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The current-generation BMW Z4 was introduced in 2009, but the 2012 model year sees some significant under-hood updates. The styling, however, is as conservative as ever, echoing the 6-Series lines somewhat, but upon closer inspection revealing a more sporting, purposeful demeanor.
A long, low hood, short rear deck, and ground-hugging lower aerodynamic elements make the Z4 a sleek roadster of classic proportion, aside from the slightly lengthened rear to accommodate the retractable hardtop. Inside, the latest Z4 is more refined, comfortable, and well put together than its predecessor. In fact, it's among the most upscale sports roadsters available in this price range. A sleek, sophisticated interior design theme pairs with the iDrive system and its advanced technologies well, though some may find the center stack cluttered. High-end trim materials and smooth, soft leather upholstery make the Z4's cabin both modern and comfortable, while giving a touch of a nod to the classic roadsters.
The biggest update for 2012 happens under the hood, where BMW has done away with the naturally-aspirated in-line six-cylinder engine of the previous Z4 sDrive30i and replaced it with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the new Z4 sDrive28i. The Z4 sDrive35i retains its 300-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six, and the Z4 sDrive35is packs 335 horsepower from a twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder. Despite the downsizing, the new turbocharged four-cylinder provides nearly as much horsepower (240 hp) and a bit more torque than its predecessor. Paired with the six-speed manual transmission (an eight-speed automatic is available) it's a fun, smooth-driving car with a nice little turbo kick in the mid-range. The sDrive35i comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission as well, with an option upgrade to a seven-speed dual-clutch unit, which marries the connected driving experience of the manual with the comfort and ease of an automatic. The dual-clutch is standard on the sDrive35is.
Acceleration is brisk for all three models, with the sDrive35is dashing out the quickest 0-60 mph time of the bunch at 4.8 seconds. The sDrive35i comes in a tick slower at 5.1 seconds, and the sDrive28i takes 5.5 seconds. Adding the dual-clutch transmission to the six-cylinder sDrive35i model shaves 0.1 seconds from the stated time, while the automatic in the four-cylinder will add 0.1 seconds.
An adjustable suspension rides under the new Z4, with three modes: normal, sport, and sport-plus. They work as advertised, and most drivers will find sport-plus is best reserved for times when spirited driving is a significantly higher priority than occupant comfort. Available sport packages can improve the handling further, with more driver adjustability. However you configure the Z4, it is a willing companion in aggressive driving, though it's not the bantamweight it may look to be.
Given the strength of the Z4 in driving fun--a necessity for a sporty roadster--it's perhaps forgivable that the interior is a bit short on space. If you plan to travel or tour in the Z4, you'll have to come to terms with its limited trunk and cabin space. Accessory packages can add some ways to make better use of the space, like nets, trays, and pockets, but ultimately, it's a compact roadster without much room for gear. It will hold a pair of small carry-on-sized suitcases and an additional personal bag or two, however, which many will find to be enough for their needs.
Though the Z4 is a convertible, it's not without the comforts of a hard-top coupe. The retractable hardtop is one of its strengths, improving noise, comfort, security, and all-weather capability. Its mechanism operates smoothly, quietly, and relatively quickly.
The Z4 range spans quite the gap in pricing, from the $48,000 28i to the $64,000 35is, but all three models can quickly add options that raise the base price by as much as $15,000 or more. Those options are extensive and high-tech, however, including navigation, dynamic cruise control, park assist, automatic high-beam headlights, Bluetooth phone integration, and much more. The interior can likewise be outfitted in a staggering array of finishes and materials, and there are a handful of equipment packages that will add even more technology, audio, or sport to your Z4.
Safety of the 2012 Z4 is a given considering its intelligent engineering and extensive array of safety features, including front and side airbags, adaptive brake lights, several layers of advanced stability and brake control systems, and a battery safety feature that cuts fuel flow, turns on the hazard lights, and unlocks the doors in the event of an accident. The IIHS and NHTSA haven't yet rated the 2012 Z4.
- Quiet, well-fitted retractable hardtop
- Efficient turbo four-cylinder engine available
- Excellent dual-clutch automatic
- Great handling, comfortable ride
- Storage bins!
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- Minimal cabin space
- Less-than-ideal steering feedback
- Expensive options