may not be as suave as the Jaguar F-Type, or as heavily biased towards outright sportiness as the Porsche Boxster, but it outsmarts the Audi TT and ageing Mercedes SLC on many levels. We’re convinced that, at third stab, BMW has produced the most refined and technically competent Z4 roadster to date, and that is something that both enthusiasts and sceptics alike are quite likely to agree on.


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