New & Used BMW Z4: In Depth
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The BMW Z4 is a convertible with a retractable hardtop and uses a two-door rear-wheel drive layout. It’s comfortable and sporty, competing with the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, Jaguar F-Type, and the Porsche Boxster.
See our 2014 BMW Z4 review for pricing with options, gas mileage ratings, and specifications
Tracing its roots back to the lighter, simpler Z3, the Z4 changed the Miata-fighting tack and grew into a more luxurious, more powerful car.
The original BMW Z4, introduced for 2003, wasn't that much larger than the Z3 but it was much more refined and luxurious—and it made a tremendous leap, design-wise, graduating from British roadster disciple to something much more complex, inside and out. Originally the Z4 was sold in 2.5i and 3.0i variants, with 184 horsepower and 225 hp respectively, but a mid-cycle update in 2006 brought more powerful engines. Models from 2003 through 2005 could have an optional SMG gearbox, which was never well received and didn't function as well in the Z4 as it did in several of BMW's other cars at that same time. The rest of the 2003-2008 models were offered with excellent manual or Steptronic automatic transmissions. 2006-2008 models were available in a curvy, nicely proportioned coupe body style, but coupes weren't that much quieter inside than convertibles were with the top up. From that period, there's also the Z4 M, a model powered by the same 3.2-liter six that powered the M3, with output down slightly to 330 hp.
The second-generation BMW Z4 that made its debut late in the 2009 model year was a very different car in many ways. It traded its soft top for a more complex folding-hardtop arrangement, much like the one that had recently been introduced on the 2007 BMW 3-Series Convertible. The newest Z4 borrows much—both in terms of styling and technology—from the limited-run Z8 roadster that BMW sold earlier last decade, and it moved markedly upscale, to a higher price range, with more features and options.
In 2012, BMW introduced a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the sDrive28i model, replacing the previous sDrive30i. Despite the smaller displacement, the new engine generates nearly as much power while returning much better fuel economy. For the 2013 model, BMW sweetened the Z4's feature set by adding power front seats (with driver-side memory), dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a universal garage-door opener, and ambient lighting to the standard feature set—all while lowering the price somewhat.
For the 2014 model year, BMW added a more feature-packed ConnectedDrive infotainment system with advanced safety and connectivity features, new exterior and interior appearance elements, a new wheel design, and a new chrome "swoosh" to the front fender.
We've found the latest Z4 to be farther from an edgy sports car, rather one that hits an elegant midpoint between poise and performance, its velvety powertrains, cabin appointments, and tight-fitting top. None of the first-generation Z4s are very good choices for long-distance cruising, but the latest Z4 is a much better highway car.
With the second-generation Z4, BMW moved production from Spartanburg, South Carolina to Regensburg, Germany. Looking ahead to calendar year 2014, a smaller Z2 roadster may join the BMW lineup to occupy that more affordable portion of the market that the Z3 and Z4 used to appeal to. A Z4 M remains a possibility, but it hasn't yet been confirmed.