I hire a Z4 for the weekend and the inevitable Boxster comparisons come up.0
With heatwave warnings on high alert, it was quite clear that more appropriate transportation was required. The RS, as funky cool as it is, simply doesn’t like really hot weather and despite the provision of climate control and other mod-cons, I really wanted a convertible for the weekend.
Saturday morning and I’m browsing Google looking for any firm that provided convertible hire. Finding firms that catered for this wasn’t hard, but finding stock was impossible. The good weather has lasted all week so people were way on the ball and way before me.
Prestige Car Hire in Hemel Hempstead came up with the goods though, providing me with a choice of either a Z4 or a 330ci, with the Z4 coming at a killer price making the choice an easy one. Besides, I’ve always found the new shape really handsome and this pretty much hit the spot for the weekend.
After a super quick transaction, I was out on the M1, hard top electric roof down (rather slow mechanism, but effective transformation!) having my scalp massaged at speed. It’s a liberating experience that is savoured by those of us unfamiliar with convertible ownership. In the three days I had the car, the roof only went up when the car was parked. I never even got to sample the car in its coupe form.
I love the design of this car, I rank it one of the best looking roadsters on the market. It’s a quality car that demonstrates BMW build standards that hark back to the 80’s. Ruler guided shutlines with roof open or closed, switch gear that feels punctual and components that want using. As an ownership prospect, it ticks all the right boxes and looks fabulous parked up on the drive with the roof in either position. Not sure black is a good colour though, the remnants of Bangles flame surfacing need a brighter colour to exhibit its lines. Personally, I’d be brave and go for a white Z4. And those wheels are amazing, filling the arches gracefully giving the effect of a very modern roadster, together with its short overhangs.
Boot space is generous when the hood is up, but once in convertible mode, the roof sits on top of any luggage as the photo suggests, making access to your gear very difficult. In order to properly get your stuff back out, you need to put the hood up again, which wouldn’t be so bad if the roof didn’t take so long to go up and down.
Otherwise the interior is very comfortable with shapely leather seats and a nice, chunky steering wheel completing the GT feel. Unfortunately my car wasn’t equipped with sat-nav which was a pain, but the sound system provided great entertainment with the punchy speakers complimented by the AUX cable in. Although the bloody sound compensation thing was irritable to say the least as the volume kept self-modulating, making for inconsistent volume.
Driving this car is a mixed affair and I get the impression it’s trying to maintain a split personality but failing at both, it’s neither a proper GT, nor is it a sports car with dynamics to match. It’s a 6 speed manual and the gearbox itself is a slick affair, with each shift smooth and easy and heel and toeing working best from the ball of your foot. However, there’s no reward to your hard work and despite the classic BMW silky smooth 3.0 6 living up to its reputation, it didn’t ever feel like anything other than an arranged marriage between transmission and engine.
Frequently I’d feel the effects of chassis lag as the elastic feel of the engine would be working against my perfect gear shifts. Whether it be wobbly engine mounts or some sort of weird gearbox bounce, the car would often wobble when startled into acceleration. It’s a throbbing lump and sounds meaty, but without menace. Sport mode would sharpen up throttle response and would exacerbate the strange chassis lag rather than fix it.
The engine felt lethargic and with a fairly 2010 average weight of 1500kg, shouldn’t have felt so. I never quite knew how to get the best out of it as it didn’t feel comfortable being revved, nor did it ever feel like it had the tractability of low down torque, sometimes even getting bogged down at low revs.
This feeling of disappointment is compounded by the inert handling. I’d imagine this is how the American classic cars handled, heavy at the nose and very little feedback through the over-servoed steering. No matter how much I’d lean into the car, it would never communicate its limit to me, feeling often unsafe and unpredictable, even in Sport + mode. It was, strangely enough, remarkably difficult keeping it in a straight line as the car would often graze the lane on the motorway, from one dotted line to the other due to its overly sensitive dead-ahead steering. And dammit, if I want to do a burnout from the slip road and paint black lines on the tarmac, that should be my prerogative. I don’t want an ECU doing the decision making for me by cutting power!
In comparison to the 2.7 Boxster I drove, it’s not even close dynamically. The Z4 makes up a lot of ground with that modern roof, but it had none of the chassis brilliance, nor did it have the perfection of engine and gearbox union that always distinguishes a Porsche from its peers. The Boxster was a car that I simply wanted to drive right out into the middle of the night in winter. I never had the inclination to do that in the Z4, despite its better looks, superior build quality and modern design in ergonomics – but BMW are masters at that.
So, if you want a cab to pose in (and who’d blame you), the Z4 is the more appealing, aesthetically. But if you want a rewarding, engaging roadster that tickles the spine when nobody is looking, then the Boxster is for you.
Bart has emailed me pictures of his new Z4. As I said, if I were to have bought this car, it would be in white and here’s the evidence. It looks spectacular!