- What’s Good: It’s a true roadster with all the panache and pace you’d expect from a BMW.
- What’s Bad: Digital main instrument display is busy, whereas analog gauges especially and large tach would be better.
THERMAL, CA: Many agree the BMW 507 was one of the most graceful roadsters of all time.
It came about at the urging of Austrian-born but New York-based post Second World War auto importer Max Hoffman, now recognized as a visionary and marketing genius.
Hoffman’s house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as was his Jaguar dealership in New York City.
Among his credits was persuading Porsche to make the Speedster and Mercedes-Benz to create the 300 SL. The latter arguably changed how people perceived the brand as other than a maker of large sedans built like the Rock of Gibraltar and just about as fast.
Take a three-quarter front view at a Shelby Cobra and you’ll see where the styling came from.
Hoffman also imported BMWs and he sold its management on a rakish roadster based on the unimpressive 502 sedan.
The design was contracted to Albrecht von Goertz, resulting in just over 250 examples produced from 1956 to 1959.
He understood, like Malcolm Sayer who penned the immortal Jaguar XK-E which followed in 1961, that a roadster needed to have lines that touched the soul.
Von Goertz went on to design the original Datsun Z240 using the same formula of a long hood, bobbed tail and flowing bodylines uninterrupted by adornments.
BMW has also had a number of Z roadsters of its own over the years, such as the Z1 and Z3.
But presented here is the sixth generation Z4, which was revealed last August at the Pebble Beach Concours in Monterey, CA.
There are two versions – the Z4 sDrive30i and Z4 sDrive40i.
The former is fitted with the same 2.0-litre turbo inline four-cylinder found in the X1 CUV, but here producing 255 hp and 295 lb/ft of torque.
The Z4 sDrive40i somehow shoehorns a twin-turbo six-cylinder into the engine bay, putting out 382 hp and 369 lb/ft of torque.
With eight-speed automatic transmission only, the lightish weight of the Z4s see them accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 5.4 and 4.5 seconds respectively, with top speed for both limited to 250 km/h.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the second annual BMW Group “Test Fest” in Thermal, CA, with no less than 16 different BMWs, 11 MINIs, six BMW motorcycles and the fabulous Rolls-Royce Cullinan at my disposal.
Because this was the first time the Z4 was available for testing in North America, I made a beeline to it and I’m glad I did.
I was curious as to why it is referred to as the “sDrive” and was told the term “xDrive” denotes all-wheel-drive BMWs which are increasing in proliferation.
The answer was the Z4 is rear-drive, so BMW settled on the “s”. I’d have used “r” which sounds racier and maybe more apropos for a rear-driver.
The cockpit is all-roadster with low-slung M Sports Seats resulting in a high doors sills and the lovely view ahead along the long hood and a juicy M steering wheel.
Instrument placement is truly driver-centric with the centre stack tilted 15 degrees toward the driver with large, and I mean large, paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.
The 19-inch black M double spoke alloy wheels completed the visual appeal of the package.
I wasn’t crazy about the digital main instrument display, as I prefer a big, analog tach straight ahead in my line of sight. But I did appreciate the standard wind-blocker, as it was a chilly day even for California.
The Z4 sDrive40i was not available, but I snagged the sDrive30i painted in Frozen Grey II Metallic, a (US)$1,950 option with Black Alcantera/Vernasca cabin leather, another option at (US)$1,500.
Having been in Thermal once before, I love what is called Painted Canyon Drive running between orangey/red hills where the sound resonates as you thunder through.
Alas, it was closed, so I opted for another road route over to the Salton Sea.
With a curb weight of 1,491 kg, the 255 turbocharged BMW horses were more than adequate and, using the paddle shifters, you can squirt between lanes with just the tap of the right foot.
BMW took great engineering pains, I know, to create a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution which, once you experience it, makes all the difference in the world when the Z4 is put through its paces.
There were some option packages on the model I drove, but none I would really consider necessary.
But many of the things I would consider necessary are included in the sDrive30i, starting price of $62,450, beginning with LED headlights, rollover protection system, Frontal Collision Warning and Automatic City Collision warning.
It had the Harmon/Harden surround sound system as part of the optional Premium Package (US)$2,500, but I never turned it on.
I was there for the music from the engine and the fun of driving a car with the top down leaving cares behind.
Forget autonomous cars, we all need to drive something like the Z4 sDrive30i so AI doesn’t steal our freedom to experience the joy of motoring.
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