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The current BMW Z4, introduced in spring of 2009, has styling that's a bit more conservative than the former version; at first glance, it looks a lot like BMW's larger 6-Series and former Z8 models, but up close it's leaner and more voluptuous.
The hood of the Z4 is long and low, with the short-deck proportions of a classic roadster. The only interruption of these otherwise tight proportions is in back, where the long overhangs are more noticeable and the Z4 needs the length for stowing its retractable hardtop. The Z4's richer, more sophisticated feel extends to the cabin; it's arguably 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. The layout is a little more cluttered, but also a little 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. Altogether, the chosen metallic trim and contrasting leather trim gives the Z4 a hint of nostalgia, but it's nothing overt.
You can have the 2011 BMW Z4 in two different powertrains, primarily: 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. And the difference between these two models, actually, goes far beyond their 45-hp difference in engine output. In short, the sDrive30i drives more like a classic roadster, while the sDrive35i is faster but is best enjoyed in a different way. A delightful six-speed manual gearbox is standard on both versions. A conventional six-speed automatic is available on the sDrive30i, while even enthusiast drivers are likely to enjoy the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that's available on the sDrive35i; it includessteering-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 sDrive30i can dash to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, while the sDrive35i can make it in 5.0 seconds. In sDrive35is models, an overboost function enables a temporary increase of 37 pound-feet of torque, and 0-60 times of just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is 155 mph.
The Z4 rides and handles very well. While handling purists will probably want to stick with the base suspension, all Z4 models 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, if a bit digital, soaking up patchy bumps and even coarse, jiggly surfaces but tightening up for the esses and quick maneuvers.
If you plan to tour in the 2011 BMW Z4, prepare to downsize your life a bit. The interior of the Z4 isn't very spacious, and while it's just adequate for two adults, there's not room for much else. What the 2011 Z4 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. And you're best to pack for that weekend trip with smaller bags; the trunk space is big enough for a couple of carry-on suitcases, plus a camera bag or several duffels.
Perhaps the best feature of the 2011 BMW Z4 is its folding hardtop. Raised or lowered in just around 20 seconds, the top operates with a power switch in the console, and folds with surprising finesse, smoothly and quietly and without the graunching sounds that are so typical with these types of tops. The available dual-zone climate control also smartly goes into a separate mode with the roof open.
The feature list in the BMW Z4 is pretty extensive and enough to satisfy tech-savvy shoppers—provided the right option boxes are checked. Dynamic cruise control, HD radio, and xenon headlamps with cornering lamps are all standard, but items like satellite radio and a USB port are optional, as are Bluetooth and smartphone integration. Bluetooth, for instance—standard on many inexpensive cars—is only offered as part of a $3,900 BMW Assist package. The available premium sound system gets 14 speakers and 650 watts, and the base system has ten speakers and subwoofers, though our editors aren't very impressed with its top-down sound.
The optional navigation system includes iDrive—in its much-improved fourth-generation form—along with an 80-gigabyte hard drive-15 gigs of which are partitioned for personal music storage.
Price can be a sore point. The add-on features of the 2011 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.
New this year is an M Sport Package, which combines the Adaptive M Suspension, exclusive exterior colors, an Anthracite headliner, and an M Sport steering wheel.
- Tight, quiet retractable hardtop
- Smooth, responsive engines
- Excellent dual-clutch automatic
- Phenomenal poise, with good ride quality
- Storage bins!
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- Tight cabin and low windshield header
- Dull but quick steering
- Bluetooth is optional
- Sound system is unimpressive