Will BMW’s Z4 roadster erase all memories of its disappointing predecessor, the Z3? The new model has just been launched in South Africa and offers better handling and a more aggressive look.

Will BMW’s Z4 roadster erase all memories of its disappointing predecessor, the Z3? The new model has just been launched in South Africa and offers better handling and a more aggressive look.

It features a long, sleek and stretched-out engine compartment, snug cockpit and a short, muscular rear end. The wheelbase is longer, measuring 2,495 mm and the overall width comes in at 1,781 mm, which sets a new standard in this class.

The two-seater is making its début as the Z4 3,0i, offering maximum output of 170 kW at 5 900 r/min, and the Z4 2,5i, developing maximum output of 141 kW at 6 000 r/min.

The claimed 0-100 km/h is 7,0 seconds, with a top speed of 220 km/h in the 2,5-litre engine, while the 3,0-litre version reaches 100 km/h in 5,9 seconds with a top speed of 250 km/h. The 3,0-litre version is distinguished by a silver grille, while the 2,5-litre has a black grille.

The upper waistline extends in an arch from the beginning of the compartment lid all the way to the rear and the door line extends upwards to the rear at a slight angle, adding to the aggressive look.

The two doors extend far to the back and have low entry cut-outs. The driver sits very low and far to the rear, behind the car’s centre of gravity and point of rotation. According to BMW, this ensures direct perception of all vehicle movements and, particularly in tight bends. But the bonnet disappears in front of the driver, which can be a bit disconcerting when you cannot see the end of it.

The Z4’s roof is fully automated and opens in eight seconds. It comes with a variable roof storage compartment, which like on the 3 Series convertible, is made of a special synthetic material, which can be disconnected and folded up like a box. In the Z4, this increases the luggage compartment capacity from 240 to 260 litres (which is enough space for two golf bags or four crates of bottles). To prevent damage to the roof or the luggage, a safety switch on the electrohydraulic roof stops the cover from being opened when the roof box is folded up.

The Z4 is the first open-air BMW to feature a folding roof with a special folding mechanism. The mechanism takes up very little space and allows the front part of the roof to extend like a cover over the soft top, merging flush with the body of the car. As a result, the Z4 requires neither a tonneau cover nor a roof lid. The rear window is made of scratch-proof mineral glass and has electric heating.

A wind deflector system helps to keep out draughts. It is made up of two windows fitted in position within the two rollbars and a net between the rollbars held in position by a frame. The net fits into a special holder in the luggage compartment when not in use. At a later stage, a hardtop will be available as an option.

Inside, the instrument panel is curved towards the inside, the centre console is shaped like a letter T facing towards the instrument panel. The speedometer and rev counter are the dominating instruments on the dashboard. Paying homage to classic roadsters of yesteryear, the tube-like instrument covers prevent any reflection of the instruments in the windscreen.

The on-board computer LCD display is integrated in the speedometer; the fuel gauge and water temperature gauge are in the rev counter. The heating and air conditioning are controlled by rotary knobs in the instrument panel above the centre console. One level higher up you will then find the controls for the radio or, respectively, the hifi system.

Storage space is ample; there is a glove compartment, two built-in pockets in the doors and a box with a capacity of about 10 litres in the rear bulkhead between the seats. The cover on top is locked via the central locking and the opening mechanism is hydraulically dampened. There is also a small storage box beneath the handbrake lever.

The steering column may be adjusted for both reach and angle, while the height-adjustable headrests feature a new absorption foam that helps reduce the risk of injury particularly in a collision from behind.

The Z4 comes with dynamic drive control (DDC), which has a button that the manufacturer says when activated, calls up maximum engine power even earlier than usual when the car is in sports mode. It also ensures the steering becomes even more direct and sporting. And, if the car is fitted with SMG or automatic transmission as an option, DDC revs up the gears even higher and makes the gearshift quicker. The Z4 is also the first BMW with electric instead of hydraulic power steering.

The Z4 2,5i comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, while the Z4 3,0i has a six-speed manual transmission. Both engines are available as an option with six-speed SMG. Featuring shift-by-wire technology, SMG allows the driver to shift gears either with the conventional shift lever or by means of two paddles on the steering wheel.

The Z4 offers twice as much torsional stiffness as the former Z3 and the extremely stable body structure uses high-strength steel. The A-pillars form a rollbar at the front supplemented by two steel rollbars behind the seats. The driver and passenger are protected by four airbags fitted as standard. The airbags are controlled by the new advanced safety electronics (ASE) incorporating lightwave conductors and allowing BMW to once again set the standard in safety technology.

Runflat tyres are standard, which are monitored by an air pressure warning system that notes changes in air pressure by checking out the speed of rotation and giving the driver an optical warning. Bi-xenon headlights are standard on the 3,0-litre and optional on the 2,5-litre.

The optional navigation system integrated in the instrument panel uses DVD data for the first time in a BMW allowing a longer geographic range. The professional navigation system comes additionally with a retracting colour monitor. Both navigation systems may be combined with a firmly installed telephone also available as an option. Bluetooth cellphone preparation is also available as an optional extra.

Pricing:

2,5i (manual): R395 000

2,5i(steptronic automatic): R408 000

3,0i (manual): R470 000

3,0i (steptronic automatic): R483 000.