New & Used BMW Z4: In Depth
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The BMW Z4 is a rear-drive, two-seat sports car with a retractable hardtop.
With the Z4, BMW has a successor to the lighter, simpler Z3. Now in its second generation, the Z4 has always been offered as a roadster, while first-generation Z4 was available as a fixed-roof coupe as well.
The Z4, with its long nose and short deck, runs with the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche Boxster, Jaguar F-Type, and Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class.
MORE: Read our 2016 BMW Z4 review
The original BMW Z4, introduced for 2003, wasn't that much larger than the Z3 it replaced, but it was much more refined and luxurious. 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 of that era. The rest of the 2003-2008 models were offered with excellent manual or Steptronic automatic transmissions. The 2006-2008 models were available in a curvy, nicely proportioned hatchback coupe body style that added a little cargo capacity, but coupes weren't that much quieter inside than convertibles were with the top up. During that period, there was also the Z4 M, a model powered by a version of the 3.2-liter six that was also used in the contemporary M3, with output down slightly to 330 hp.
With the introduction of the second-generation Z4 in 2009, BMW moved production from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Regensburg, Germany. The second-generation Z4 was markedly different from the first. This time around, BMW's small convertible dropped the Miata-fighting tack and grew into a more luxurious, more powerful car. Offered only as a convertible, it had a folding hardtop instead of a cloth roof—better to compete with the Mercedes-Benz SLK. There were also a lot of visual and technological influences from the limited-run Z8 roadster. The second-generation Z4 was also 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.
BMW began offering an almost-M version of the car in 2011. The sDrive35is features the same turbocharged inline-six engine as the normal sDrive35i, but it had the boost cranked up by 35 extra hp, for a total of 335. The cars appended with "is" also received a specially tuned exhaust and scads of M parts, including an adaptive suspension, unique wheels, a body kit, a sport steering wheel, and sport seats.
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, this 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 climate control, a universal garage-door opener, and ambient lighting to the standard feature set—all while lowering the price.
For the 2014 model year, BMW added a more feature-packed ConnectedDrive infotainment system with advanced safety and connectivity features, as well as new exterior and interior appearance elements, a new wheel design, and a new chrome "swoosh" on the front fenders.
Light on substantive updates, the Z4 moved into 2015 with a new design package called Pure Fusion Design. The package includes a Sparkling Brown Metallic exterior paint, which is offered exclusively with an Ivory White and Burnt Sienna leather interior.
The only change of note for 2016 is the addition of sport seats to the base model.
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.