Rory Reid road tests and reviews the new 2013 BMW Z4 sDrive 18i, with pictures, specs and verdict.
BMW has given the long-serving Z4 roadster a mid-life refresh, bringing about a few choice changes typical of a facelifted model. The aesthetic tweaks in this version are subtle and include fettled headlamps, new side vents and a slightly different dashboard trim. Only BMW geeks will know they’re looking at the latest model – blink and you will mistake it for the previous Z4, although that’s no bad thing.
Those of you that want to stand out from the Z4-owning masses (and who doesn’t want to ram home the fact they’re driving the very latest, facelifted version?) should investigate the not-very-subtle ‘Pure Traction’ design package, which comes with ludicrously bright Valencia orange paintwork, a high-gloss black roof and five-armed double-spoked lightweight M alloy wheels.
The BMW Z4 sDrive 18i is a small, sporty roadster, so it’s never going to be particularly easy to live with on a day to day basis. We recommend you travel light and shun all but the most glamorous of passengers. There are a couple of cup holders in the centre arm rest, though they’re not particularly deep, the door bins are tiny to say the least and the glove compartment is really only big enough for gloves.
The boot is surprisingly large. We managed to fill it with a medium-sized suitcase, a rucksack and still had room for a pair of jackets. What’s more the entire lot fit snugly beneath the boot separator, which must be kept closed in order for the folding hard top to be retracted. Those who are willing to sacrifice the ability to drop the top can fit yet more junk in the trunk.
The metal, folding hard-top works a treat, opening and closing in 19 seconds and while in motion at up to 19mph.
Performance & Handling
The biggest change to the BMW Z4 range is the inclusion of an entry-level four-cylinder engine, which powers the new sDrive 18i. It is essentially the same four-cylinder N20 unit found in the sDrive 20i and sDrive 28i, except it’s tuned to produce a more modest 156hp instead of the 184hp and 245hp produced by its cousins. Performance is obviously affected, 0-62mph taking 7.9 seconds with the manual transmission and 8.1 with the automatic.
We’ll say it in no uncertain terms: you’ll have a better time in the noticeably quicker sDrive 20i and sDrive 28i, which take 6.9 and 5.5 seconds to reach 62mph, respectively.
That’s not to say the BMW Z4 sDrive 18i is slow, far from it. The car doesn’t accelerate in as brutal a fashion as its cousins, but it feels rapid in a straight line. Nail the throttle and it’ll dig its heels in, charging from the blocks with enough gusto to put a smile on your face. With the top down and wind rushing around you, it feels quicker still. Flat out, it’ll hit 137mph.
The Z4 sDrive 18i does have a tendency to shift its weight quite noticeably from front to rear and back again under hard acceleration. It feels a little like riding a see-saw on wheels as you come off and re-apply the power during manual shifting. That said, you can dial this out to some extent either by shifting gears much faster, or being more progressive with the throttle, but it is initially disconcerting. Its brakes scrub off speed well, though we managed to lock its tyres up a number of times under hard deceleration.
Cornering is one of the Z4 sDrive 18i’s strong points. There’s little body roll, though the suspension loads up progressively, allowing you to lean the vehicle into bends. Sharper corners are a joy to tackle, too, as the steering is exceptionally direct, almost kart-like in its response. There’s ample feedback through the steering wheel, the tyres communicating exactly when they’re about to lose adhesion. The Z4 is so communiative, in fact, it’s relatively easy to tell when a slide is imminent even from the passenger seat.
Economy & Environment
When it’s not being thrashed, the sDrive 18i is pretty frugal. Both the manual and automatic transmission versions can return a claimed 41.5mpg on the combined cycle along with emissions of 159g/km, though the sDrive 20i and sDrive 28i return exactly the same figures. Don’t expect any improvements in CO2 emissions, either. All versions of the Z4 emit 159g/km. Don’t buy the sDrive 18i to save money on running costs – that’s really not what it’s about.
Equipment & Value
The entry-level sDrive 18i costs £27,610, which is £2,100 less than the sDrive 20i. It comes with the same standard spec as the sDrive 20i, minus the Kansas Leather upholstery, two-zone air conditioning and rain-sensing wipers. If you want those features back, expect to pay £1,055 for the leather, £455 for the fancy air con and £100 for the rain sensor.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloys, DAB radio, a Thatcham category 1 alarm system, Bluetooth hands free with USB interface, and a whole lot more. It’s an exceptionally well-equipped car in many ways, though if you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, BMW will happily relieve you of it. 18-inch alloys will set you back £1,010, adaptive sports suspension costs £970, while the comfort pack, which includes a wind deflector, extra interior storage, park distance control, cruise control and extended lighting will cost you of £1,495.
The Media Pack, which contains a high-end sat-nav with real-time traffic information, BMW Apps, and BMW emergency services, costs a whopping £2,165. Get it if you love gadgets, but you’ll feel a bit short changed seeing as an iPad can do pretty much everything it can for a fraction of the cost.
The latest Z4 contains the same safety equipment as the previous car. Expect driver, front passenger, front and side airbags and dynamic stability control, which comprises ABS, brake assist, cornering brake control, dynamic traction control and electronic brake-force distribution). The car scored a respectable four stars in Euro NCAP testing.
The BMW Z4 has always been a fun little sports car and the addition of a new, entry-level sDrive 18i version makes it slightly more accessible to a broader selection of people. It’s more affodable than ever, brilliant fun to drive and looks absolutely gorgeous. That said, it faces stiff competition in the form of the Z4 sDrive 20i, the next model up.
That car may cost £2,100 more, but it’s worth every penny: It’s a whole second quicker to 62mph, has a 9mph higher top speed, sacrifices nothing in running costs and comes with more equipment to boot. The sDrive 18i is brilliant, and its sticker price will grab your attention, but if you buy one then there will come a day when you try to outrun a Focus ST or Toyota GT-86 and you’ll lose. And when that day comes you’ll wish you’d opted for its (only slightly more expensive) brother.
Model tested: BMW Z4 sDrive 18i SE
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7.9 seconds
Top speed: 137mph
Emissions: 159g/km CO2
Price: From £26,660. £36,415 as tested