Dan Trent: BMW Z4 3.0Si – the lovable sportscar underdog

12th June 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

This week’s column was going to be about a BMW 130i I found and very much wanted to buy after it came up in conversation with a mate looking for a fast but affordable hot hatch. Then I realised I’ve already ‘done’ the six-cylinder 1 Series thing with the M135i.



Much of what I said about that car applies to the 130i of course. A big engine driving the rear wheels of a small car is equally appealing – maybe more so – with a 261bhp naturally-aspirated BMW straight-six. If perhaps lacking the manic turbocharged power of the M135i’s motor this particular engine remains one to celebrate, especially for BMW fans. Racy, atmospheric straight-sixes have powered some of the brand’s most iconic cars and are, arguably, to BMW what boxer sixes are to Porsche, V8s to AMG or V12s to Ferrari – an engineering and emotional signature if you will. So, you’ll indulge me in referring to it by its N52 internal code – if we’re going to get intimately geeky we should probably be on first name terms! 

There were other BMWs with the N52 engine. This one for instance. Now there was, of course, a proper M version of the Z4 Coupe. But in some ways, I think the 3.0Si version is even more appealing, not just for the fact they go for about a third of the price.

Look at it this way. If you were craving that first step on the Porsche 911 ladder (as, indeed, I was) ­but have been watching even the supposedly unloved 996 climb out of reach I think the Z4 3.0Si might be the reasonably priced alternative, with plenty either side of the £10K mark. 


OK, so it doesn’t have the occasional rear seats that make a 911 tenable for a man with a young family like myself. But, like a 911, I think the Z4 Coupe has the feel of a special car but one you could enjoy without being too chained to thoughts of protecting its investment value. And doesn’t this one look absolutely sensational, especially in silver with those dark-centred five-spoke wheels? Chris Bangle got a lot of flak in his day but I think the Z4 Coupe is one of the masterpieces of his time at BMW. The proportions are classically refined and yet almost caricatured at the same time – the length of the bonnet and stumpiness of the cabin in particular. But the detailing is wonderful (I love the Zagato style double bubble roof) and the non-M versions like this are somehow cleaner and more refined. It’s ageing brilliantly I think. 

And at its heart is that engine. At a time when power outputs and performance levels race ever further from what you can reasonably enjoy on the road here’s a sports car that’s stunning to look at, has enough power to make respectable progress and has, at its heart, a truly charismatic powerplant that will delight every time you turn the key. With its magnesium block, the N52 is light, the ‘double VANOS’ variable valve timing means it pulls hard but revs out too, the silky smoothness and characterful bark of a classic BMW six with you all the way. I’d be tempted to perhaps put a louder exhaust or maybe an induction kit on it for a little more of that sound. Maybe a limited-slip differential too. But I wouldn’t want to go too mad – this is a mature car for a mature driver. One that proves a degree of self-confidence in demonstrating a cool car isn’t all about the bottom line stats, it’s about how it makes you feel.  

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