2010 BMW Z4 sDrive30i Review

Bigger and more beautiful, the second-generation Z4 goes up-market… including the cost

2010 BMW Z4 sDrive30i Review
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A luxurious and sporty roadster in its previous life, BMW’s newest Z4 goes up-market, while also going up in size, weight, horsepower and price.

FAST FACTS

1. The sDrive30i is powered by a 3.0L straight-six with 255-hp and 220 ft-lbs of torque and can hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds with the manual or 6.0 seconds with the automatic.

2. For 2009 the Z4 is now a retractable hard top.

3. The base price is up significantly with the all-new ’09 model starting $45,750 ($53,900 CAD).

At first it seems as though the new Z4 is flying in the face of BMW’s efficient dynamics philosophy and to a certain extent it is. And yet, even with all of its features ballooning in size, the Z4 might actually be more efficient – for what it is.

When we’re talking about efficiency in this respect, it’s the “sports car” type and not the sort of measurement you might use for a compact car. If that were the case, efficiency would be measured solely by fuel economy. Not here; although for the record, fuel-economy is almost identical at 18/29 mpg, compared to 19/28 mpg for the previous base engine. We recorded 25 mpg average. It’s no improvement and won’t get Greenpeace’s approval, but for a car that makes 40 more horsepower and weighs 700 lbs more, it does seem like quite a feat of engineering.

When you look at the stats, it’s easy to see what direction BMW is taking the Z4 in. Our tester, an sDrive3.0i model, makes 255-hp – a 40-hp increase over the previous entry level Z4 and exactly the same output as the old top-level version.

As for the 0-60 mph sprint, it takes just 5.6 seconds with the manual transmission, which is a good second faster than the previous entry offering and is the exact same number as the old top level model. Cars equipped with the automatic transmission (like our tester) are, however, three tenths of a second slower at 6.0 seconds, compared to 5.7 for the old top-level Z with the auto box.

Some of this has to do with the car’s weight, which is now a rather alarming 3,900 lbs. That’s a huge jump over the old Z4, which weighed in the range of 3,000 to 3,200 lbs.

You might think that this increase is a result of the car’s larger size, but that’s not really true. The weight gain can mostly be attributed to the heavy retractable hard top contraption.

As for the car’s size, it has increased, but not by as much as it seems with the new Z4 looking as large as a Mercedes SL. At 166.9-inches long, it’s almost six inches longer than the old model, and yet is roughly half an inch less wide. As for the wheelbase, it’s almost the same, meaning much of that six inches has been gained at the overhangs – which BMW’s engineers most certainly know is the wrong way to build a great handling car.

But leave it to those same engineers to find a way to make an extra six inches work to their advantage. The new version does seem a better handler. It’s well planted in the corners in a way the old Z4 was not; the old model having this strange feeling that the rear end was lifting up on the suspension in hard cornering situations. The new Z4 gives its driver plenty of confidence, delivering a nimble handler that’s also solid.

We were pleasantly surprised by this, although we probably shouldn’t have been. After all, the new M3 had equally big gains in size and weight and yet proved to be a massive step forward.

The Z4 feels quite small when you want to toss it around, but for daily driving it feels larger and more luxurious.

The final item on the Z4’s spec sheet that has gone up is the price. Just a year ago BMW was asking $36,700 to start for one of its roadsters. Now, the pay-to-play sticker begins at $45,750 ($53,900 CAD). Yikes!

So the question remains, is it worth it?

NEW DESIGN A MARKED IMPROVEMENT

To start, let’s pick an easy category: the car’s style. Sure it’s subjective, but in our opinion the new Z4 is a leap forward in styling away from the Bangle design era that has plagued BMW these past few years. The front grille is almost shark like and overall there’s a lot of Z8 in this new design.

The rest of the car seems to flow from the large kidney shaped grille and around the BMW logo. And with the top up, there’s a continuity with two bulges in the roof mimicking those on the hood. It looks great top up or down and we love the big strong lines over the rear fenders. Finally, the Z4 has some serious road presence and looks more like something an executive would own, rather than a junior banker’s lease.

Next up is the interior. It’s still relatively simplistic and won’t have you drooling like, say, a Mercedes or Audi might, but improvements have been made. We particularly like the new HVAC controls, although the orange-lit audio control space won’t take long to be dated. Still, it’s simple to use, as are the rest of the cockpit features, with the entire area being designed for the driver.

The available sports seats, included in the $2,300 Sport Package (with the adaptive M suspension and larger 18-inch wheels) are a must for anyone who loves athletic driving, but who isn’t too wide at the hips or shoulders.

The biggest drawback to the Z might be the leather, which is textured in a way that just seems a little cheap. And we’re talking about the upgraded Kansas leather – which came as part of a $3,900 Premium Package. Unfortunately, the more premium Napa leather is only offered on the sDrive35i.

The Premium Package is also necessary if you want power seats… which seems absurd for the asking price.

Other options on our tester included the incredible $2,000 Premium Sound Package that is impressively loud, with 14-speakers and 650-watts! This might seem trivial, but anyone who’s owned a convertible can appreciate a good audio system that delivers quality audio (and lots of it), whether you’re driving 80 mph or stuck in traffic next to a Semi.

IMPROVED DRIVING EXPERIENCE IS MORE STABLE IN THE TWISTIES AND MORE LUXURIOUS ON THE STRAIGHTS

The driving experience is rewarding no matter your mood. With the overall size pretty much the same; the car’s added weight really gives it a more solid, well-planted and premium feel. And because it’s a BMW, even with the added heft, you can still toss it around with finesse.

Helping to deliver these two unique experiences is BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control (DDC) system. Using different vehicle programs, DDC allows the driver to choose how he wants the car to behave, and unlike some past versions of systems like this, the car’s character changes dramatically depending upon the setting. When in Normal mode, the Z4 behaves as you might expect and is perfect for most driving situations – especially when you’re in for a long highway cruise or stuck in traffic. Select Sport mode and immediately the throttle response is more immediate, the steering is more direct and if the car is fitted with an automatic transmission, it stays in a lower gear for better access to the engine’s power. It will also adjust the suspension stiffness if you opt for the Adaptive M Suspension. A final mode is Sport+, which activates the Dynamic Traction Control mode of the car’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system for a limited amount of wheelspin.

With the Sport mode engaged, the car’s automatic transmission is responsive and changes gears incredibly quickly. We’d still take the stick if we had the choice, but this auto-box didn’t leave us wanting.

As for power delivery, the 255-hp delivers as we expected. The sDrive3.0i is no rocketship but is certainly quick. The car’s more substantial feel over its predecessor does, however, make the acceleration feel a bit muted. What isn’t muted is the Z4’s exhaust. We’re not sure the old straight six has ever sounded this mean.

Oh, and n true BMW fashion, the Z4 hauls to a stop impressively well.

FUNCTIONALITY

Unlike the old ragtop Z4 the new car not only has plenty more interior room, but it just feels more useable for daily driving. With the top up, the car isn’t just coupe-like, but functions just like a coupe, with excellent visibility, even out the back. The downside of the retractable hard top is that it does eat up a lot of potential cargo room. There’s roughly 11 cubic-feet with the top up with just six cu.-ft. with the top down. Still, it’s more space than we expected.

THE VERDICT

BMW has made the decision to move the Z4 up-market and it seems to have paid off. Unfortunately the retractable hard top does add a lot of weight, (and, subsequently, price), but somehow the German engineers have built a car with an even more dynamic driving experience. We’d lament BMW moving away from more affordable driver’s cars, were it not for our confidence the automaker will build a Z2 that will bring sporty driving back to the populous. As with all new BMWs, the design of the latest Z4 is a marked improvement. Our one main complaint is that base models are rather simplistic in their offerings, especially considering the significant price increase.

As a result, owners will be compelled (BMW hopes) to pack on a lot of option packages. That’s the way our sDrive3.0i model came, with the total sticker price rising to $58,150 ($64,900 CAD) – yikes!

On the whole, BMW has managed to build a car that delivers even more driving enjoyment on more levels. It’s a better luxurious convertible and a better driver’s car; and while some comfort features have been left off of base models, BMW didn’t skimp on ensuring some of its best performance features (like the DDC system) are standard. After all, the Z4 is a BMW, and performance comes first.

LOVE IT

  • Stunning new exterior design
  • Driving Dynamics Control programs let driver choose relaxed luxury driving or performance driving
  • Larger and heavier yet somehow a better driving experience

LEAVE IT

  • Even upgraded Kansas leather seats look low grade
  • Big price increase
  • Entry-level models too basic, especially for the price

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