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Specification:
M40i
Engine:
2998cc, 6cyl turbo, RWD, 335bhp, 369lb ft
Claimed MPG:
33.2mpg, 165g/km CO2
Performance:
0-62mph in 4.5secs, 155mph
Weight:
1610kg
Price:
£49,050 OTR/£51,985 as tested/£591pcm

Remember when folding hard tops were all the rage? A fad kicked off by the Mercedes-Benz SLK – and surely democratised by the appalling but popular Peugeot 206 CC – it wasn’t long at all before even the most traditional, purist-hearted carmakers ignored the vast weight and styling compromise of a concertina roof in order to appeal to a public running scared from soft tops.

Even BMW couldn’t resist, but thank heavens the third-gen Z4 has switched back to good old fabric. A big month covering nearly 2000 in ours – much of them with the roof firmly in place – has proved exactly why it was the right choice.

There’s the aesthetic benefit, of course. Say what you like about the latest Zed’s garish grille and headlights, but just try arguing that its rear three-quarter proportions aren’t spot on now that they don’t have acres of folding metal to consume. After almost six months with the car I’ll now defend its styling to the hilt. I think it looks fantastic.

But the benefits of a lighter, softer roof ring true elsewhere, too. The handling, for one, with a lower centre of gravity surely helping make this the sharpest, most rewarding Z4 I can remember driving.

This month’s first big trip was a holiday to a wet and windy Lake District, where the M40i proved incredibly surefooted for a 369lb ft RWD car in Britain’s sodden north west. To the delight of my best mate Adam, who spends the majority of his time in a diesel Civic. It wasn’t long before his confidence skyrocketed and he was taking the Zed by the scruff of its neck, making few allowances for a mechanical layout that ought to be a complete handful in crappy conditions. No qualms about the weather protection of its soft top, either.

Then followed a rather vast trip across to mainland Europe, taking in everything from the Frankfurt motor show to a weekend in Holland watching former Sunderland footballing hero Lee Cattermole play at his new club, VVV Venlo.

This meant huge motorway distances – a fair portion of them cruising above 100mph on the Autobahn – yet its fabric roof proved nearly as insulating as metal. Only tyre roar really impeded upon the peace inside the cabin, fully validating BMW’s decision to make the Zed soft-top again. Its proportions, handling and mpg all benefit from less complexity with no real compromise.

Mileage: 11,642 miles Our mpg: 33.0

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