If there's one thing BMW knows about, it's driver's cars. Say what you like about the styling, or even the image, but from the entry-level 3-Series all the way up to the flagship 7-Series, you can guarantee the person behind the wheel is having fun.
The Z4 roadster is no exception - and it is about to become even more accessible with the introduction of a new entry-level 2.2-litre-engined edition, aimed at being a value-for-money rival to Audi's 180bhp TT Roadster.
With a 170bhp powerplant from the latest 520i, the newcomer hits showrooms alongside the 2.5 and 3.0-litre variants this month, but suffers only a minor drop in pace. In 2.2-litre guise, the Z4 will sprint from 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds and go on to a top speed of 140mph - that's only 0.7 seconds and 6mph behind the more expensive 2.5i.
Peak torque of 210Nm arrives at 3,500rpm and provides useful in-gear urge. However, you have to work the engine hard to coax the best from it, and keen drivers will be left wanting more immediate acceleration.
But make no mistake, this Z4 still offers the full roadster experience. Drop the canvas roof and you will hear the classic straight-six rumble. On the move, you've also got the BMW's excellent front-engined, rear-wheel-drive chassis. And because it weighs less than other versions, the latest model feels superbly balanced. However, there's no escaping the fact that this is an entry-level car. Stripped of the Driving Dynamics Control system, which firms up the suspension and sharpens the steering, the Z4 2.2i has a basic feel compared to its more upmarket siblings - although that doesn't make it any less fun to drive.
Power-steering is still fitted - taking all the effort out of parking - while an automatic gearbox is a £1,350 option. And while we're talking cost, it's worth remembering that, at £24,225, the 2.2i is £2,395 cheaper than the 2.5i and £6,595 less than the flagship 3.0-litre.
The benefits don't end there, either. Drive carefully and you should return 32.1mpg, while the CO2 emissions of 214g/km place the new Z4 in the 28 per cent company car tax bracket - so fleet drivers pay less to Gordon Brown.
The new Beemer still has air-con, run-flat tyres and a CD player, but does without the leather trim and sports suspension fitted to the 3.0-litre model. As a result, the 2.2i represents great value compared to Audi's similarly performing £27,055 180bhp TT Roadster. If you can do without the luxuries and technical aids of the more expensive Z4s, then this new entry-level car is probably the best buy in the Z4 range.
With the introduction of an entry-level 2.2-litre model, BMW has taken the Z4 out of Porsche Boxster territory, and put it face-to-face with Audi's base TT. Decent performance and great value for money make BMW's latest roadster an attractive buy, and it's sure to boost sales of the already popular two-seater range.
AT A GLANCE
* BMW Z4 2.2i on sale here now
* With engine taken from 520i, model has a 140mph top speed
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