2012 BMW Z4

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
February 2, 2012

Buying tip

The Z4 sDrive28is is the gas mileage champion of the Z4 lineup, and it's fun to drive, too--don't overlook it just because it's two cylinders short of the others.

features & specs

2-Door Roadster sDrive28i
2-Door Roadster sDrive35i
2-Door Roadster sDrive35is
23 city / 34 hwy
19 city / 26 hwy
17 city / 24 hwy

The 2012 BMW Z4 is a great option for the driver seeking a balance of fun and comfort, making it a great light tourer, but it can quickly become expensive with added options.

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.

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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.


2012 BMW Z4


Classic proportions and modern style combine to make the 2012 BMW Z4 an attractive option.

Though it's riding into its third year on the market in its current form, the BMW Z4 continues to wear its blend of conservative curve and sporty style with grace.

At first glance, many of the proportions seem a bit like the larger 6-Series convertible's, though parked side-by-side, the Z4's smaller size is obvious. The long hood, short rear deck, and low overall height are classic roadster proportions. Long, smooth arcs, raised character lines, and gentle creases provide relief on most of the larger panels.

The rear fenders are slightly flared, and the tail lights are wrapped smoothly into the rear. At the nose, open intakes and the kidney grille are the primary cues.

Inside, the Z4 is richer than ever, and arguably the most upscale of its competition in the luxury-sport roadster segment, though the new 2013 Porsche Boxster may soon take that title. Nevertheless, the Z4's raked, angular design, focused on the driver, imparts a sense of sport to match the car's performance. The layout of the controls is a bit cluttered, but remains useful, with the iDrive controller the center piece of the console.

Metallic trims, leather upholstery, and a wide array of color schemes, including high-contrast bright insert materials, offer a lot of room for individualization.

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2012 BMW Z4


Despite somewhat disconnected steering feel, the 2012 BMW Z4 is a smart performer, with good power and balanced handling.

Balanced handling, a civilized road ride, and smooth, relatively efficient power delivery characterize the BMW Z4's combination of luxury and sport--all married with the open-top sensation of a classic roadster and the modern convenience of a folding hard top.

A new engine is available in the BMW Z4 for 2012: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 240 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The sDrive28i trim with the new four-cylinder replaces the previous sDrive30i 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder model. Despite the smaller engine, the new turbo four-cylinder offers nearly as much power and slightly more torque--and a satisfying driving experience. Paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic, the new entry-level Z4 offers all the performance you expect in a BMW, dashing to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds.

For those that prefer even more zip, there's the sDrive35i, which uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. It's even quicker than the base model, hitting 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds, or 5.0 seconds with the optional dual-clutch transmission, which replaces the automatic option in this model. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are available in dual-clutch models.

Yet another engine and performance upgrade remains, however: the Z4 sDrive35is. With a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine good for 335 horsepower, it's the quickest of the bunch, capable of quick 4.8-second 0-60 mph runs. The sDrive35is comes standard with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and paddle shifters.

Whichever Z4 model you choose, you'll get a balanced, controlled chassis riding on an adjustable Driving Dynamics Control suspension system that offers Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings. Dynamic stability control with traction control, brake fade compensation, start-off assist, brake drying, and brake stand-by features offer high-tech aids to improve driving safety and consistency.

An optional Adaptive M Suspension with Electronic Damping Control (part of the Sport Package) offers even more adjustability, readily soaking up patchy pavement yet firming up the dampers for better handling on smoother pavement.

Steering feel isn't as direct or natural as its Porsche rivals, but the Z4's is still informative without being harsh. The brakes are smooth to engage, responsive, and firm, without being touchy or grabby around town.

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2012 BMW Z4

Comfort & Quality

Though tight on space, the interior of the 2012 BMW Z4 is well-appointed and well-made.

Like any small roadster, the 2012 BMW Z4 puts a premium on interior space. It's big enough for two adults to travel in comfort, but they'd better pack lightly: there's not much space for anything else.

The seats are comfortable and highly adjustable, but sit high enough in the cabin that taller drivers will find the low windshield header problematic. With the top up, headroom can be tight as well, though only for those well over six feet in height.

Despite the dearth of space, there are a fair amount of cargo nooks in the Z4's cabin, including a small cargo shelf behind the seats, a low cargo net to trap objects, clamshell door pockets, and a center console tray. Adding the cold-weather package also brings seatback netting, luggage straps, and a storage box at the bulkhead.

In the trunk, there's space for a couple of carry-on size suitcases, but not much more.

As for fit, finish, and materials, the 2012 Z4 lives up to BMW's high standards, with quality aluminum, wood, and leather trim and upholstery; an extended leather option that covers the dash, door caps and visors; and generally excellent panel fit. Squeaks, rattles, and vibration--a frequent issue in open-top cars--are minimal, and BMW even takes an extra step or two with features like Sun Reflective Technology in the leather seats, which keeps them from reaching scorching-hot temperatures even when exposed to direct summer sun.

Wind, road, and engine noise are generally low, especially with the top up, though the growl of any of the engines will permeate the cabin in more aggressive driving--as it should.

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2012 BMW Z4


A long list of electronic and passive safety measures make up for the lack of government crash testing on the 2012 BMW Z4.

Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) have yet crash-tested the 2012 BMW Z4.

Standard safety equipment includes dual front airbags; seat-mounted head and thorax airbags; pop-up roll hoops that deploy in a rollover; stability and traction control; brake drying function for better wet stopping; hill-start assist; active cruise control; and anti-lock brakes.

Optional safety upgrades include automatic headlamps, park distance control, and BMW Assist service with Bluetooth. Advanced features like lane departure warning, rearview camera, and blind spot monitoring aren't available, however.

Compared to many roadsters, the Z4's visibility is impressive, with large side windows and minimal rearward obstructions--though with the top up, it can be more difficult to see rearward.


2012 BMW Z4


The 2012 BMW Z4 comes up short on a few common standard features, but offers a long list of upgrades--provided you're willing to pony up the price they add.

The folding hardtop of the Z4 might be its best feature, raising or lowering in 20 seconds via a power switch in the console, the top quickly transforms the Z4 from an open-top roadster to a cozy coupe--and does so slickly and quietly. The automatic dual-zone climate control also adjusts to different modes depending on the top's position.

Inside the cabin itself, the Z4 is predictably well-equipped and high-tech--as long as the buyer ticks the right options boxes. Dynamic cruise control, HD radio, and dynamic Xenon headlamps are standard equipment, but you'll have to upgrade to get a USB port, Bluetooth, smartphone integration, or satellite radio. BMW Assist, a telematics service that adds information and emergency response features, is also available.

The optional navigation system includes iDrive, in its much-improved and streamlined fourth-generation form, plus an 80-GB hard drive system with 15 GB set aside for personal music storage. The new BMW Apps system is also available, letting users integrate smartphone apps directly into the iDrive control system, including streaming music, Facebook, Twitter, and more.

Available interior appearance, materials, and color customization is also extensive.

If there's one caveat with the Z4's available options list, it's that loading the car up with all of the bells and whistles can quickly raise the price from the $48,650 base price well past $70,000 on a highly optioned sDrive35is model.

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2012 BMW Z4

Fuel Economy

Relative to other sports cars in its class, the 2012 BMW Z4 is surprisingly green--with the right engine choice.

The Z4 is a surprisingly green sports car, particularly with the new turbocharged four-cylinder. The sDrive28i rates 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for 27 mpg combined with the eight-speed automatic, while the manual trades 23 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for the same combined rating.

Stepping up to the turbo models, the sDrive35i rates 19/26 mpg for 21 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 17/24 mpg for 19 mpg combined with the dual-clutch automatic. The sDrive35is scores identical figures to the dual-clutch sDrive35i.

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