The BMW Z4 is one of the more intriguing sports cars available. It's the successor to the original Z3 and is presently the company's only two-seat sports car. Defining traits include 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-weather option.
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 employs a highly fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder as its base engine. The result is one of the most well-rounded sports cars money can buy. You'll need a lot of it, though, as the latest Z4 certainly doesn't come cheap.
Current BMW Z4
The current Z4 is offered with rear-wheel drive 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. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with an eight-speed automatic available as an option. The 35i comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque; its sole transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DCT). The 35is utilizes DCT and 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.
Though the primary distinction between these trims involves what's under the hood, there are some other equipment differences. The sDrive28i comes standard with 17-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power seats, Bluetooth and adjustable driving settings that change the programming for the steering, throttle and (if specified) automatic transmission. The sDrive35i adds 18-inch wheels, sun-reflective leather upholstery and sport seats. The sDrive 35is is similar but comes standard with an upgraded audio system and the performance-themed M Sport package (optional on other Z4s). Option highlights include heated seats and steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors and a navigation system.
In reviews, we've found the latest BMW Z4 to be an impressive and highly refined sport touring car, with a surprisingly roomy interior and decent trunk space as long as the retractable roof is raised. Although the turbo-4 makes less power than the old inline-6, it's got more torque, and fuel economy is substantially improved. Besides its rather agricultural grumble at idle, this is a sweet little engine. Should you want for more, the ultra-smooth and seriously quick six-cylinder models are bound to please.
The Z4 is generally a hoot to drive, especially if you go for the optional M Sport package and leave the adjustable drive settings in Sport mode. However, its reflexes and communication with the driver are a bit lacking due to a numb electric power steering system, a fairly hefty curb weight and a predilection for understeer. Still, we think most buyers will appreciate the Z4's firm yet compliant ride and accomplished all-around performance. A spirited top-down journey in a Z4 is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day.
Used BMW Z4 Models
The current, second-generation BMW Z4 was completely redesigned for 2009, 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 the avant-garde first generation, while the interior gained some space, style and improved materials.
If you're looking at used second-generation Z4s, there are a few notable changes to keep in mind. From 2009-'11, the base Z4 was known as the sDrive30i, and it featured a carryover 3.0-liter inline-6 that produced 255 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic. This is a superb engine on its own merits, but it's not as fuel-efficient as the subsequent turbo-4, which replaced it for 2012 when the base model became known as the sDrive28i. The eight-speed automatic was introduced at the same time, supplanting the six-speed unit. As for the sDrive35is, it debuted for 2011 along with the M Sport package for lesser models. Finally, the sDrive35i could be had with a six-speed manual of its own until 2015.
The first-generation BMW Z4 was introduced for 2003 with controversial "flame-surfaced" styling. Originally, there were two roadster models available, identified as 2.5i or 3.0i. The 2.5i had a 2.5-liter inline-6 that made 184 hp, while the 3.0i used a 3.0-liter inline-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.
A significant update occurred for 2006, including the debut of the fixed-roof Z4 Coupe and revamped trim levels with new engines -- the 3.0i (215-hp inline-6) and 3.0si (255-hp inline-6). The Z4 Coupe was offered in 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.
Although we prefer the updated 2006-'08 models, every first-generation BMW Z4 rewarded drivers with an engaging driving experience. In reviews, our editors praised the car's sharp reflexes and quick acceleration, though the ride could be a bit rough -- particularly prior to '06 -- 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 2016 BMW Z4 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used BMW Z4 page.