2014 BMW Z4 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
August 18, 2014

The 2014 BMW Z4 offers a pleasant balance of luxury, comfort, and sport, but it is at the pricier end of the roadster spectrum.

The BMW Z4 is the latest evolution of the roadster that began life as the Z3, back in the 1990s. It's grown longer, more lascivious, and much better styled over the decades--and its performance reach a new peak in the 2012 model year. The hardtop convertible sports car continues to age well, adding features to a package that's the rival of the Mercedes SLK, if not quite the Porsche Boxster and Cayman.

Visual distinctions for the 2014 model year include a new 18-inch wheel design, and a new side indicator light with a "dynamic sweep" design.

Taken against competition like the recently redesigned Boxster, the Z4's performance is a tad unathletic, being rather heavy and tuned more for a balance of comfort and speed. Under the hood, you'll find the same engines and transmissions as last year. The base Z4 sDrive28i gets a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; the Z4 sDrive35i gets a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engine; and the Z4 sDrive35is gets an even more potent 335-horsepower in-line six-cylinder turbo.

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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. While power is generally good in all models, the base sDrive28i can feel a bit sluggish at low speeds. Cornering is stable and fairly balanced, though the suspension is a bit soft for truly aggressive driving like you'd try at the track. Around town, however, that smooth suspension makes for a more laid-back ride than many sport roadsters. An available Sport Package upgrades the performance a notch, and adds sporty appearance details inside and out.

Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic for sDrive28i models, while the sDrive35i substitutes a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for the automatic. The sDrive35is is only available with the seven-speed DCT.

While power is generally good in all models, the base sDrive28i can feel a bit sluggish at low speeds. Cornering is stable and fairly balanced, though the suspension is a bit soft for truly aggressive driving like you'd try at the track. Around town, however, that smooth suspension makes for a more laid-back ride than many sport roadsters. An available Sport Package upgrades the performance a notch, and adds sporty appearance details inside and out.

Inside the 2014 BMW Z4, the cabin is well-appointed and typically BMW-quality in materials and layout. The retractable hard top roof gives the Z4 almost coupe-levels of quietness and insulation from the elements, tucking away neatly and quickly when the mood strikes. Interior updates for the 2014 model year include an optional Fineline Anthracite wood trim; Kansas leather trim; and the Hyper Orange package, which adds black and orange accents to the doors, seats, and other elements of the cabin.

The BMW Z4 hasn't been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in recent years, but BMW's reputation for chassis engineering, a solid standard safety equipment package, and the innate obstacle-avoidance properties of the Z4's sporty design should make it as secure as any roadster.

Features and equipment are generally first-rate in the Z4, though some of the latest safety and driving assistance innovations haven't been imported to the aging roadster. The ConnectedDrive suite of features is updated for 2014 to include High Beam Assistant, Park Distance Control, and, for navigation-equipped cars, web-accessible features like BMW Online Portal, real-time traffic information, and iPhone-based BMW apps that can scan Twitter or Facebook posts and read them aloud. The BMW Apps feature also enables MOG, Pandora, Aupeo, or Stitcher music streaming. BMW's various remote telematics services are also now included in the ConnectedDrive package. Navigation, satellite radio, heated front seats, and more are available as standalone or package upgrade options.

On the gas mileage front, the 2014 BMW Z4 spans a fairly wide range. The base turbocharged four-cylinder rates up to 33 mpg highway and 22 mpg city for a combined rating of 26 mpg. At the other end of the spectrum, the high-performance sDrive35is model scores just 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined. Compared to its competition, the Z4's gas mileage isn't particularly impressive.

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2014 BMW Z4

Styling

The 2014 BMW Z4 wears fluid, modern style over classic roadster proportions.

A long, low hood and short rear end give the BMW Z4 the proportions of a classic roadster. The details, however, are all modern German aerodynamics and sportiness. Converging arcs, smooth swells, and raised character lines give the Z4 a still-fresh feel even though it's going on five years since its last major redesign. Both sporty and conservative, the Z4 rides a find balance, offering a persona not found elsewhere in the luxury roadster segment.

Inside the Z4's cabin, the layout is more cockpit-like and driver-oriented than larger BMW vehicles. The general look is one of modern sophistication, giving an upscale feel that rivals may equal, but rarely surpass. The center stack can look a touch cluttered, but high-end trim materials and the iDrive system's sleek control layout balance the busy feel.

Materials and upholstery are quality to the touch as well as the eye, and while there's not an abundance of room to spare, the not-so-minimalist-take is a nod to the classic roadsters of the past. 

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2014 BMW Z4

Performance

From the base model through the punchy sDrive35is, the 2014 BMW Z4 roadster is quick and fun-to-drive, though it lacks the edge of some alternatives.

The 2014 BMW Z4 balances its dual missions as a compact luxury car and a sporty roadster effortlessly. It's neither as razor-sharp as some alternatives, nor as prone to the compromises such performance entails. It's civilized, comfortable, and still very quick. Three main flavors of the 2014 BMW Z4 are available: sDrive28i, sDrive35i, and sDrive35is. The first gets a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower. The second rates 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque from a 3.0-liter in-line turbocharged six-cylinder powerplant. The sportiest version is the third, extracting 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque.

As you'd expect, performance matches the engines: the base model is quick and fun, managing the sprint to 60 mph in as little as 5.5 seconds per BMW, but lacks the ultimate force and vigor of the two six-cylinder models. For those wanting a measure of efficiency with the luxurious sports roadster, however, the four-cylinder turbo sDrive28is is hard to beat. Moving up to the sDrive35i cuts 0-60 mph times to as little as 5.0 seconds, but also bringing a significant improvement in in-gear acceleration at any speed. The sDrive35is takes performance up yet another notch, hitting 60 mph from a stop in just 4.8 seconds and delivering even more responsive acceleration.

For the sDrive28is, a six-speed manual transmission is standard, and it's a great choice if you like to do your own gear changes. It's a slick, low-effort shifter that never gets in your way. An optional eight-speed automatic also provides quick and smooth shifts, though it leaves the car feeling somewhat less spirited. In the Z4 sDrive35i, the six-speed manual is also available, but the eight-speed auto is replaced by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Quick-shifting and easy to use with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles (or left to its own devices in automatic mode), the dual-clutch gearbox offers the best of both manual and automatic worlds. BMW's dual-clutch in the Z4 is of an older school, however, and doesn't match the race-inspired crispness or near-telepathic logic you'll find in Porsche's PDK dual-clutch, offered in the Z4-rivalling Boxster. The sDrive35is is only available with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Handling is good across the Z4 range, particularly when equipped with the optional M Sport Package (which is standard on the sDrive35is). Cornering is confident and quick, with direct, if not intuitive steering, and BMW's typical sense of feel only slightly muted from its more hardcore M Division vehicles. With the M Sport Package, the Z4 looks and feels much more like its M cousins, with the Adaptive M Suspension doing the bulk of the work in improving handling. Upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels with performance run-flat tires also improve grip, though the choice of run-flat tires does nothing for ride quality.

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. 

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2014 BMW Z4

Comfort & Quality

Inside the 2014 BMW Z4's cabin you'll find gorgeous styling and quality materials--but not much space.

The Z4's balance between speed, comfort, and luxury, is one of the best in the business, but it does entail some trade-offs.The Z4's seats are highly adjustable to suit a wide range of bodies, but they sit unusually high in the cabin, which compromises head space for taller drivers when the top is up. With the top dropped, taller drivers stare at the top of the windshield.The Z4's trunk space is tight, as its compact dimensions might suggest. There's room for little more than two small duffel bags and a few personal items.In the cabin, there's room for small item storage but not larger items.

These shortcomes aside, however, the Z4's materials and build qualty are excellent throughout . Leather seating surfaces are soft and supple, and hides can be added to the dash, door panels, and sun visors with an extra cost package. Unlike many droptops, the Z4 exhibits  few squeaks and rattles.

One particularly welcome feature is one you can't even see: BMW's unique Sun Reflective Technology leather. Rather than soaking up the sun to then scorch your exposed skin, the seats do an admirable job of staying merely warm to the touch, greatly increasing comfort in summer top-down driving.

The Z4's power retractable hard top is another strength, stowing or deploying quickly and smoothly. When the top is up, the Z4 is effectively transformed into a coupe, with all of the security, weather protection, and noise reduction that entails. 

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2014 BMW Z4

Safety

The 2014 BMW Z4 hasn't been crash tested, but it offers a fair complement of standard and optional safety features.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash-tested the BMW Z4 in recent years, but the sporty roadster does offer many standard safety features, plus an array of advanced electronics (both standard and optional) that should put buyers at ease. Front and side airbags, adaptive brake lights, and multi-setting stability and brake control systems are all standard. The Z4 can even cut fuel flow, turn on the hazard lights, and unlock the doors in the event of an accident.

If more safety is on your mind, you can add automatic headlights, parking distance control, and a Bluetooth-enabled BMW Assist program. A backup camera, blind spot monitors, and lane departure warnings aren't an option on the Z4, however, something that surprises us at this price point.

Visibility is not much of an issue in the BMW Z4, even with the hardtop erected. The side windows are tall, the rear glass opening is well-shaped, and outward visibility is expansive. 

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2014 BMW Z4

Features

With more features and equipment than ever, the 2014 BMW Z4 is well outfitted--but the price can rise quickly as options packages are added.

With prices starting at $48,950 and moving quickly upward from there into the upper-$50,000s, topping out well of $70,000, you'd expect the BMW Z4 to be well-equipped. Fortunately, it is--for the most part--and it can be upgraded to even more feature-packed levels. Standard equipment for the Z4's cabin includes: cruise control, Bluetooth, audio with iPod/USB support, HD radio, heated exterior mirrors, adaptive xenon headlamps, keyless entry, automatic climate control, ambiance lighting, rain-sensing wipers, and more.

The options list is where things get a bit more interesting. A la carte items include heated front seats, park distance control, automatic high beam headlights, and BMW Concierge services. Most of the best upgrades are bundled within packages: the Technology Package adds navigation with voice-command, real-time traffic data, BMW Online access, BMW Apps, enhanced USB and Bluetooth smartphone connections, and more; the M Sport Package (for non-sDrive35is models) includes  many performance-themed upgrades, like an M steering wheel, anthracite headliner, Adapative M Suspension, M interior trim in Aluminum Carbon Shadow, dark wood trim, and a range of wheel and exterior paiant options; the Premium Sound package adds premium hi-fi audio and a one-year subscription to satellite radio; and a number of appearance packages can bring extended leather, unique Hyper Orange accents, and more.

BMW Apps is particularly unique (bundled within the Technology Package), bringing streaming music services like Pandora and Stitcher plus Facebook, Twitter, and Wiki Local access on-the-go. 

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2014 BMW Z4

Fuel Economy

In four-cylinder turbo form, the BMW Z4 is among the most efficient sports cars.

From fast to efficient, the BMW Z4's engine range offers more choice than most roadsters for those concerned about gas mileage.Using its turbo-4, the base Z4 scores 22 mpg city, 34 highway, 26 combined with the stick shift. Opt for the automatic and it shaves 1 mpg off of the highway rating, leaving the others untouched

With more power comes somewhat poorer gas mileage: the sDrive35i rates 19/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined with the manual transmission. Pick the dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox and those numbers fall to 17/24/20 mpg.

The sportiest model, the Z4 sDrive35is, also scores 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined.

Those aiming to save some cash at the gas pump with their  roadster should choose the Z4 sDrive28i; in our hands, its real-world fuel economy can exceed the EPA rating. 

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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 8
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Features 7
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