2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i

The best of both worlds

2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i

It used to be that if you were interested in buying a BMW Z4, you had to make a choice. Do you want an enclosed coupe, with its full structural integrity, or a rag top convertible, with its attending chassis flex that all drop tops have. With the redesigned 2009 Z4, BMW took that choice away, making all models both a hard top and a convertible. It’s like getting two cars for the price of one.

FAST FACTS

1. The Z4 sDrive35i is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six making 300hp and 300 ft-lbs of torque.

2. The redesigned 2009 model is a retractable hard-top convertible.

3. Pricing starts at $45,740 with 35i models costing $51,650 and up.

4. BMW claims the sDrive35i model will hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds with the six-speed manual, or five seconds flat with the seven speed dual-clutch auto-box.

A SOLID SPORTS CAR, TOP UP OR DOWN

With the top up, the Z4 feels like its chiseled out of a block of steel – solid, stable, quiet, and tight. But what I found remarkable was that there was no real difference in the way it feels with the top stowed in the trunk. There is virtually no cowl shake, chassis flex or judder over potholes, or railroad tracks, like you’d find in the 1 Series or even the 3 Series convertibles.

So there are no trade-offs with this newest Z4. Well, that’s not entirely true; there is a tradeoff in truck space with the retractable hardtop versus the older model’s rag top. While the previous rag top couldn’t exactly boast about its trunk space, when the top was pulled back, the area left was still useable for some luggage.

The new hardtop takes up so much of the trunk that a single person can’t even pack for a long weekend trip. And if he does, he’ll need to have a small, narrow, flat, soft duffle to shoehorn into the space allotted. And don’t forget to buy wrinkle-free clothes.

It’s a good thing Z4 buyers aren’t looking for practicality.

YOUR CHOICE: 3.0L STRAIGHT-SIX OR TURBO SIX?

The only choice you’ll need to consider with a Z4 is between the 30i or 35i models. The 30i comes with an inline, 3.0-liter six-cylinder motor that produces 255 horsepower and 220 ft-lbs of torque. The 35i adds a turbocharger and is tuned for 300 horses, and 300 ft-lbs of torque.

My test car was the turbo model with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 7-speed dual clutch automatic is available, with both steering wheel paddles and shift lever operation. I usually prefer automatics for every day use, but this 6-speed manual is a honey of a gearbox, with short throws and easy precise shifting. And the clutch pedal requires a lighter effort than I expected, so it isn’t a chore to operate.

The 3.0-liter turbo is a real gem of an engine. It makes its power in a wide rev range from just off idle up to about 5000 rpm, (7000 is red line) so you are always in the right power band to stomp on it and go.

On urban expressways, the Z4 is a slice and dice tool, allowing you to dart in and out of traffic with ease and confidence. On challenging roads, you can let the engine braking slow you into a turn and lay on the throttle as you exit. And if the devil takes over at a stoplight, you can chirp the tires and show the tail lights to the rest of the traffic pretty easily.

When you do wish to drone along in 6th gear on the Interstate, the engine is hardly breathing at 75 miles per hour, and I consistently got 30 miles per gallon. And for long stretches at 55 to 60 miles per hour, the computer showed 34 miles per gallon of premium fuel! That was especially notable, since the window sticker only posts 25 mpg (17 city) for its EPA highway estimates.

Next to the excellent structural integrity, the other major surprise for me was the outstanding ride quality. With such a powerful engine under the long hood, I fully expected this rear wheel drive roadster to have a stiff, jarring ride. Not even close. This Z4 is a “gentleman’s sports car,” with a comfortable, supple, boulevard ride. And yet, rather than feeling sloppy and loose when pushed hard in corners, the Z4 still retains all the right attributes of a true sports car, without too much body lean. The multi-link rear suspension keeps the power down on the road, and the Z4 feels well planted, especially with the optional 18-inch wheels and performance tires, which helped to keep the car tracking accurately through long sweepers. The light steering feel makes side-to-side transitions easy and sharp.

PLENTY OF ADD ONS

My test car was fitted with the Sport Package, which includes Adaptive M Suspension. That system lets you choose, with the push of a button, Normal or Sport mode. Sport mode makes the suspension stiffer, while giving the driver quicker throttle response, tighter shift points (for the 7-speed) and less power assist to the steering, for more precise control. You can definitely feel the difference between the two modes, but even in the Sport mode, the car rode comfortably and never felt harsh. I kept it in Normal mode for most of my time in the car, but if it had the Sport mode as the only full time setting, I’d have been fine with the car just that way.

The interior cabin is luxurious, purposeful, and handsome with the lipstick red leather seats, and brushed aluminum dash and door trim. What it isn’t, is spacious, and that tight feeling is exacerbated by the Sport Seats that are part of the Sport Package. The seats bottoms are supportive, but narrow, which will begin to become a pain the bottom after an hour or so. The side bolsters hug your back and shoulders a bit too tightly, and can even be pumped up electrically to make them even tighter. Unless you buy your polo shirts in size small or medium, don’t even think about using the pump, or you’ll feel like ground meat being forced into a sausage casing.

This car also had the optional Cold Weather Package, which includes three mode heated seats, which I had the chance to use on an unusually cold summer morning in Chicago, and a really great feature – a heated steering wheel. Retractable headlight washers are also part of that $1,000 package.

PASSENGER AND CARGO ROOM, LESS THAN PLENTIFUL

Drivers taller than 6’ 2”, will probably find the Z4 deficient in the headroom department, and those with long legs will find the Z4 to lack the room to stretch out. With the seat pressed back to the end of its travel, you won’t be able to dial in much rake to the seatback, either. Fortunately, I don’t have those problems, but I would have liked BMW to have included a feature that would automatically move the seat back when you shut the car off, for easier ingress and egress. The car sits very low to the ground, and I heard some strange noises coming from my throat every time I got in and out.

As with the trunk, cabin storage space is pretty tight. There is a glove box, which can hold the Owners Manual, or a pair of gloves – but not both. The center console has an iPod connection outlet, and can hold your wallet or iPod – but not both. There is a storage compartment on top of the dash that can hold your sunglasses or a pack of cigarettes – but not both. And finally each door has a fold out map pocket, which can hold a map, as long as it is of Rhode Island, not Texas. So the owner of the Z4 will need deep pockets… not only to afford the car, but also to stash anything he wants to take along with him on the drive.

RETRACTABLE ROOF WILL DRAW STARES

The retractable roof goes up and down with the push of a button, and deploys in about 20 seconds. It will also stop bystanders flat in their tracks. It’s a really cool multi-piece clamshell affair, and quite an ingenious piece of engineering that you just can’t help but look at while it’s going up or down. And it has a rather large rear window that leaves just a small blind spot in the rear three-quarter view. It does create a lot of turbulence in the cockpit when the top is down, but hey, it’s a roadster, and that’s the whole point of top down driving anyway.

The Z4 sDrive35i starts at $51,650. Adding the Cold Weather Package at $1,000, the Premium Package at $2,500, the Sport Package for $2,300, Comfort Access system (keyless entry) for $500, HD radio for $350, and Satellite radio with 1 year subscription for $595, and destination charge of $850, and you get a bottom line of $59,720. The standard engine 30i model starts at $45,740 if you don’t need the ballistic power of the turbo model.

THE VERDICT

The new Z4 sDrive35i is an outstanding car. It has power, performance, comfort and it’s a coupe/convertible all rolled into one. Its new sculpted lines are striking and will turn heads wherever you drive. Top up or top down, it’s guaranteed to put miles of smiles on your face. It may not be the most practical car you can find, because of its limited carrying capacity, but the same can be said for a lot sports cars that are priced two, three or even five times higher, as well as some that are half the price.

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