This new roadster combines performance, high quality and a price to keep out the proles, and it would be no surprise to see its broad shoulders sitting squarely on user-chooser company car choice lists within the next few months.
Although there were a numerically successful 280,000 BMW Z3s sold worldwide during its life and it was hardly a lame duck, it never really convinced as a true BMW sports car should.
It looked too effeminate, was never the true drivers' car that it could have been and it had some weak engines at the bottom end of the range.
There has been no such namby pambiness with the Z4. It comes with two no-nonsense units: a 230bhp 3.0-litre and 192bhp 2.5-litre engine. And while a smaller six cylinder motor might possibly be on the cards in the future, engineers have ruled out any four cylinder variants, which should banish the 'hairdresser' tag that blighted the Z3.
As for prices, BMW is estimating a 10% hike over the Z3, making the 3.0-litre just over £30,000 and the 2.5, around £26-27,000. Importantly, the 3.0-litre should be cheaper than any Porsche Boxster, which is good news, and the glorious straight six engine makes the 1.8T unit in the Audi TT, which is about £1,000 cheaper and marginally down on power at 225bhp, seem a little, well, bland.
BMW is looking to sell at least the same number of this car as the Z3, even with a smaller line-up and more exclusive range of engines. Put simply, the car is considerably better than its predecessor, which makes up for less choice.
Pre-launch, some negative comments had been made about the styling of this car, but in the metal it looks gorgeous. It seems a default option to question BMW design guru Chris Bangle at the moment, but this is a very traditional roadster in many senses – long bonnet, short boot – given some slashed modern edges.
The Z4 is the most cohesive piece of design to come from the new BMW style. The two creases raking along the sides of the body and the line that spears down from the A pillar give the impression of skin pulled tight across a frame: lean, lithe and athletic.
Inside, the Z4 is clean and crisp. The long panel across the dash is clinical and stylish in aluminium but at odds with the car's slick attitude when done in wood. There are echoes of the Z8 in the dash, instrument binnacles and steering wheel, and it makes the Z4 seem more of a supercar than its price tag would suggest. Bring on the halo effect.
And that halo is polished to a very expensive looking sheen with the 3.0-litre engine. If there are many better engines than the straight six cylinder 3.0-litre petrol unit, then I haven't had the pleasure of meeting them. Immense power at any point, tonnes of torque and a mellifluous woofly growl that, roof down or up, is an absolute joy.
The dash to 60mph takes only 5.9 seconds in the six speed 3.0-litre, and 7.0 seconds in the five speed 2.5, but it is the constant muscular surge of power at any speed and revs that makes this such a good engine. And further good news for company car drivers. The big engine only gives off 221 g/km of CO2, putting it in the 26% tax band, while the small engine is slightly cleaner at 216 g/km, thus dropping to 25%. Combined fuel figures are 30.4 mpg and 31.7 mpg respectively, although the only drivers likely to get near that are Californian boulevard cruisers off to brunch. For most, the lure of stretching that engine will prove too tempting.
The roof works with all the Teutonic efficiency you would expect from BMW, folding in a Z-shape flush to the boot in less than 10 seconds with lithe precision. The mechanics at the side of the hood are left exposed when it is retracted though, which is a bit messy considering many convertibles employ panels to hide them. It is not much of a complaint though.
Engineers claim the bodyshell of the Z4 is twice as stiff as the Z3, and it is certainly free from shakes and rattles. This rigidity also means that the handling is not compromised, and the Z4 feels as robustly built as any other BMW, while the suspension is a modified version of that found in the 3-series – arguably the best combination of ride and handling in any saloon.
Behind the wheel
Snuggle in low behind the steering wheel, gaze across the long bonnet sweeping out in front of you and the Z4 immediately feels rather special.
It is an easy car to get accustomed to quickly and the pedals are all weighted nicely and positioned well. The gearchange is easy and feels well engineered and the brakes are as good at stopping rapidly as the clutch and accelerator are at starting rapidly.
Of the two cars on launch, one came with 18-inch wheels and sports suspension and one with standard suspension set- up and 17-inch wheels. The sportier of the two had a lot more grip and less body roll, but the ride was very hard and I wonder how that will translate to Britain's dilapidated roads. The ride of the standard set up was much more comfortable, but under acceleration the nose lifted and there was much more roll through the corners, which translated into less grip. Somewhere between the two would be the ideal combination for British roads.
What I particularly like about driving the Z4 is that it strikes a very natural balance between fun and safety. The Dynamic Stability Control with Dynamic Traction Control system lets the chassis show off: floor it while turning and the back end will step out, but only to a point when the electronics take over and subtly rein it all back to straight and sensible.
To add more confusion, there is the option of Dynamic Drive Control, which makes the throttle more responsive, power kicks in earlier and the electric power steering – the first BMW without hydraulic steering – becomes heavier.
Hardcore enthusiasts might like something a little more raw, but for the rest of us, BMW has struck a nice balance. This is not a car that intimidates, despite its pace.
Pose factor 10, style factor 10, enjoyment factor nine. The new BMW roadster does everything with class and sophistication. While a Boxster is still the out-and-out racer in this sector, it will start to look dated alongside the BMW's posh new frock. This car will turn heads for a long time.
|BMW Z4 fact file|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||192/6,000||231/5,900|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||181/3,500||221/3,500|
|Max speed (mph):||146||155|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||30.4||31.7|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||216||221|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55|
|On sale:||late spring|
|Prices (OTR):||£27,000 - £30,000 (estimate)|