BMW is the go-to brand for drivers who love an engaging experience, but fans have been complaining recently that the company is starting to go soft. Anyone with that opinion probably hasn’t had seat time in the Z4.
|1. The Z4 is available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder or turbo 3.0-liter straight six.
2. The sDrive35i sits mid-pack and makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.
3. A six-speed manual or s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic are available.
4. Pricing for the Z4 starts just under $50,000 or about $67,000 as tested.
When the current generation debuted as a 2009 model, it was available with both a naturally aspirated and turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. Last year, BMW scrapped the self-breather in favor of a turbocharged four banger. Either model may be had with a six-speed manual and there’s an available seven-speed dual clutch if you so choose.
Since the car’s introduction, the base inline-six has been replaced with a turbocharged 4-cylinder and BMW has introduced a higher-performing sDrive35is with an added kick to deliver 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. AutoGuide’s test car, however, is the mid-range sDrive35i. Using the same 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six it makes slightly less power at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. It’s the version that’s been around the longest, and for good reason.
THE ESSENCE OF BMW IN ONE CAR
Right-foot down isn’t the only way to drive the Z4, but it’s the most fun. Acceleration from the turbo-six is excellent and had us questioning BMW’s claimed 300 hp rating. It feels like even more.There’s an excellent linear progression of speed too, with no hint of turbo lag.
Then there’s the way the exhaust screams, pops and cracks as the engine approaches redline. It’s so much fun, it should be listed in the brochure as an entertainment feature.
BMW also offers an “M Sport” package. Upgrades include an adaptive suspension, aerodynamic enhancements, an upgraded headliner and metal weave interior trim pieces.
Standard with the Z4 is the ability to flip between three-driving modes: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Each mode dramatically changes the way the throttle reacts, as well as how much steering effort is required. The drive modes also affect how compliant the suspension is and how soon the stability control intervenes on sideways fun (which can happen quickly and easily).
Drivers will have few complaints with how the car acts under Sport and Sport Plus modes, as the car responds wonderfully to driver input. Those concerned with the ride quality may be happy to learn that selecting the “Comfort” mode does improve the firm ride, but just by a bit. If you’re looking for a soft grand-touring ride, the Z4 may be a little too rough.
There are more comfortable convertibles out there in terms of ride quality and interior space. However, as a sports car, the Z4 is exactly as it should be. Compared to its German rivals, the road feel of the Z4 fits right between the more enthusiastic Porsche Boxster and the refined Mercedes-Benz SLK.
The electric power steering isn’t perfect with a hint of on-center deadness, but that decreases in both Sport and Sport Plus modes, where it feels heavy and engaging.
As you sit so low to the ground and almost right on top of the rear-axle, the Z4 really does feel one-with-the-road and in-tune with the driver. Simply-said, it’s easy to have fun with this convertible.
Shifts through the dual-clutch feel sporty and come instantly, but can feel unrefined at times as starting slowly in first gear feels rough. This car seems destined to be driven quickly and is in its element when taken by the scruff and tossed about.
WON’T GO UNNOTICED
BMW hasn’t bothered to modernize much about the Z4 over the years but there are a few updates to the exterior. A revised headlight design means that the convertible fits in with its stable mates and provides easy recognition on the road, during the day or night.
While the rest of the Z4’s exterior updates are subtle, the new Hyper Orange paint certainly isn’t.
The interior is equally eye-catching thanks to contrasting orange and black trim and Alcantara inserts. It might be a bit halloween-esque, but it works well. Without the Hyper Orange package, the cabin loses its Alcantara-trimmed seats in favor of leather.
As such a small and low roadster, taller drivers may find the accommodations to be a bit tight. At over six-feet tall, the Z4’s interior is constraining to me.
Regardless of your dimensions the cargo room of the Z4 is limiting. At eight cubic feet, it’s slightly more generous than the SLK, but almost 25 percent smaller than the Porsche Boxster boot.
Unfortunately, those looking for an exciting convertible that’s engaging and fast will have to pay quite a bit for it. A base four-cylinder Z4 rings in at $49,875, while the six-cylinder models start at $58,425. Our model as equipped rang in at about $67,000 after destination.
Seem like a bit much for a 300 hp convertible? You’re not the only one that thinks so. The Z4’s sales chart looks like it drove off a fiscal cliff.
Still, it’s priced right between a competitively equipped Mercedes SLK350 and a Porsche Boxster S.
A mild update for 2013 makes the Z4 more exciting and keeps it right on the heels of its rivals. It’s the classic ultimate driving machine with very few compromises. If there’s one car that could represent the BMW brand, the Z4 might be it.