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First Drive

BMW Z4 Handschalter Pack review: roadster gets a manual at long, long last

£63,230 when new
810
Published: 11 Jul 2024
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • BHP

    335.3bhp

  • 0-62

    4.6s

  • Max Speed

    155Mph

Handschalter? That sounds a bit rude.

It may sound like a heckle thrown in fraught traffic, but Handschalter actually means ‘manual switch’ in German. Though curiously this special edition BMW Z4 is called Pure Impulse in its native Deutschland. Nevertheless, its name is incidental to the big headline nestled below its matt green sculpting. This, folks, is a rear-wheel-drive roadster with a manual transmission. In 2024! Driven in the UK, I might add: we're still waiting on BMW's RHD pictures...

Anyway, if that wasn’t unexpected enough, the option arrives almost six years into this G29-gen Z4’s life. Quite when BMW made the decision to do it, we don’t know, but the heavily related Toyota Supra going manual in 2022 must have spurred the engineers on a bit. ‘Better late than never’ has never rung so true, though.

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What are the details?

Available solely on the top-spec, six-cylinder BMW Z4 M40i, the Handschalter Pack adds a princely £5,325 to the list price, taking it to a stocky £63,230. After Jaguar sold scant few stick-shift F-Types, perhaps it’s Munich exerting a little caution. Same goes for speccing them all identically, at least for now: indulge in a Handschalter and you’ll exclusively get Frozen Deep Green paint, tan Cognac leather seats and gloss black alloy wheels that measure 19in front, 20in rear; a staggered setup that’s trickled down from core M Division products. It’s a first for the Z4.

One united spec is surely better for profit margins while green ’n’ tan feels knowingly targeted at the Insta-crowd who were so keen to #savethemanual in the first place. Tellingly, you can’t currently spec this paint (nor the wheels) on an M40i Steptronic auto…

The manual itself has been engineered especially for the Z4, we’re told, with M knowhow woven in. It’s based on a modular BMW transmission architecture, though, and its chunky knob will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a sporty manual Bimmer in the last 20 years (or more), right down to its font. It arguably looks a mite archaic among the dramatic swoops and angles of the rest of the Z4 interior. Where Toyota played with three different knob weights for its Supra MT, desperate to perfect the shift action, BMW has just raided what may be a dwindling stock shelf.

Is it slower than the auto?

By the tiniest sliver. Developing the transmission for the Z4 means the engine gets to keep its full output: 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque, the latter from a paltry 1,600rpm thanks to this 3.0-litre 6cyl’s rampant turbo boost. Too often, manuals take a dip in torque. Not here. The rear wheels alone propel you to 62mph in 4.6 seconds, a mere 0.1s off the Steptronic, with the two sharing a limited 155mph top speed. Efficiency takes a hit, the Handschalter’s 32.5mpg and 197g/km of CO2 around ten per cent worse off than the auto. It counters by weighing 15kg less, at 1,625kg with a driver on board.

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There are chassis tweaks too, including those newly staggered wheels which ought to bring extra traction. New auxiliary springs and remaps for the steering, adaptive damping, stability control and M Sport differential aim to fine-tune the Z4’s involvement to match its transmission.

Worth such an outlay, then?

Simply put, yes. It feels right from the moment you climb in, the stubby gearlever a quick flick of the hand away from the (slightly oversized) steering wheel and the seat slung to the ground in its lowest setting. It feels fabulous to be perched between the engine and drive with a real sense of the 50/50 weight split and low centre of gravity in your first few hundred feet. It’s special before you’ve even got going.

What it never feels is an outright sports car: the Z4 never has, and the introduction of a purist transmission hasn’t transformed it into an Elise with elocution lessons. There’s perhaps a notable layer of extra focus from its chassis tweaks but sticking those bigger wheels on the rear axle – complete with fat 285-section tyres – only serves to reinforce how high its limits are. It’s a chunky thing and needs excessive commitment to playfully demonstrate its RWD layout on the road. Certainly in the dry.

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Luckily there’s nuance and involvement without immoral speeds. This is a subtly satisfying car whatever your driving style, and its muscular mid-range means you can shift up and down its six ratios at will, even if the top of third gear could nudge three-figure velocities. While this engine relishes revs, unlike a nat-asp Boxster it doesn’t demand them. You’ll snick up and down this ‘box almost constantly. Not because you need to, because you want to.

So it’s an enjoyable process?

The shift action is taut and decisive, perhaps to the point of needing a concerted effort in your first few miles, but if you’ve already made a deliberate choice to spend five grand more on the manual, you’ll welcome the extra immersion. It rev-matches downchanges for you – and less gratuitously than many rival systems – but if you wish to heel ‘n’ toe yourself, the assistant can be turned off within the Individual drive mode configuration.

The adaptive damping, meanwhile, is accomplished in all its settings and I reckon you’ll quickly default to driving with the suspension in Sport even on busy British tarmac. It balances comfort and precision remarkably well, contributing to the more general grand tourer vibe on display. A softie with a slight edge, the Z4 is a car that’s comfortable in its own skin. Its 1.6-tonne kerb weight is nary a concern.

What’s it like inside?

There’s a perk to the Z4’s relative age, this 2018-vintage interior striking a real sweet spot between technology and tradition. You get proper climate controls alongside high-def widescreen Apple CarPlay and wireless charging. The heated seats and wheel aren’t hidden behind a sub-menu and the drive modes and sportier stability control modes are easily activated on the move.

Sure, some badgering active safety systems have infiltrated the calm, but they’re easily extinguished at the start of each journey by setting up some shortcuts on the dashboard’s numerous physical buttons. It’s a fine place to be and the boot volume is a reasonably generous 281 litres; one litre more than both a Boxster’s luggage spaces combined.

I want a Z4 coupe!

Well, you can’t have one, unless BMW has a financially frivolous change of heart by fast-tracking the Concept Touring Coupe into production. But I wouldn’t worry. This Z4 convincingly acts the mini GT, roof up or down. Sure, things can get blustery at motorway speeds with the fabric hood stowed, but a wind deflector between the seats keeps most disruption at bay while closing the cabin creates a comfy cocoon. Short-shift and you’ll barely hear its engine, too.

I spent six months with a Z4 M40i auto back in 2019 and found it such a phenomenally easy thing to live with, I still occasionally pine for it now. Or maybe I just miss the relative innocence of 2019…

Either way, we’re not awash with choice within this sector or price point. A Mercedes-AMG SL43 with 40bhp more (but two fewer cylinders) is twice the price. The MG Cyberster costs a fiver under £60k and brings another level of performance in dual-motor form, but much less interaction. The Porsche 718 Boxster soldiers on (an EV replacement is on the way) and its splendid GTS 4.0 iteration doesn’t charge extra for a six-speed manual, though it does now curiously come with a PDK auto as standard. Porsche lets you have any colour you like, too, though its car nudges £80,000 before you’ve even glanced at the options list.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate manual roadster swansong, but BMW’s alternative has never run the fight so close. Whichever you favour, let’s just delight in the fact their rivalry can still rage on.

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