This obviously isn’t the best time to be launching a two seater roadster costing upwards of £28,645, but BMW seem confident enough about their new Z4 to predict a respectable sales figure of 3,500 units a year worldwide. Of those, a fairly hefty chunk may well come to the UK: We are the largest market for convertibles in Europe, despite our weather. Or perhaps that should be because of our weather, as we like to make the most of what little sunshine we enjoy. Even in a credit crunch.
A couple of things strike one about the new Z4, when compared with its predecessor. The first is the unwelcome appearance of BMW’s iDrive system - the big jam jar lid stuck between the front seats that controls all sorts of secondary functions such as sat nav and radio. It is still distracting. Better, and the most revolutionary feature, is the folding metal roof. The old Z4 had a canvass roof that could be folded back in 10 seconds (the world's fastest convertible, if only on that score). The new one takes around 20 seconds, so you might have the embarrassment of being caught with your roof half way down at the traffic lights - not cool. However it is a technical tour de force. The two aluminium (for lightness) sections "sandwich" tightly, so that the boot doesn’t have to be too bulky. There is still a price to pay in lost luggage space, though BMW say that you can carry a set of golf clubs with the roof up, thanks to the "through loading" hatch running out of the boot into the cabin. Time will have to tell whether this novelty for BMW - they stuck to canvass roofs until recently – will prove reliably water proof. By the way, there’s no spare wheel, but the run flat tyres have a range of about 150 miles at a maximum of 50mph. Reassuring.
The styling of the old Z4 was the work of BMW's controversial stylist Chris Bangle, who has recently moved on. The new car‘s look is equally promising, and it mostly delivers.
As ever, the glory of a BMW roadster is its throaty straight six-cylinder engine. The most enthusiastic drivers can choose "sport" mode (which really ought to be a default setting in car such as this) or they can turn all the electronic stability aids off. You get used to the vast swath of aluminium bonnet stretching before you and the car shrink-fits around you. Partly that is down to the cabin, more cosseting than before and partly the ease of using the dual clutch six speed "sports automatic" gearbox, complete with paddle shifts (though a six speed manual is a better, immediately responsive, option.)
In truth, this BMW is a softer, larger, less sporty, more luxurious sort of roadster than the original Z4, and closer to the Mercedes-Benz SLK in character. My test car seemed well made, but I was disappointed that, on the second day of my testing, the dash told me that the engine oil was running low. Whether that was due to the car being driven exceptionally hard (it wasn't) or the engine consuming oil (unlikely) or the sender being faulty (most likely but not exactly comforting) I cold not say: BMW hustled it away before I could find out. In any case the cheapest 2.5 litre Z4 is fine; the 3 litre sDrive35i, at £37,060 probably won’t add that much to your fun.
Sean O’Grady is a former Motoring editor of The Independent and reviews cars for the paper.
At a glance
BMW Z4 sDrive23i
Performance: 0-60 in 6.6 seconds
Economy: 33.2 mpg combined
Insurance: Group 17
Tax: Band F (£125)