BMW steps up the offensive with the release of their new Z4

fierTalk fast and fun roadsters and Porsche's Boxster tends to lead the discussion.

But German rivals Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have long offered equally stylish alternatives, albeit without quite matching the Porsche's hard core focus.

While Mercedes-Benz looks set to kill off its SLC, BMW is stepping up the offensive with the latest Z4.

Sizing up

There's one body but three engine options with the Z4.

Priced from $84,900 for the sDrive 20i – with a 145kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine, the Z4 comes with loads more equipment than its predecessor, picking up active safety gear now commonplace on other BMWs.

Mated only to an eight-speed auto, the engine is adequate around-town, but it's not particularly gutsy.

That base car also misses out on the full auto emergency braking system that comes with other variants, instead doing with an inferior warning and light braking system.

Best to step up to sDrive 30i, which gets a 190kW/400Nm from the same basic engine, making for more excitement.

Combined with the relatively light body it makes for a surefooted roadster when punted through bends. There's loads of grip, ensuring the rear sticks nicely, which is great for a spirited attack.

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Powering up

But it's the new M40i variant that brings the most excitement, courtesy of a 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo capable of completing the 0-100km/h dash in 4.5 seconds.

From the second you press the throttle there's a lot more to play with, the six-pot living up to the looks.

The 3.0 also has a lovely creaminess across its rev range, with a free-revving spirit that adds to the driving experience. As well as plenty of grunt at low revs, there's a hint of fierceness towards the top end, the inline engine more than happy to stretch its legs.

The closely spaced ratios of the transmission make for rapid fire shifts, too., ensuring rapid progress.

Weighty issue

The additional 120kg of the M40i takes the edge off the initial cornering agility, although it still gets all that luscious grip from sizeable Michelin tyres measuring 275mm across at the rear.

The M40i also picks up an electronically-controlled M Sport differential, reducing the chance of the inside wheel breaking traction.

It's particularly noticeable on a slippery surface, the ability to feed power on seriously confidence inspiring and helping make the most out of the car's raw ability.

X factor

Despite all its competency, comfort and luxury goodness, the Z4 doesn't match Porsche for driving excitement.

It's perhaps a tad too sensible, the emphasis on getting things right detracting from the thrill of driving a roadster.

Sure, there's plenty of fizz, but a little more would cement the deal.

Soft on top

The original Z4 (which replaced the underwhelming Z3 that was killed off in 2002) featured a traditional canvas soft-top, before giving way to a folding hard-top roof with its replacement.

Now BMW has reverted to a soft-top, which is lighter, in turn lowering the centre of gravity, all important for a sports car.

It can fold and raise in 10 seconds at up to 50km/h. It also doesn't impact on boot space, which has increased 50 percent and adopted a load-through hatch for longer items. So, it's bordering on practical.

Elsewhere, the Z4 follows a familiar formula, with two seats positioned just forward of the rear wheels, a long bonnet and drive sent to the back.

Local flavour

With the latest Z4 there's an Australian influence: It was designed by Australian Calvin Luc.

Also leaving his mark on the X1 and X3, Luc says the inspiration for the distinctive looks of the Z4 was the Z8, a roadster made famous in the 007 blockbuster The World is Not Enough.

There are also elements of the iconic 507 of the 1950s.

While styling has been toned down from the squat, aggressive stance of the Concept Z4 of 2017, it still has a thoroughly modern appearance, one characterised by a long bonnet and various character lines, the ones down the side vaguely forming a Z shape (if you squint).

Driver focus

Inside, the centre stack is tilted towards the driver, reinforcing the driver focus.

As well as a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, the Z4 also picks up a head-up display and digital instrument cluster to bring some aeroplane thinking to the cabin.

There's no Android Auto smartphone connectivity, but you can get Apple CarPlay, albeit for an annual subscription cost of $179 (the first year is included). Considering the tech is included in the price on cars as diverse as Ford and Ferrari, BMW's insistence on charging extra for it is difficult to swallow.

In keeping with the modern theme BMW has ditched traditional woodgrain trims – you can't even pick them up as an option. Instead, it's a selection of silvers and other finishes to brighten key areas, the modern finishes complementing the sweeps and swerves of the dash.

Tech overload

Still, you do get wireless phone charging as well as Connected Services, which allows access to information and basic features from an app.

On all but the base car there's also the option of a digital smart key that uses near-field communication on compatible smartphones. You just need to hold the phone against a pad near the door handle and it opens.

It's tricky tech, predominantly because it makes it easy to share (or revoke) access to friends or family without having to physically hand them a key.

Just don't lose your phone…