New BMW Z4 prototype review

BMW has an unusually candid way of describing the key difference between the old Z4, and the new. The old car, they now admit, was one to drive on a Sunday afternoon, maybe when the sun was shining – because it wasn’t really a true-blue sports car.

But the new Z4 – which we drive here in Z40i prototype form – is a car to drive early on a Sunday morning, they say, before the sun has come up and when there’s no one else around, the inference being that the old car was a bit of a softie at heart whereas this new one has become a proper, red-blooded driver’s car.

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And do you know what? They’re not fibbing. Having driven this all-but production-ready Z40i prototype on both road and track, with its new lightweight electric canvas hood up and down, and at all sorts of different speeds it is abundantly clear that, this time, the Z4 has got serious.

This time it really has become a proper sports car, with a much stiffer chassis, much sweeter steering, stronger performance from its 340bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine (think 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds) and a level of feel and precision to its chassis that absolutely wasn’t there last time round.

And there’s one very simple reason why BMW has altered the Z4’s personality so drastically; the unceasing success of the Porsche 718 Boxster.

BMW wants a piece of the Boxster’s action, basically, having seen sales of the Z4 drop by almost 30 per cent since its birth in 2002; and the only way to achieve this is to build a car that’s at least as compelling to drive as the Porsche. Hence the far more thrusting dynamics of the new Z4.

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You can’t see what it looks like here, not from these disguised images. But, trust us, we’ve seen the production car undisguised now and it looks pretty tasty, even though it doesn’t feature the twin buttresses of the Z4 Concept car that was shown at Pebble Beach last summer. Despite this, however, it is much more aggressively styled than the previous Z4, and much better looking as a result.

“In every way the new Z4 is a more masculine car than its predecessor, a more dynamic car” says Andreas Ederer, Product Manager for the new Z4. “Not just to look at but to drive, to listen to, in everything it does. But this doesn’t mean its appeal will be narrower” says Ederer, admitting that – Boxster apart – sales in this sector have fallen by over 30 per cent since it was created two decades ago.

Whatever the market’s trend, BMW has thrown the kitchen sink at the new Z4’s dynamics. The Z40i driven here gets adaptive dampers, an electronically managed differential and bespoke Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres as standard, and the results are clear to see from behind the wheel.

Weight is down by 50kg, partly because the new canvass roof – which raises in just 10 seconds – is lighter but also because the underpinnings are lighter, too. The boot is also over 70 litres bigger this time thanks to the canvass roof, up or down; it makes no difference to the space on offer. But it’s the extra dynamic agility of the new Z4 that distinguishes it most clearly.

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