2013 BMW Z4 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
September 19, 2012

The 2013 BMW Z4 is spirited and purposeful, and balances fun and comfort quite well, but it's pricier than other roadsters.

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.

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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.

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2013 BMW Z4

Styling

The BMW Z4 has modern details combined with classic roadster proportions—and it's all done very tastefully.

The Z4 is a sleek roadster of classic proportion, aside from the slightly lengthened rear to accommodate the retractable hardtop. And while the Z4 packs a lot of technology inside, BMW has looked to roadster tradition to give this model a more cockpit-like layout than other models in the lineup.

Even though it's been several years since this model's 2009 redesign—and the look itself can be taken as a little conservative as a whole—the Z4 still has a lot of presence, with its combination of long, smooth arcs, raised character lines, and gentle creases. 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 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.

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2013 BMW Z4

Performance

All the 2013 BMW Z4 models are strong performers, with good power and balanced handling—although they don't have the edgy, communicative steering that some expect in a sports car.

The 2013 BMW Z4 treads a line between stylish touring car and purpose-built sports car; so what you get in the Z4 isn't an all-out track-day machine, but instead a charismatic roadster with balanced handling, a civilized road ride, and smooth, relatively efficient power delivery—all of course paired with the top-down sensations of a convertible and a fabulous folding hardtop.

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).

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.

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.

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 and firm, with exactly the confidence you'd hope for in virtually all conditions.

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2013 BMW Z4

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2013 Z4 is beautifully appointed and has plenty of smaller cubbies—though cargo space is tight.

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.

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.

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. There's 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.

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.

Review continues below
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2013 BMW Z4

Safety

There's plenty on the Z4's list of safety features to make up for its lack of crash-test ratings.

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, and in an accident a system will even cut fuel flow, turns on the hazard lights, and unlocks the doors in the event of an accident.

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.

Side windows are quite large, and there's no high tail getting in the way of rearward vision, so outward visibility is better than in most other roadsters or convertibles.

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2013 BMW Z4

Features

Standard features and value improve for 2013 in the BMW Z4—but there's still plenty of temptation to add options and really push the price skyward.

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, park assist, and automatic high-beam headlights are some of the possibilities, and the interior can be optioned with a wide range of finishes and materials.

All said, it's the Z4's folding hardtop that might be its best feature; it can raise or lower in 20 seconds with a console switch, and it quickly transforms from an open-top roadster to a cozy coupe. The automatic dual-zone climate control smartly functions differently depending on whether or not the top is down.

The cabin of the Z4 includes a decent list of standard features such as adaptive xenon headlights, cruise control, heated mirrors, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, and a sound system with an iPod/USB port, aux-in port, and HD radio. For 2013, the base Z4 28i gains several new standard features, including power front seats (with driver-side memory), dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a universal garage-door opener, and ambient lighting.

Tick the right option boxes, and you'll have a high-tech touring machine. BMW Apps (for full smartphone integration), BMW Assist telematics, and a full-featured navigation system are all on offer, and the nav 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.

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

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2013 BMW Z4

Fuel Economy

The 2013 BMW Z4 sDrive28i is one of the greenest picks among sports cars—and you won't have to sacrifice any thrills for it.

Thanks to the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 2013 BMW Z4 sDrive28i, the base version of the Z4 is a surprisingly green sports car, rating at 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with the eight-speed automatic, or 22/34 with the manual.

Six-cylinder models don't fare quite as well, with the sDrive35i rating at 19/26 mpg with the manual transmission and 17/24 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic. The sDrive35is scores identical figures to the dual-clutch sDrive35i.

As we've now noted in drives of several of BMW's latest products with the turbo four, our real-world mileage has easily met, and in some cases exceeded, the EPA ratings.

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Styling 8
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