New & Used BMW Z4: In Depth
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The BMW Z4 is a rear-drive, two-door convertible with a retractable hardtop. Comfortable and sporty, the Z4 competes with the Porsche Boxster, Jaguar F-Type, Chevrolet Corvette, and the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class.
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 current car, the second one to be called Z4, is markedly different from that first generation. Only a convertible is offered, and it is a folding hardtop instead of the cloth roofs of before—better to compete with Mercedes-Benz's SLK. There are also a lot of visual and technological influences from the limited-run Z8 roadster. The current Z4 is a more upscale affair, with a greater focus on comfort than on driving dynamics or all-out power. The price went up with all of those changes, as well.
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. A smaller Z2 roadster has been rumored to join the BMW lineup, to occupy that more affordable portion of the market that the Z3 and Z4 once tapped. A Z4 M remains a possibility, but it hasn't yet been confirmed.
Looking to the future, a new BMW Z4 may be on the way around 2017, possibly sharing a platform as a joint development with Toyota's next Supra.