Review and photos by Brendan McAleer, additional photos courtesy BMW

2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

Henrik Fisker, he of the sleek but ill-fated Tesla competitor with the Snidely Whiplash face, once styled the world’s best-looking modern BMW. Of course, there’s any number of arguments to make against this statement (the original M1, for instance), but to my mind, the low-volume Z8 holds its head high amongst the BMW pantheon as a testament to good taste.

These days, we get the 3 Series Gran Turismo. Oh well.

As good as the Z8 is to look at, it apparently wasn’t all that amazing to drive: form dictated function, and despite a lusty V8 powerplant straight out of the M5, the car was a bit of a handful. If you’re thinking of collecting one, it’s worth noting that (despite being only a decade or so old), aluminum frame sag is an issue. They’re also very expensive, and parts are rare.

Even so, the Z8 was a gorgeous link back to BMW’s heritage, its looks extremely faithful to the original 507 roadster. BMW’s new range of vehicles seem less concerned with this sporting past, exchanging nimble lightness for pavement crushing power and electronic trickery, as in the M5 and M6, or tuning steering and handling for cushiness, as in the ordinary 3 and 5 Series.

2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

Be very careful about what options you select and you can still get yourself an ultimate driving machine with a blue-and-white roundel on the front. But what if you want something a little more old school, like that Z8?

Here you go then: two seats, straight-six, rear-drive, long-nose, short-wheelbase, looks like a shark and goes like one too.

This is the BMW Z4, a small-footprint roadster that’s about the size of a Porsche Boxster or Mercedes-Benz SLK. It’s got a folding hardtop, not much in the way of trunk space, a great big hood and a very short rear deck. It looks like a less retro version of the Z8, a mixture of modern creases and sinuous curves.

The similarity continues on the inside, where the Z4’s uniquely curved centre-stack surface, here wrought from an interesting aluminum grille material, is studded with four circular controls and a push-start button. Temperature control (dual-zone, despite the small cabin) is handled by chunky aluminium knobs.

2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

BMW’s navigation and centralized control systems remain less immediately intuitive than its rivals, and the company has embedded so much information into the various submenus that it’s all a bit overwhelming. However, this is only a detriment if you’re going to own the car for a single week and then return it. In all other cases, and assuming you purchased the vehicle from a dealership with a focus on customer retention, spend a little time learning how to use the various controls and it all starts to make sense. Moreover, here BMW gives you six shortcut keys to skip the sub-menus for the functions you most frequently use.

2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

My tester was also outfitted with comfortable and grippy alcantara seats. The orange central stripe and accenting throughout the interior might not have been to everyone’s taste, but it did liven up the dourness of an all-black car – and hey, Halloween’s coming up pretty soon anyway.

Settling in behind the wheel gives the driver the sense that they’re perched directly over the back axle, staring out at a sea of hood. At just 4,242 mm (167 in.) long (a Boxster is about an inch longer), the Z4’s diminutive size and Cyrano de Bergerac layout give it a real ’60s-era feel. If BMW built Cobra replicas, this is what one would look like.

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