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The roofs are off - can the all new BMW Z4 bring the Boxster to heel?

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THE modern renaissance in roadsters owes as much to the Mazda MX-5 as it does to any other car.

However, whilst the Japanese phenomenon lit the spark, it was arguably the Germans, who else, who gave the open-top sports car its power-hungry edge. Two cars in particular typified this steroid-induced move towards a more muscular topless tearaway; the Porsche Boxster and the BMW Z4.

The latter, an evolution of the earlier Z3, first appeared on the scene in 2003, a good six years after the original Boxster. The pair have been at each other’s throats ever since, until BMW pulled the plug on its second generation Z4 two years ago. The deafening silence that ensued is finally about to be broken, with the unveiling of its long-awaited successor stateside.

Believe it or not, the all-new Z4 is not quite the Teutonic pure-blood it would first seem. As part of a long running, cross-continental collaboration, BMW has been in bed with Toyota throughout the Z4’s lengthy production and incubation period. It’s a marriage of convenience that will eventually spawn two separately badged, platform-sharing offspring. In the red corner, the revived Toyota Supra, due to be unmasked in the coming months. However, before that feverishly anticipated new arrival, BMW has delivered on its half of the deal.

Previewed as a hell-raising concept at the prestigious Pebble Beach concourse of elegance last year, the drop-top demon that returns to California in production form has, to the chagrin of some, slightly dialled down on the fire and brimstone styling. Sure, the Z4 M40i First Edition, displayed in Monterey last month, lacks the concept’s cavernous air intakes and near-maniacal contours.

Nevertheless, its getup can hardly be labelled as conservative, and it does deliver on the fundamentals of roadster doctrine; a central driving position, low centre of gravity, wide footprint and perfect 50:50 weight distribution.

So, what of that much-discussed new look? As should be the case with any roadster, the eyes are inexorably drawn to the long, slender bonnet with its large front overhang. It tapers down to meet a new interpretation of the BMW kidney grille, finished in fine mesh.

Either side are the Z4’s two vertically aligned headlights, just above the pair of air intakes that still loom large despite a significantly pared-down look compared to the concept version. The revived roadster is equally as alluring from the rear, with its own pair of aggressive vents and angular lamps. Headlining the show is a flicked-up spoiler that’s integrated into the rear lid.

Exclusive to the Z4 M40i First Edition will be a Frozen Orange metallic finish. The textile soft top is black with silver effect, whilst the First Edition will also leave the showroom with a high gloss shadow line along its haunches, black exterior mirror caps and a handsome set of 19-inch light alloy wheels.

Considering the Z4 is essentially a collaborative project, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where each of the two bedfellows have brought their influence to bear. That said, the roadster’s interior is very much cut from the same high-end cloth as its BMW, rather than Toyota, brethren.

Decked out in Vernasca black leather trim with decorative stitching, each electrically adjustable seat uses a memory function to tailor the driving position to your precise shape and size.

As for technology, the First Edition is understandably stacked with the stuff. The very latest Harman Kardon surround sound system is built-in as standard, as is BMW’s head-up display – the first time a production roadster has boasted such a cutting-edge feature. BMW infotainment is amongst the most intuitive and flexible in the business, so expect the usual lofty standards from the Z4’s iDrive touchscreen setup and live cockpit instrument display.

If you hadn’t gathered already, the M40i First Edition is here to show off the new BMW Z4 at its imperious best. As such, it employs the same powerful 3.0-litre engine offered in a number of existing performance models in the BMW stable. Packed with 340bhp, this straight six unit will whisk the Z4 M40i from a standstill to 62mph in a Porsche Boxster S-rivalling 4.6 seconds – at considerably less expense, we wager.

Ensuring the most agile cornering possible, BMW has earmarked its track-honed sports suspension with electronic dampers for the Z4 launch edition, along with M Sport brakes and an electronic rear differential.

BMW’s Pebble Beach boy is but a taster of the forthcoming on-road debut of the third generation roadster. Comprehensive details on the full Z4 trim line-up will surface later this month, including pricing, engine variants, technical innovations and the menagerie of equipment.

The worldwide launch is still a little way off, with the real Z4 vs Boxster top-down showdown set to erupt when the former goes on sale in spring 2019.

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