First up is sight. It is impossible to sit in a Z4 and not be drawn in by that sweeping prow in front of you. You sit low and at the back, dragged along by all that powerful metal rearing up ahead. It’s a car with a real sense of occasion from the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, the small 16-inch alloy wheels and frumpy high-sided tyres give away your bargain-basement choice.
Next is sound. I first drove the car with the roof up, and marvelled at how well insulated it was, as you could barely hear the engine. Then I whizzed the electric roof down and nothing changed.
For a car whose looks demand attention, it certainly won’t turn any heads, because they won’t hear it coming. It is unthreateningly, meekly, even embarrassingly, quiet. Even at full throttle with the roof down in a tunnel, all you get is a lazy, smooth six-cylinder hum and no more.
And then there’s touch. And in particular the steering wheel, the most important contact point in a car, and certainly in one that has aspirations to be a vehicle to love. This car is £24,000 and it has the sort of thin, weedy, plastic steering wheel you would expect on a bargain-basement supermini, not a premium-brand sports car.
It’s awful and is a constant reminder against your palms that you couldn’t afford anything more. Just £185 rectifies this sorry situation with a leather wheel. Cloth seats reinforce that nagging feeling that you really couldn’t afford the upmarket Z4s. At least standard air-conditioning and CD player soften the blow.
As for driving, the 2.2 certainly handles well. There’s loads of grip and the steering is neat and direct, but the straight six engine, with 170bhp, needs to be revved hard in each of its five gears. It’s not that this is a slow car: 0-62mph takes just under eight seconds, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s going as fast as it looks, and plenty of good 2.0-litre diesel saloons would give it a run for its money.
If a driver absolutely has to have a premium convertible sports car, then this or the £21,875 Audi TT 1.8T are pretty much it for under £25,000. But if it’ s performance and charisma they are looking for, and not a retractable roof, then the 231bhp Mazda RX-8 or the magnificent Nissan 350Z are much better value.
But despite all its shortcomings, CAP is predicting that the Z4 2.2 SE will still be worth half its value after three years, 60,000 miles, which is extremely good.
And it does a reasonable 32.1mpg, with emissions of only 214g/km. So despite being a very lukewarm sports car, its running costs stack up well from a fleet perspective, and would prove a solid, if unspectacular, runner for its segment. Should we be saying that of a Z4?
BMW protested at the original launch of the Z4 that it would never go back to the dark days of the four cylinder, insipid and gutless bottom-of-the-range Z3s, and it has remained true to its word.
But the market has moved on since the Z3 and there are some great, great cars for equivalent money now, while this car is one of those damned-with-faint-praise models. There’s no doubt that the 2.2 will be extremely popular, but it’s a shame it’s a bit of a compromise.
Model: BMW Z4 2.2 SE
Engine (cc): 2,171
Max power (bhp/rpm): 170/6,100
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 155/3,500
Max speed (mph): 140
0-62mph (sec): 7.7
Fuel consumption (mpg): 32.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 214
Transmission: 5-sp manual
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 55/12.1
Service interval (miles): 14,000
On sale: Now
CAP RV (three years/60,000 miles): £11,925/49%
Prices (OTR): £24,700