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TheCarConnection's editors have driven the 2010 BMW Z4 roadster to write this hands-on review. Editors have compared the Z4 with other luxury two-seat roadsters, to help you narrow your shopping choices. TheCarConnection.com also has compiled a full review of quotes from other respected auto review Web sites, to give you the most comprehensive BMW Z4 information on the Web.
The BMW roadster era began again in 1996 with the introduction of the South Carolina-built Z3. That rounded, Miata-esque two-seater evolved into the flame-surfaced Z4 in 2002. Now, the Z4 has been reimagined again, with a more elegant body, a tighter cabin, and much quicker performance. With a base price of $46,000, the Z4 competes against the Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, and Mercedes-Benz SLK, as well as the Infiniti G37 Convertible.
Leaner and yet more voluptuous, the newest BMW Z4 introduced in the 2009 model year and carried over for 2010 is a bit more conservative than before. The hood is long and low, with the short-deck proportions of a classic roadster. The front end's been brought up to speed with the lines of other new BMWs, and the sides have seen their aggressive creases and flares softened. The silhouette flows with far more elegance, seen in smooth, long arcs connecting the hood to the rear fenders. The rear wheel wells are pronounced in their size-and taper toward Porsche Boxster-like tail lamps. The Z4 side view shows a slim bubble when the roof is raised. Relative to the otherwise tight proportions, the long overhangs are more noticeable in back, where the Z4 needs the length for stowing its retractable hardtop. Like the sheetmetal, the cabin has a far richer, more sophisticated feel; it's the most upscale of all its competition. The rakish design divides some controls in a strong, graphic trim panel, and cants them slightly toward the driver. There's more metallic trim and choices of contrasting leather trim, all giving the Z4 a fair whiff of nostalgia among its modern controls. Overall, the look inside is a little more cluttered but much more useful. There's an iDrive controller and an electric parking brake in the center console; the navigation screen, when so equipped, pops up from the top center of the dash.
The 2010 BMW Z4 is offered in two models. The Z4 sDrive30i sports a 255-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six; a 300-horsepower, twin-turbo version of that engine comes in the sDrive35i. The base six has a familiar BMW growl and builds even power up to its 6,000-rpm redline; with a manual shifter, its acceleration and feel are pure classic roadster, not overwhelmingly exotic. The turbo version's more guttural and more of a high-speed hammer, with effortless high-speed passing and strong power for sinewy mountain roads. Both versions have a standard six-speed manual; the base car has an optional automatic with manual shift mode. The 2010 Z4 turbo has an option for BMW's new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which includes steering-wheel paddle shifters so that shifts can be ordered up at the tap of a thumb (for downshifts) or fingertips (upshifts). The dual-clutch gearbox lets drivers choose gears and then reverts to an automatic shift mode, or it can be locked in Manual mode for all-paddle control. The turbo six, with this transmission, is an exhilarating ride; shifts are quick, smooth, and without a jolt, making it easy to keep the power on boil. A 0-60 mph time of 5.0 seconds is possible (the non-turbo six can manage 5.6 seconds). Top speed with a Sport package can hit 150 mph; it's 130 mph without. Impressive fuel economy comes with any version; the base manual Z4 earns 19/29 mpg fuel economy ratings, and the turbo dual-clutch is rated at 17/24 mpg.
Handling and ride are electronically influenced with the Z4's addition of Driving Dynamics Control. Three modes-Normal, Sport, and Sport+-are programmed into the car's electronic controls for steering feel, automatic-transmission shift speed, and stability control response. In cars equipped with the optional Adaptive M Suspension with Electronic Damping Control (part of the Sport Package), it also controls the suspension damping. With the adaptive suspension, the Z4 is remarkably flexible, soaking up patchy bumps and even coarse, jiggly surfaces but tightening up for the esses and quick maneuvers. The Z4 grips and grins, but the steering does pay a price in feedback: It's a touch too quick, and there's little difference in feel as the Z4 passes over smooth to coarse surfaces. Big, smoothly modulating brakes feel responsive but not touchy, firm but not unyielding.
Prepare to downsize your life if you upgrade to the latest 2010 Z4. BMW's penned a cabin that's not very spacious-in fact, it's just adequate for most adults. The pair of seats now has longer, adjustable bottom cushions, but most passengers still will catch air under their knees. Taller drivers will have to slouch to see stoplights from behind the low windshield header. What it lacks in interior space, it makes up for in storage; there's a small cargo shelf behind the seats, a low cargo net to trap objects nearby, and a center console tray, as well as clamshell door pockets. A cold-weather package adds seatback netting, luggage straps, and a storage box at the bulkhead. Aside from a sharp edge or two, the 2010 Z4 wears quite nice interior trim in aluminum, ash, leather, and metallic-painted plastic, with an extended-leather option that hides the dash, door caps, and visors. The trunk space is big enough for a couple of carry-on suitcases, plus a camera bag or several duffel bags. Assembly quality and finish on TheCarConnection.com's test vehicles are high, and the Z4 has low wind buffeting with the top down and windows raised. With the top up, you can carry on a quiet conversation at 80 mph-which wasn't possible in the previous Z4.
Neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the latest Z4. The previous Z4 fared rather poorly, but the new version has been reengineered. TheCarConnection.com will update this safety rating when more data is available. Standard safety equipment includes dual front airbags, as well as seat-mounted airbags that inflate to cover the head and thorax. Pop-up roll hoops are built in behind the rear seats and deploy with the airbags in a rollover. The stability control system has a sport-driving mode and simulates a limited-slip differential to help the Z4 corner more effectively. Active cruise control is standard; automatic headlamps are a new option for 2010, but lane-departure systems and a rearview camera are not offered. Compared to the previous Z4, the side windows are 40 percent larger and the back window is 52 percent larger, which means you don't get the visibility issues that make it a pain to drive in the city with the top raised.
The 2010 BMW Z4 is a far more expensive proposition than in the past. The base price is higher than the old Z4 M, at more than $46,000. It has added many standard features, including the folding hardtop, which takes about 20 seconds to lower or raise from a power switch on the console. It folds with surprising finesse-smoothly and quietly, without the unsettling graunching sounds found in other retractable hardtop cars. The available dual-zone climate control goes into a separate mode with the roof open. The standard features list includes dynamic cruise control, HD radio, and xenon headlamps with cornering lamps, but items like satellite radio and a USB port are optional, as are Bluetooth and smartphone integration. The available premium sound system gets 14 speakers and 650 watts, and the base system has 10 speakers and subwoofers, though TheCarConnection.com's editors aren't very impressed with its top-down sound. The optional navigation system includes iDrive, along with an 80-gigabyte hard drive-15 gigs of which are partitioned for personal music storage. The add-on features of the 2010 Z4 can take it from expensive roadster to near-exotic prices; tacking on the Sport Package and Cold Weather Package to the base car pushes its price to the $50,000 mark, while a completely optioned turbo Z4 zips past $70,000.