2011 BMW Z4 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 28, 2011

The 2011 BMW Z4 is an exhilarating sports car, and one of the better choices for touring, but next to other roadsters it's pricey.

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.

Review continues below

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.

8

2011 BMW Z4

Styling

The proportions of the 2011 BMW Z4 are nice from just about any angle, and it's still every bit a modern take on the classic roadster shape.

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 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. 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.

8

2011 BMW Z4

Performance

No matter which 2011 BMW Z4 model you choose, you'll find satisfying performance; but the steering feel could be more direct.

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.

The base six has a familiar BMW growl and builds even power all the way up its rev range; with a manual shifter, its acceleration and feel are pure classic roadster, not overwhelmingly exotic. It invites foot-to-the-floor driving, though it's by no means underpowered. The turbo version's more guttural and more of a high-speed-hammer drop-top, with effortless high-speed passing and strong power for sinewy mountain roads. In the sDrive35i, there's a rush of boosted power on tap even from low to mid revs, so revving it all the way up isn't rewarded in the same 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.

In either of the Z4 models, the steering doesn't have the direct feel of the Boxster, and it's a touch too quick. Big, smoothly modulating brakes feel responsive but not touchy, firm but not unyielding.

8

2011 BMW Z4

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2011 BMW Z4 is richly appointed, yet tight.

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.

The Z4's two seats have longer, adjustable seats, with longer cushions than those that are used in other roadsters, but taller drivers will have issues with the low windshield header, which can make seeing traffic lights difficult and invite a hunched-forward driving position. That said, the seats themselves are supportive enough for long trips.

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.

Aside from a sharp edge or two, the 2011 Z4 is nicely trimmed in aluminum, ash, leather, and metallic-painted plastic, with an extended-leather option that hides the dash, door caps, and visors. The standard leather seats even get Sun Reflective Technology, which helps keep them from being so scorching on hot days. 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.

8

2011 BMW Z4

Safety

The 2011 BMW Z4 has an impressive set of safety credentials for a roadster.

While crash-test results for the 2011 BMW Z4 are unavailable, neither of the major agencies that conduct crash tests on U.S.-market vehicles have tested this roadster.

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 also has a sport-driving mode and simulates a limited-slip differential to help the Z4 corner more effectively, while the brakes have a drying function as well as a Brake StartOff function for uphill starts. Active cruise control is standard; automatic headlamps are a new option for 2010, but lane-departure systems and a rearview camera are not offered.

Visibility is a step better than in most roadsters, too. 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 issues that make it a pain to drive in the city with the top raised.

7

2011 BMW Z4

Features

The 2011 BMW Z4 offers a mother lode of available features, but can get very pricey, and you'll need to make sure you check the right boxes to get popular connectivity features.

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.

Overall, the Z4 is a far more expensive proposition than in the past, with a base price that's higher than the previous-generation, top-of-the-line Z4 M.

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.

7

2011 BMW Z4

Fuel Economy

Relative to most other sports cars, the 2011 BMW Z4 is a pretty green choice.

With EPA fuel economy ratings as good as 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, the 2011 BMW Z4 lineup is actually quite green—for a sports car, that is.

You'll see pretty good mileage—low 20s, likely, in combined driving—with either engine. Curiously, the turbocharged engine actually gets slightly better mileage, with the manual gearbox, than the naturally aspirated engine.

Those who value fuel economy in a sports car might want to wait until the 2012 model year, when a new base turbocharged four-cylinder engine is expected to offer improved fuel economy.

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