Latest BMW Z4: Topless fun with 35iS

By Lee Pang Seng
THE latest BMW Z4 is promoted as a ‘new’ car although you might be hard put to differentiate it from the previous model at a glance. Those with sharp eyes may spot the slimmer design of the standard bi-xenon headlights that flow further back to the front wheel arches, underlined by the LED daytime running lights.

It is difficult to fault the BMW rationale of not bringing about drastic changes to a roadster that is already good to look at and that exudes the element of speed and power. It has evolved little by little over the years, and it would continue to do so into the future. The basic elements of a long sweeping bonnet, long wheelbase, and low-slung profile merge nicely in BMW’s own iconic interpretation.

The A-pillars are painted black to underline the low-slung look when the hardtop roof is opened. The latter element is available in two contrasting hues of non-metallic black and Glacier Silver metallic as the perfect complement to the bright body hues of the Z4. This hardtop can be opened on the move of up to 40km/h, with the item being stored in the boot electronically. The entire process takes 19 seconds, which may not be as fast as some rivals, but quick enough.

To spice up its outgoing profile, BMW has introduced three new metallic colours – Mineral Grey, Glacier Silver and Valencia Orange - to the 11 that are made available. The new hues can only be ordered with the Design Pure Traction option, which is designed to enliven the roadster’s bold outline in place of the previous Design Pure Impulse package.

It is when you step inside the new Z4 that you will see the more dramatic change: it now dazzles with a contrast of black and orange. The Alcantara door trim and the lower section of the dashboard are finished in bright orange while the contrast of black is balanced in the black leather seats with Valencia Orange stitching and an accent stripe (of orange and white) running down the central section of the seatrests and cushions. If you want a sober interior, you can specify the door trim and dashboard panel to be provided in black.

Another exclusive element of the Design Pure Traction package is the metal weave trim strip on the centre area of the dashboard, which can be complemented by decorative high-gloss black door openers and gearshift lever. The high gloss finish is also applied as standard to the air vent surrounds and the folding control display, which is part of the iDrive control system.

Looks aside, the thrill of the new Z4 is most definitely in the driving pleasure it is designed to provide. Another change is the addition of the sDrive18i as the new entry-level model to support the previous line-up, which is retained for the latest model: sDrive20i, sDrive28i, sDrive35i and sDrive35is. BMW, however, provided only the top model, the sDrive35is, for the international media event in Munich in mid-April.

This has the award-winning straight-six with all the engineering elements that are found in a standard BMW powerhouse, most notably of which is the TwinPower Turbo with two turbochargers and high precision direct fuel injection. The difference between the sDrive35i and sDrive35is is the ‘chip’ that controls the turbo boost and all the engine operating elements that support the respective pressure.

Basically, the 2979cc engine is the same with a long stroke (89.6mm to 84.0mm bore) undersquare configuration. With the higher boost chip, the sDrive35is enjoys a punchier output of 250kW (350bhp) at 5900rpm and 450+50Nm torque from 1500rpm. The ‘lesser’ sDrive35i can only boast of 225kW (306bhp) at 5800rpm and 400Nm from 1300rpm to 5000rpm. The sDrive35is comes only with a seven-speed double clutch automatic transmission and the kerb weight between the two with the same transmission is a constant 1525kg.

Obviously the sDrive35is provides better acceleration with the higher power-to-weight ratio. BMW’s claims put its 0-100km/h at 4.8 seconds (against 5.1) and 0-1000m (1km) at 23.8 seconds against 24.2. The top speed is electronically capped at 250km/h.

We could feel its readiness to unwind, especially with peak torque being generated early on, and the passing power was sufficient for us to overtake over relatively short stretches. If we hadn’t driven the M6 Gran Coupé earlier in the day, the new Z4 sDrive35is would have blown us away with its sprightly pace.

Nevertheless, the Z4 is not to be sneered at. It had the torque to let us drive through unfamiliar winding roads with a fair measure of confidence and the only grumble was the inconsistent feel of the electric power steering. Again, had we not driven the M6 earlier with the hydraulic steering, we might have been less inclined to look out for the difference.

On its own, the directional feel was good enough. With a wishbone front and multi-link rear, electronically controlled dampers all round, and a host of geometrical assistance, the Z4 stayed true to its line through corners without much protest and accuracy. The deep racy notes of the exhaust each time we floored the accelerator to get going was somewhat additive as well.

We had the top down for a short spell, as the strong overhead sun was a discouraging factor, never mind the baseball caps and scarfs that were provided. The mild wind-in-the-hair feeling was as good as it could get, with most of the rustle kept out of the passenger compartment allowing conversation to be held without raising our voices much.

The sDrive35is would have fetched a good pretty penny if it was introduced here, but the less powerful models made available locally should provide some equally exhilarating drives for the buck.

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