The Bangle-era Z4 still has the power to dazzle, even twenty years after it launched

By John Howell / Sunday, October 17, 2021 / Loading comments

Chris Bangle has many critics – me included when it came to the egregious glued-on boot lid of the E65 7 series – but in the spirit of openness, I’m happy to argue that the E85 Z4 roadster was a work of design genius and more harmonious than the otherwise highly distinctive E86 coupé. Admittedly, his junior at the time, Anders Warming, is credited with the Z4’s styling but, as the man pushing flame surfacing, the E85 was the epitome of the Bangle-era brief that arguably Warming was merely executing.

Whomever the ultimate honours are awarded to, the Z4 was a radical departure from the preceding Z3. That was unapologetically retro in every respect, although no less handsome as a result. The Z4 retained the same undercurrent of late 50s and early 60s swagger in its proportions but with a thoroughly contemporary, flame-surfaced twist. The long bonnet and stubby tail led straight back to the beautiful BMW 507. As did the swoop of its silhouette and the headlights, which were stuck as far out to the corners as possible for the perception of greater width.

For some, they were reason enough to stop and stare, but for me it’s all about the Z4’s details. This is where it had the ability not just to pique interest but to retain it. It still does. If I click on the side profile picture of this 2007 3.0 Si and study its lines, the mismatch of divergence and intersection still has the power to perplex. They shouldn’t work but, by Jove, they do. I’ve always marvelled at the incongruous diagonal slash in the front wing: the one that echoes the line of the A-pillar and dissects the integrated BMW roundel and side repeater. How did they manage to pull that one off? I still look at Z4s on the road today and think people would still be struck dumb if it launched yesterday – and for all the right reasons.

Beyond its design, the Z4 was a great car to drive. It is a BMW, after all. This was no hairdresser’s flight of fancy in the way some might view the Audi TT. It had longitudinally mounted inline engines and a rear-drive layout that offered the sort of sports car authenticity that the TT lacked. And the handling could genuinely thrill, especially as a snappy flick into oversteer needed some respect.

The range was broad enough to encompass four-cylinder engines, but for the ultimate joy you really should look for the M54 or later N52 3.0-litre that we have here (the more powerful Si version to boot, with 262hp) – unless you have the wherewithal to snap up something with an S54 motor and an M badge, that is. The 3.0-litre, in either guise, has the power and torque to propel the Z4 along with genuine gusto and the accompanying six-speed manual is a joy to operate with its suitably stubby and tactile lever. And when you drop the hood, you get to enjoy one of the sweetest ‘sixes’ thanks to a note that fits perfectly with the Z4s carefree demeanour.

From personal experience, there are a few things to watch out for, though. Key items to check include the rear suspension springs, which readily snap, the DISA Valve, which can fail and shed shrapnel into the bores, and the hood motor. If the drain holes by the rear wheels block up, which they do with fallen leaves or the like, then the recess beneath the hood fills up with water. That submerges the roof motor and the consequence is dire. None of that should put you off, though. Arm yourself with the knowledge to inspect its weak spots before buying – or get someone on board to do that for you – and you should bag a good one. Then keep on top of servicing and maintenance and your E85 should prove as reliable as any other modern classic of its era.


SPECIFICATION | BMW Z4 3.0 Si M SPORT

Engine: 2,996cc, straight six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],600 rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],750rpm
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 155mph
CO2: 207g/km
MPG: 32.8
Year registered: 2007
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £8,980

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