The BMW Z4 is one of the more intriguing sports cars available. It's a successor to the original Z3 and is the company's only two-seat sports car. It features traditional characteristics such as a front-engine/rear-drive layout, a hunkered-down stance, a long hood and rearward positioning of driver and passenger. While the first Z4 featured a traditional soft top, the current Z4 model has a sleek retractable hardtop that makes this fun-loving roadster a more viable all-year car choice.
The current Z4 also represents a slight change in philosophy for BMW's roadster. Not only does it sacrifice ultimate handling for greater ride comfort and overall refinement, but it also features a turbocharged four-cylinder as its base engine. The result is a grand touring coupe and roadster with potentially excellent fuel economy, and one of the most rounded sports cars money can buy. You'll need a lot of it, though, as the Z4 and its fellow German roadsters are quite pricey.
Current BMW Z4
The Z4 is offered in three trim levels: sDrive28i, sDrive35i and sDrive35is. The 28i gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That's less power than the old base six-cylinder, but it's more torque, and fuel economy is substantially improved. Besides a rather agricultural noise at idle, this is a sweet little engine. If it's not enough, however, the 35i comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Both cars have a six-speed manual transmission as standard, while the 28i gets an automatic stop/start system. An eight-speed conventional automatic is optional on the sDrive28i, while the optional transmission for the sDrive35i is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DCT). The 35is gets a revised version of the regular 35i's engine, boasting 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque with a temporary overboost function that pumps torque up to 369 lb-ft. DCT comes standard.
Though the primary distinction among the trims involves their engines, there are some equipment differences. The sDrive28i and sDrive35i come standard with xenon headlights, HD radio, six-way manually adjustable seats, and adjustable driving settings that change the programming for the steering, throttle -- and if so equipped -- automatic transmission. The sDrive35i adds sun-reflective leather upholstery, automatic climate control and fancy aluminum interior trim -- all of which are optional on the cheaper model. The sDrive 35is is similar but comes standard with the M Sport package. Other options include Bluetooth, power seats with driver memory functions, heated seats and steering wheel, an iPod interface, an upgraded stereo and a navigation system (includes the iDrive electronics interface).
In reviews, we've found the BMW Z4 to be an impressive and highly refined sport touring car. The interior is surprisingly spacious, as is the trunk when the retractable roof is raised. When it's lowered, though, there's only room for a small suitcase. Every Z4 has high handling limits, and it's certainly a hoot to drive (especially when you go for the optional Sport package and leave the adjustable drive settings in Sport mode), but its reflexes and communication with the driver are a bit of a letdown due to a numb electric power steering system, a fairly hefty curb weight and the Z4's predilection for understeer. Still, we think most buyers will be appreciative of the Z4's firm yet compliant ride and sensational engines that make a drive up a winding coastal or country road a wonderful way to spend a sunny day.
Used BMW Z4 Models
The BMW Z4 was completely redesigned for 2010, as the previous coupe and roadster models were melded into one with the introduction of a retractable hardtop. The styling was revamped to be more curvaceous and fluid than its angular avant-garde predecessor, while the interior gained some space, style and improved materials. The sDrive35is was not available this first year. For 2010 and '11, the base Z4 was known as the sDrive30i. It featured a 3.0-liter inline-6 that produced 255 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions were available. This was a fine engine, but it's not as efficient as the subsequent four-cylinder engine that replaced it or as entertaining as the more powerful turbo engine in the sDrive35i.
The first-generation BMW Z4 was introduced for 2003. Originally, there were two roadster models available, identified as 2.5i or 3.0i. The 2.5i had a 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine that made 184 hp, while the 3.0i used a 3.0-liter straight-6 that generated 225 hp. For transmissions, there was a five-speed manual (standard on the 2.5), a six-speed manual (standard on the 3.0), a five-speed automatic or a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG). Standard equipment included 16-inch wheels (17s for the 3.0i), a manually operated soft top (with rear glass) and leather upholstery for the 3.0i. Major options included a power top, xenon headlights and a navigation system.
An update occurred for 2006. Z4 models from this year and onwards are a better choice than earlier models, assuming they fit into your budget. After 2006, the Z4 was offered as a roadster or a fixed-roof coupe. For the roadster, there were two trim levels: 3.0i and 3.0si. The former featured a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine rated at 215 hp, while the 3.0si had a 255-hp 3.0-liter six. The Z4 Coupe was offered in the 3.0si trim only. A six-speed manual transmission was standard on every Z4, while a six-speed automatic was optional. The largely disliked SMG transmission was dropped. Other changes included a retuned standard suspension for better ride quality, a revised final-drive ratio for improved acceleration and updated styling. High-performance M versions of the Z4 were also offered and are reviewed separately here.
Even in its basic trim, the first-generation BMW Z4 rewarded drivers with an engaging driving experience. In Edmunds.com reviews, editors praised the car's sharp reflexes and quick acceleration, though the ride could be a bit rough and the steering wasn't as communicative as some competitors. The Coupe possessed a slight advantage in terms of handling due to its added body rigidity.
Read the most recent 2014 BMW Z4 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used BMW Z4 page.