The 2019 Z4: Does this new roadster finally hit the mark?

This month we finally get to see the new BMW (G29) Z4 roadster. The reveal seems to be years in the making and I am hopeful that BMW have finally produced a roadster that will make Porsche, Audi and Mercedes take notice. But before I look at this new soft top, we need to look at what has come before to get a sense of why this car has been so eagerly anticipated.

The original Z3 was launched in 1996. It's claim to fame was a cameo in the James Bond Movie "Goldeneye". It was the first BMW to be driven by Bond which no doubt helped initial sales. If my memory serves, this car codenamed E36/7 was built as an MX-5 rival. Like that car, the original Z3 has 4-cylinder engines, driving the rear wheels and it was built to a budget, specifically using semi-trailing arm suspension from the then defunct E30 3-series and an interior that screamed parts bin special. I know it came with more powerful engines as it matured but it never felt like BMW's best effort.

The second generation Z4, known internally as the E89, launched in 2009. It was another shift in ideology, away from a sports car to a comfortable cruiser. The benchmark was now the Mercedes SLK, and like that car, this Z4 had a folding hard top, higher quality overall and a more relaxed nature. Unlike the previous cars, there was no coupe or "M" version and it launched around the time the folding hardtop craze was beginning to wane. The heavier weight and softer nature of the car left BMW producing it quietly until 2016 when it was eventually killed off.

The E85 Z4 appeared in the 2003 and was possibly the best expression of the "flame surfacing" design language being unveiled by BMW. This new Z roadster was conceived as a true sports car with powerful six-cylinder engines from launch. BMW made no secret that the Porsche Boxster was the benchmark this time around. I loved this car and it is the one I would buy with my own money. The styling, though polarizing at the time still looks fresh. However, high prices, overly-firm ride and interior quality issues prevented the Z4 keeping the Porsche executives up at night. If the original Z3 was under-baked and soft, this car was too far a shift to the other end of the spectrum. It ultimately lacked the finesse sporting soft tops need to succeed.

Which brings us to late 2018 and the official unveiling of the new G29 Z4. This car has been surrounded by hype for years and with good reason. When this car was first announced, it sent waves through the automotive community because BMW and Toyota were developing two new cars together. The Z4 roadster and the Toyota Supra coupe. BMW would provide its architecture and six-cylinder engines and Toyota would provide its sports car expertise. The Supra has always been a halo model for Toyota and basing the Z4 on it is an almost certain guarantee of that finesse that was missing in previous BMW roadsters. More importantly, it gives this new Z4 real credibility and BMW is obviously confident in its new car as it has already provided journalist with prototypes and race tracks to play on.

The styling is sharp and contemporary. Like the new 8-series, there are elongated kidney grills, large slashes along the cars flanks and a rear that looks aggressive and clean. The only part of the design I am not sure about are the headlights. BMW has a history of styling cars with horrific faces. The F20 1-series was saddled with a gormless looking front end that cost the company sales. This Z4 does look more interesting that horrific and it does differentiate it from the rest of the range. The interior follows a new angular aesthetic and is cutting edge, rather than being sourced from the parts bin. I think the biggest selling point is the engine range. In a world where roadsters have smaller engines, the Z4 is launching with a straight six turbo-charged engine. Not even Porsche does that any more.

To sum up, I do think this car finally hits the right balance for a modern sporting roadster. Cynics will point to it all being nothing more than a platform sharing exercise to save money. But I think you need to look deeper. I would argue BMW has lost its way in recent decades as the company has grown. Embracing new technology and styling to say nothing of front-wheel drive, has diluted the brand. As a company they have been famed for embracing ever niche they could find and even created new ones. None of which really catered to the driving enthusiast. The Z4 is a sign that this is changing and Toyota is the perfect partner to make it happen.BMW is finding its mojo again and this roadster is a good sign of things to come. Focusing on what made the brand great in the first place by providing sports models along with electric SUVs and FWD models is a way to have your cake and eat it.

Good news for all the enthusiasts out there, except maybe those Porsche executives.


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