2009 BMW Z4 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
August 6, 2009

The 2009 BMW Z4 isn't a lightweight, basic roadster anymore, but it's a comfortable and exhilarating touring sports car that leaves a lot of flexibility.

You'll find firsthand driving impressions and observations from TheCarConnection.com editors in this Bottom Line assessment. TheCarConnection.com also read various reviews of the 2009 BMW Z4 to bring you the highlights in a comprehensive full review.

BMW's modern Z roadster started its evolution as the Z3 back in 1996 and was reconceived as the Z4 for 2002; now it's been thoroughly redesigned. The new 2009 BMW Z4 has revamped styling, a new retractable hardtop, and a raft of new high-tech performance features.

Overall, the new Z4's appearance is lean yet voluptuous, though a bit more conservative than the version that preceded it. The long and low hoodline, with the seating position near the back wheels, still screams out that it's every bit a roadster. The front grille and headlights are now more in line with the look of BMW's other sedans and coupes, and the sides no longer have the aggressive creases and carved-out appearance from the fenders back into the doors. Instead, the silhouette is more flowing, with long, smooth arcs continuing from the hood to the rear fenders, where a rear arc brings out the wheel wells and flows downward to the almost Porsche-like rear lamps. The lamps, combined with a lifted, aerodynamic crease at the tail, give the Z4 a more aggressive outline from the back. The side view of the Z4 exposes some differences from other BMWs: the bubble of the top's roofline, but also, most notably, the overhangs. BMW says that they're short, but relative to the otherwise tight proportions, they seem the longest for the automaker in years, especially at the back, where the automaker needed to add length for stowing the retractable hardtop.

Inside, the 2009 BMW Z4 has a more sophisticated, upscale style than you're going to find in almost any other small roadster. Gone is the straight-across, elegant shelf of the dash in the previous Z4, replaced now with a curvier, more rakish profile. Center controls are now slightly canted toward the driver, while allowing a little more spaciousness for the passenger, and climate controls are arranged above the sound system. A smoother center console design houses an electric parking brake, along with the iDrive controller. A nav screen, when so equipped, pops up from the top center of the dash. Overall, the look inside is a little more cluttered but much more useful.

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Two variants of the 2009 Z4 are offered; the sDrive30i gets a 255-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six, while the sDrive35i model steps up to a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six. Both models come with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, though the optional automatics are quite different between the two. On the 30i, there's a conventional six-speed automatic, with a manual mode, but on the 35i there's something better: the new seven-speed dual-clutch sport automatic transmission. It's the first time the transmission has been offered on a non-M car. The auto box includes steering-wheel paddle shifters; a tap with your thumbs on the front of the paddles orders a downshift, while the paddle face at the back of the wheel allows an upshift. The paddles can be used in Drive, reverting to automatic mode after a short time, or you can lock in manual mode by shifting to a separate gate to the left.

The standard engine in the 2009 BMW Z4 sings BMW's familiar straight-six song and builds steam steadily through the rev range, even well past 6,000 rpm. The turbo engine develops more of a guttural intake growl but brings an extra hammer-like punch in the low-to-mid revs that makes high-speed passes effortless, even if you don't bother to downshift. Most will find the normally aspirated engine plenty strong, even on steep, sinewy mountain roads, and we prefer the lesser engine with the six-speed manual for its predictability and a personality that better fits the classic-roadster feel. For sheer exhilaration, the pick is the turbo engine with the sport automatic, which shifts so quickly and smoothly, without any jolts, that the turbo stays spooled up and most drivers will be considerably faster. BMW says it shifts gears "without the slightest interruption of power," and that's how it feels. All out, the 35i can get to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds, or just 5.0 with the automatic, and the 30i can reach 60 in 5.6 seconds; top speed is 150 mph with the Sport Package, 130 without.

Fuel economy is quite impressive in the 2009 BMW Z4, ranging from a high of 19 mpg city, 29 highway for the 30i manual to 17/24 mpg with the 35i and dual-clutch. TheCarConnection.com averages 23 mpg in about 200 miles of aggressive driving with a 30 and about 19 mpg in about 50 miles of driving in a 35 with the automatic, including several full-throttle runs.

Also new—and standard on all Z4s—is BMW's Driving Dynamics Control. The system brings just three powertrain and suspension settings: Normal, Sport, and Sport+. The system controls the way the throttle responds, the steering boost, how the transmission shifts for automatic models, and how the stability control system intervenes. If equipped with the optional Adaptive M Suspension with Electronic Damping Control (part of the Sport Package), it also controls the suspension damping.

Both of the Z4s that TheCarConnection.com sampled in an extensive drive in the steep hills and canyons near and north of Malibu had the adaptive suspension; it's capable of readjusting the rear dampers by the time the rear wheels reach a rough surface reported from the front wheels, BMW says, and it gives the car a remarkably flexible character, soaking up patchy bumps and even coarse, jiggly surfaces but tightening up for the esses and quick maneuvers. All said, the Z4 maintains a prodigious level of grip without jostling you.

The one thing missing from the 2009 BMW Z4 driving experience is communication back through the steering wheel; as we passed from smooth to coarse surfaces, we couldn't feel any difference through the steering wheel. The ratio for the steering is also very quick—too much so at times. Brakes feel just right and hit a happy middle ground in feel: responsive but not touchy, firm but not unyielding.

The retractable hardtop in the 2009 BMW Z4 is made of lightweight aluminum and folds with surprising finesse—smoothly and quietly, in about 20 seconds. It doesn't make the unsettling graunching sounds we've come to expect in some models. The only hitch this tester found was that the rather flimsy divider separating the area where the top stows from the rest of the trunk wouldn't always click easily into exact position required to operate the top. The trunk is actually plenty big for a couple of carry-on suitcases plus a camera bag, or several duffel bags.

The Z4's top arrangement includes power front side windows along with smaller power rear windows that can be adjusted separately. In top-down motoring, we find the best wind buffeting with the main front side windows up and the small back ones down. Though not completely serene and turbulence-free, it's better than most. Take the 20 seconds or so at a stoplight to put the top up and you're in for a surprise. With the top up, you can carry on a quiet conversation at 80 mph—which wasn't possible in the previous Z4. Another big advantage of the new top design is that it allows larger side windows. Compared to the previous Z4, the side windows are 40 percent larger and the back window is 52 percent larger. What this means is that you don't get the visibility issues that make it a pain to drive in the city with the soft top up.

The cabin in the 2009 BMW Z4 isn't all that spacious; it's just adequate for most adults. The seats now have extending thigh bolsters, but taller occupants will find their knees splayed upward. The windshield header is rather low, which will leave some taller drivers hunching.

One pleasant surprise in the 2009 Z4, versus other roadsters, is that there are plenty of places to stow small items. A small cargo shelf just behind the seats, with a low cargo net that keeps most goods from falling forward, can fit a few petite items like purses or CD cases. There's also a tray in the center console, a small closing compartment at the lower left of the dash, and clamshell door pockets. Models without a pop-up nav screen get an extra storage bin top and center. The Cold Weather Package includes fastening nets at the rear of the seats, compressions straps in the trunk, and a bulkhead storage box. There's also an optional ski pass-through to accommodate items up to 67 inches long. The only nitpicky issue we found was that if the passenger has a drink as well, you need to lift the center armrest; in that position, there are some sharp plastic edges for elbows to hit while shifting.

Just as in the previous Z4, the materials are a step up from most roadsters. Trims are done in Satin Silver matte, Brushed Aluminum, and Ash Grain Wood—the last two especially lending a classy look, and seats are finished in a supple Kansas leather. An Ivory White Leather Package adds sport seats and Anthracite wood trim; there's also an Extended Leather option on the 35i that brings hides to the upper instrument panel, doorsills, and sun visors.

Prices have gone way up from the '08 Z4 to the new '09 model. The new sDrive30i base model is priced about $12,000 higher than last year's model and about $3,000 higher than the outgoing Z4 M Roadster. The standard-equipment list has admittedly been expanded, the retractable hardtop is standard, and features like Dynamic Drive are included. But shoppers should keep close watch of options; they can push up the price rapidly. For instance, just adding the Sport Package and Cold Weather Package to the 30i moves the Z4 just short of the $50,000 mark, and a fully loaded 35i bottom-lines at more than $69,000. The standard features list includes dynamic cruise control and xenon headlamps with cornering lamps, but items like satellite radio and a USB plug are optional. Bluetooth is also optional as part of the BMW Assist service; to make smart phones compatible, that's another option.

The available premium sound system gets 14 speakers and 650 watts, and the base system has 10 speakers and subwoofers, though we weren't very impressed with its top-down sound. Aux-in ports are provided; a disc changer and iPod interface are also available. Bluetooth is part of the $750 BMW Assist option, and there's an additional smart-phone integration option. The nav system includes iDrive, along with an 80-gigabyte hard drive—15 gigs of which are partitioned for personal music storage. The available dual-zone climate control goes into a separate mode with the roof open.

Crash-test results aren't yet available for the new 2009 Z4, but the former BMW Z4 didn't fare very well. BMW has reengineered the Z4's structure, so it should greatly improve on the disappointing three-star results of the former version in federal tests. Standard safety equipment on the Z4 includes seat-integrated head and thorax side bags, along with strengthened windshield pillars and tall roll hoops just behind the occupants. In addition, BMW's Dynamic Stability Control simulates a limited-slip differential to aid in cornering; the system also incorporates Brake Drying and Brake Standby.

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2009 BMW Z4

Styling

With fresh styling both inside and out, the 2009 BMW Z4 is a far cry from the Chris Bangle-designed roadster of yesteryear.

BMW's eye-catching billboard advertisements for the 2009 BMW Z4 have started popping up across the country, and the sales emphasis is clear—the roadster's all-new design treatment takes center stage. TheCarConnection.com's research shows that reviewers are impressed by the new look, although the BMW Z4 still sports a few visual idiosyncrasies.

Beginning with the basics, the BMW Z4 2009 lineup is still a two-door roadster, but unlike last year's coupe/convertible lineup, the 2009 BMW Z4 changes things up with a "power-retractable hardtop" that Edmunds says "adds a whole new dimension to the car." All 2009 BMW Z4s feature the new roof, and according to Edmunds "two versions are offered—base sDrive30i and the more powerful sDrive35i." There is little to distinguish the two models visually, and the styling for both is "less controversial," remarks Cars.com, "in part because the prior soft-top Z4 was among the most risqué designs of its day." Automobile Magazine raves that the BMW Z4 2009 "looks as if it's finally passed through its awkward adolescence and has filled out into a curvaceous hardtop roadster" with lines that "look similar to those of the BMW 1-series, though some cues carry over from the new 7-series as well." Autoblog characterizes the BMW Z4 as "artfully sculpted," noting it "looks remarkably similar to the Z8," a limited-production BMW from earlier this decade that has become a much-sought-after collector's item. Motor Trend reports that, on all its models, "BMW has signaled a clear departure from previous Bangle-era cues," and the BMW Z4 is no exception.

The only awkward styling element, according to Cars.com, is the "front overhang," which is "longer than usual, particularly given BMW's penchant for taut, short-overhang profiles."

Aside from that common quibble, reviewers tend to focus on the new hardtop, which Cars.com notes is a "two-piece aluminum hardtop [that] power-retracts in just 20 seconds; many hardtop convertibles take 25 seconds or more." Those extra 5 seconds may not sound like much, but the short drop-top time makes for an easy transition at stoplights.

Moving inside the BMW Z4's cabin, reviewers quickly point out that the new styling elements are just as dramatic as the changes to the exterior. Motor Trend reviewers first notice that the 2009 BMW Z4 gets "a fresh new interior trimmed in Satin Silver matte, Brushed Aluminum or Ash Grain Wood" with a dash that "now features large, sweeping, hockey stick-style curves and asymmetrical vents." In front of the driver, Autoblog reports that "the speedometer and tachometer take center stage, with fuel and oil temperature gauges set immediately below." When outfitted with the optional navigation system and iDrive combination, the BMW Z4 gets an "8.8-in. screen [that] pops up out of the dash as needed to control the audio and navigation functions," says Motor Trend.

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2009 BMW Z4

Performance

A pair of powerful six-cylinders and an incredible new automatic transmission give the 2009 BMW Z4 a serious performance punch.

The BMW nomenclature for the new BMW Z4 roadster may raise a few eyebrows, but few will question the hardtop convertible's capabilities once they spend some time behind the wheel.

The 2009 BMW Z4 is available with a pair of BMW's famous inline-six engines, and TheCarConnection.com's research shows that both are silky smooth. The BMW Z4 2009 lineup is composed of two models—the sDrive30i and sDrive35i—which are distinguished by their engines. Cars.com reports that the "sDrive30i's 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine makes 255 horsepower and 220 pounds-feet of torque," while the sDrive35i gets "a twin-turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder with 300 hp and 300 pounds-feet of torque." The twin-turbo's extra 45 horses and significant 80 pounds-feet of torque are appealing on paper, but Edmunds says you really can't go wrong with either of the 2009 BMW Z4's "excellent powertrains." Acceleration is quick with either engine, and Autoblog reviewers report that "the automaker is conservatively quoting 5.6 seconds to 60 mph for the sDrive30i manual and 6.0 seconds with the automatic." For those looking to up the power ante, Motor Trend notes that the BMW Z4 sDrive35i "will reportedly hit 60 in 5 sec flat." Just as impressive as the acceleration numbers is the width of the power band; Jalopnik raves that at "any gear, any speed, the new Z4 has huge amounts of shove, culminating in a still impressive top end rush."

For the fully revised BMW Z4 2009 lineup, the German automaker brings its fantastic dual-clutch automatic transmission over from the M line and makes it available on the BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Car and Driver says that this automatic, which offers seven gears, "is the first application of a double-clutch gearbox in a BMW outside of the M3," and they note that "all the gear ratios except for second are the same" between the two vehicles. Drivers still have the option of shifting for themselves, as Motor Trend points out that "a six-speed manual gearbox serves as standard equipment for both the Z4 sDrive30i and sDrive35i," while a six-speed automatic is also available for the sDrive30i. Cars.com reviewers approve of both transmissions and report that "BMW says the manual shifter has the shortest throws of any stick shift it makes," while "both automatics have steering-wheel paddle shifters," which are becoming standard fare on most sports cars (especially at this price point).

One of the major benefits of a powerful six-cylinder under the hood versus a V-8 is the improved fuel economy afforded by having two fewer cylinders. Although the BMW Z4 2009 might not be environmentalists' first choice of automobile, they would undoubtedly prefer it over some of the more exotic—and thirstier—performance cars on the market. According to the official EPA estimates, the BMW Z4 sDrive30i with the manual transmission should return 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, while the automatic gets a boost to 29 mpg on the highway. For the turbocharged sDrive35i, the EPA estimates that drivers will get 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with the manual, with those numbers dropping to 17/24 mpg for the automatic.

BMW has built an almost unshakable reputation upon the incredible handling dynamics of its vehicles, but some reviewers find fault with the BMW Z4's power steering setup. Edmunds reports that the "electric power steering is uncharacteristically numb for a BMW," while Autoblog similarly deems steering as "uncharacteristically light and numb for a BMW." Fortunately, that's about the only source of criticism that TheCarConnection.com's research uncovers, and in nearly every other handling regard, the 2009 BMW Z4 is every bit a Bavarian superstar. Jalopnik compares the current BMW Z4 to the outgoing Z4 M by commenting that "where the Z4 M was a one-trick pony—great at corners, but harsh everywhere else—the new car is at least as capable without sacrificing a smooth ride." Motor Trend reviewers credit the smooth ride to the optional "Adaptive M Suspension with Electronic Dampening Control," which is reportedly "so fast in changing compression and rebound on the shock absorbers that input, say a pothole, from the front suspension can be processed and adjustments can be made before the rear wheels reach the pothole."

Overall, Car and Driver reports that "the Z4 moves sharply along twisty roads, but the steering feel and the extreme rearward driving position make for a personality that is more deliberate than darty." When it's time to put an end to the fun, Car and Driver says the BMW Z4's brakes are "prone to fade after repeated hard stops, despite relatively large 13.7-inch discs in front and 11.8-inch discs in the rear."

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2009 BMW Z4

Comfort & Quality

A lack of storage space is the biggest gripe reviewers have with the 2009 BMW Z4, but this isn't the sort of car you take camping anyway.

With a fully loaded price approaching $70,000, the 2009 BMW Z4 faces some stiff competition in terms of luxury and refinement. Fortunately, the 2009 BMW Z4 features top-notch materials and construction, but it loses points in this category for the folding hardtop's consumption of much of the available cargo space.

The first thing that most previous Z4 owners will notice about the new BMW Z4 2009 model is the extra room inside the cabin. Cars.com reviewers find that the "two-seat interior offers noticeably more headroom and legroom than before," with Motor Trend measuring "0.2 in. more headroom, 0.79 in. more shoulder room and 1.69 in. more elbowroom." It may not sound like much, but Car and Driver says that the "roomier, more comfortable interior" helps make the BMW Z4 "an everyday-capable roadster." The 2009 BMW Z4's interior size is generous enough that one Autoblog reviewer claims his "six-foot two-inch frame fit comfortably" inside the cockpit, which offers legroom that is "nearly identical to the Porsche Boxster, but the Z4 offers a bit more shoulder room." One other point worth noting about the seats comes from Car and Driver, where reviewers are pleased to discover that "the standard leather seats are treated with the hot-pants-friendly Sun Reflective Technology (also applied to the steering wheel), which keeps the surfaces cool to cut back on any skin scorching on a hot day."

BMW's designers deserve some credit for trying to bestow the 2009 BMW Z4 with sufficient trunk space despite the presence of the trunk-eating folding hardtop, but there's only so much they can do. Cars.com observes that, compared to the previous BMW Z4, there are "more storage options—albeit few compared to a conventional luxury sedan or coupe." Edmunds adds that interior storage includes a "small storage area behind the seats that works well for purses or backpacks as well as a moderately sized pass-through" into the trunk, but the trunk's room drops from "a respectable 11 cubic feet with the top up" to just "6 with the top down." Jalopnik calls the six cubic feet "still-very-useful," but it would be hard to take a long weekend trip for two if you want to enjoy the weather with the top down and still fit all your stuff in the Z4.

The criticism of the cargo space that TheCarConnection.com finds is unfortunate, although not unexpected, but it is moderated by the effusive praise that reviewers heap on the BMW Z4 2009's interior. Edmunds raves that the "cabin is...more elegant than it used to be, with better materials and greater attention to detail." Jalopnik reviewers agree and note that "the fit and finish and quality of materials is far beyond that of the old Z4" and is now "on par with the 3- and 5-Series." Automobile Magazine continues the trend by declaring that, "overall, the interior appears to have moved decidedly more upscale." Although the base interior is worthy of the BMW Z4's price tag, Motor Trend reports that, "for maximum luxury, you can choose the Exclusive Ivory White Leather Package, which also gets you sport seats and Anthracite wood trim."

In a bid to improve the overall level of refinement on the BMW Z4 2009 lineup, BMW's engineers have focused on reducing the overall sound levels inside the car, with great success. Jalopnik claims that, with the top up, "the roof lends the Z4 all the refinement of a coupe—conversation is easy even close to the vehicle's top speed—without the traditional downsides of a folding hard top." Car and Driver reviewers also "believe BMW's claim that the aluminum roof is quieter than a softtop," while Autoblog reports that, "even with all of the windows down, and without a wind blocker between the seats, air management is acceptable."

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2009 BMW Z4

Safety

We'll need crash-test data to make the pronouncement official, but all signs point toward a much safer driving experience for the 2009 BMW Z4.

One of the biggest disappointments on last year's BMW Z4 was the poor overall safety rating that the car received in independent crash tests. For the BMW Z4, 2009 should mark a turning point; although crash-test data isn't available yet, the BMW Z4 is completely redesigned and gets a stronger, larger frame that should provide significantly more crash protection.

Both NHTSA and the IIHS can take some time to complete their rigorous series of impact tests on new models, especially when the vehicles in question run into the $60,000 range fully loaded. Stay tuned to TheCarConnection.com for the latest crash-test data as it becomes available.

TheCarConnection.com's research shows that the BMW Z4's other safety credentials are first-rate. Cars.com reviewers state that "front and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard" on the BMW Z4 2009 lineup, "as are four-wheel antilock brakes, with larger discs on the sDrive35i." Edmunds adds that "stability control and traction control are standard on the 2009 Z4" and points out that the folding hardtop roof "incorporates a support system that helps protect occupants in case of a rollover accident." In the event of a top-down rollover, steel roll hoops behind each seat keep both the passenger's and driver's heads from striking the ground. In addition to these standard safety features, Motor Trend notes that the 2009 BMW Z4 incorporates a "Brake Drying function, Brake Standby and Brake StartOff," all of which are controlled by "BMW's Dynamic Stability Control, which can be completely disabled, a development enthusiasts will surely appreciate."

BMW engineers have made a few other safety changes for the 2009 BMW Z4, the most noteworthy of which is the much-improved overall driver visibility. Jalopnik reports that the driver's "vision is excellent with no oversize blind spots," in large part "thanks to tiny rear 3/4 windows that retract into the car's body instead of the doors." The professional reviewers at Motor Trend break out their rulers and calculators to determine that "all-around visibility is up 14 percent over the outgoing model, with 40-percent larger side windows and 52-percent more see-through area out the glass rear window."

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2009 BMW Z4

Features

The 2009 BMW Z4 can be equipped with a wide range of desirable features, but you have to be willing to pay dearly for them.

The 2009 BMW Z4's good but not great rating in this category isn't so much a reflection of the dearth of features inside the roadster—which offers most every tech option under the sun—but rather due to the exorbitant prices that BMW charges for some of its package deals. TheCarConnection.com's editors also mark the BMW Z4 2009 lineup down for the mediocre standard audio system, which is out of place in a luxury vehicle.

The price of entry for a 2009 BMW Z4 includes a lot of goodies to play around with regardless of which trim you purchase. Edmunds reports that both variants of the BMW Z4 2009 come with "a CD audio system with satellite radio preparation and an auxiliary input jack, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dynamic cruise control and rain-sensing wipers." Car and Driver adds that "stability control and bixenon headlights" are standard on both the BMW Z4 sDrive30i and sDrive35i. The standard features differences between the two models aren't significant, but Edmunds does state that the "sDrive35i adds niceties like leather seating, automatic climate control and aluminum interior trim" to the mix.

Most of the praise you are likely to hear about the 2009 BMW Z4's features will be spoken about the optional features, of which BMW offers quite a few. Car and Driver warns potential customers to "expect the Z4 to be available with BMW's familiar selection of price-inflating packages, such as Cold Weather and Premium" to go along with the "Extended Leather package that covers most of the interior in cowhide." Cars.com lists "available sun-reflective leather [that] reflects infrared radiation better to render less-than-scorching surfaces on a sunny day" as one of the BMW Z4's more unusual features, while "other options include...dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and a heated steering wheel."

For the BMW Z4, 2009 marks the first time that the BMW's iDrive vehicle interface will be available. For those whose first thought is to phone a software engineer when they hear the word "iDrive," Edmunds has some good news: The iDrive system on the BMW Z4 "benefits from the substantial revisions that BMW has applied for '09" and is "much easier to use than before." Motor Trend rounds out the list of major options by pointing out that "an 80-gigabyte hard drive for the optional navigation system" sits in the dash, while the "14-speaker, 650-watt stereo comes with an auxiliary input jack" in case you don't want to fool around with the hard drive's music-storage capability.

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Styling 8
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