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With an exclusive body style and classic long-hood, short-deck proportions that emphasize design, performance, and weight distribution over practicality, the Z4 is the only dedicated sports car in BMW's current lineup. But if you think you know the Z4, beware that it's a different kind of sporting machine today than even a few years ago. While the Z4 used to be a rather lightweight roadster that felt like an aspirational step up from the Miata, the current-generation BMW Z4, that was introduced in 2009, has been a different kind of sports car--more of a premium open-top tourer, perhaps even one that's chasing the Porsche 911 Cabriolet or Jaguar XK Convertible.
Last year brought some significant engine updates, with a new turbocharged four-cylinder base engine that's much more fuel-efficient yet actually generates more torque than the six-cylinder it replaced. Now for 2013 BMW has increased standard equipment on the Z4 while also lowering the price about $1,300 for the base Z4.
The slung-back styling and ground-hugging look of the Z4 are like no other in the BMW lineup, and from just about any angle, the Z4 has plenty of that classic sports-car gravitas—although the proportions have been stretched a little bit in back to accommodate the folding hardtop. On the outside, we see influences from the current 6-Series lineup, although inside the Z4 feels unlike the rest of the current BMW lineup, with design that mostly pairs a cockpit-style layout with iDrive system and its advanced technologies well—though the center stack can appear a little cluttered.
All the engines offered in the Z4 are now turbocharged; in the Z4 sDrive28i you get a 2.0-liter turbo four, while the Z4 sDrive35i retains its 300-horsepower turbo 3.0-liter in-line six; there's also the Z4 sDrive35is, which packs 335 horsepower from a twin-turbo version of the in-line six. Paired with the six-speed manual transmission (an eight-speed automatic is available), the base Z4 is fun and smooth-driving, and there's a strong enough turbo kick in the low- to mid-rev range to seldom be caught in the wrong gear. A six-speed manual transmission is also standard on the sDrive35i as well, although there an available seven-speed dual-clutch unit truly combines the more connected driving experience of the manual with the comfort and ease of an automatic (that gearbox is included in the sDrive35is).
Across all the models, acceleration is brisk, 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. Across the lineup, the Z4 is responsive and willing enough, although not nearly as lean and athletic in driving personality as some other roadsters. An adjustable suspension rides under the new Z4, with three modes: normal, sport, and sport-plus, and they each work as advertised, with sport-plus best kept for track days and when comfort isn't the priority.
You'd expect pretty much any sports car or roadster to sacrifice some space in the name of driving fun, and here you'll see signs of that familiar tradeoff. Any travel in the Z4—heck, even a weekend trip—will involve coming to terms with limited cabin and trunk space. There's only space for a couple of small carry-ons and a few personal items, really, although there are plenty of places for smaller items, in trays and pockets, and accessory packages can make it better. 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 BMW Z4's power retractable hardtop is one of its strengths—not just because its mechanism operates smoothly, quickly, and without fuss but because it serves to better isolate the cabin from road and wind noise—and make all-weather use a possibility.
Although neither of the U.S. safety agencies have crash-tested the Z4, it offers an impressive array of safety features. Front and side airbags, adaptive brake lights, and several layers of advanced stability and brake control systems all contribute to the Z4's active and passive safety.
The 2013 BMW Z4 lands in an odd middle ground in the U.S. performance-car market. With the base 28i starting at under $50,000, even with an option or two, it's an impressive, well-finished, and actually somewhat luxurious sports car for the money. On the other hand, a loaded 35is can total well over $70k—which well exceeds the normal top end for an Audi TT or even a Mercedes-Benz SLK. There are a lot of tempting options on the Z4, though; navigation, dynamic cruise control, and park assist are some of the possibilities, and the interior can be optioned with a wide range of finishes and materials.
- Tight, quiet retractable hardtop
- Strong, efficient base turbo four (28i)
- Excellent dual-clutch automatic
- Great ride-and-handling balance
- Storage for smaller items
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- Not much space
- Steering lacks feedback
- High price
- Somewhat cluttered dash