Looking much more like a performance car than a roadster, the BMW Z4 seems to be able to play both roles quite effectively. And sure, it’s practical for most situations, but with just two seats and limited cargo space, it’s unlikely to be the sole car of the household. So focusing on the car’s intentions, does it impress as much as the $63k+ price tag?
Styling and Size
The brand’s traditional horizontal quad headlamps are gone – well, BMW will tell you that they are there, just vertically arranged – and the newly afforded front end space is filled by the enlarged BMW-traditional twin kidney grille. The hood’s clam-shell shape moves the cut line to the side of the car where it neatly ties into the main styling curve which extends upward over the rear wheel arch and around the back to meet with the trunk panel’s cut lines. The air vent behind the front wheel painted gloss black and gives off the appearance of a deep cut out and is easily relatable to many sports cars and a departure from the decidedly more laid back horizontal layout of the previous Z3 and Z4 vents. Behind the two roll hoops is a high rear deck that slopes downward smoothly to meet a spoiler which carries a much more sporty styling tone than before as well.
Looking inside, the Z4 adopts a luxurious approach with plenty of tech and quality materials throughout that is more roadster-y than sports. With a digital gauge cluster, and large infotainment screen, the small car makes little effort towards a classic/retro theme and rather feels familiar to the latest designs in BMW’s lineup.
Space-wise, the two occupants will never feel cramped though using the cupholders means the passenger loses out on an armrest. The interior storage space is limited to slim items and forces carryout food containers to ride in the trunk which itself is 50% larger than in the previous model. There is plenty of room for a grocery trip and long items can slide through a pass-through opening in the rear bulkhead.
At $63,845, this is a fully loaded sDrive30i, and in BMW speak, that means some high-tech gadgets and high-performance hardware. Adaptive LED headlights and sequentially lit turn signals provide a crisp night-time signature while larger brakes, an active differential, and adaptive dampers work to maximize the performance potential. The power soft top can be opened or closed in about 10 seconds and operates up to 30 mph which is a relatively fast speed for a motorized sail. Unfortunately, the switch is identically shaped and spaced next to the electronic parking brake. One accidental pull of the wrong switch will shake your no-look confidence for some time. It’s unfortunate too as the head-up display is exceptionally crisp, colorful, and it provides a range of information based on the scenario. Just as detailed is the digital gauge cluster and the equally-as-large 10.25-inch touchscreen. The voice recognition system is also exceptionally executed and the rotary control knob feels high-quality but don’t be swayed by the touchpad feature on the knob – it takes longer and it’s more distracting to use than a quick reach the touchscreen. The infotainment system itself is quick to change tasks and its multiple menu levels have impressively detailed graphics that really give off a sense of true luxury.
The Z4 is low to the ground, much lower than the typical crossover, and calls for an extra level of attention from the driver. Here, the car’s quick acceleration and powerful brakes can help one avoid fellow commuters’ oversights. To prevent oneself of merging into a vehicle in the convertible’s large blindspot, the blind zone indicators become part of the lane-change checklist. The adaptive cruise control is one of the smoothest operating systems around but the automatic parking system was a use, fail, never-use-again feature. Proximity sensors help prevent banging the long hood into anything and the car will automatically brake to avoid a collision, even in reverse. The NHTSA nor the IIHS has rated the small convertible.
Power and Efficiency
Power for the sDrive30i comes from a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers a strong shove but, especially from a stop, it takes several moments for the turbo to spool up boost. Under light throttle, the 8-speed automatic transmission wastes little time upshifting through the gears for the sake of fuel economy but each shift is accompanied by a slight shove forward that is uncomfortable. Furthermore, as the car slows, the downshifts are slurred and add to the deceleration rate so much so that smooth low-speed braking requires concentration.
The Z4 earns EPA figures of 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combined and in my time cruising mountain roads and commuting on highways and by-ways, the BMW achieved 27 mpg.
With the engine on full broil it generates a sustained peak of 295 lb-ft between 1,550 and 4,000 rpm and 258 hp from 5,000 to 6,500 rpm. With that plateau of power, the Z4 gains speed very easily and with little drama. However, taking the engine to its redline is met with waning acceleration and a lack of exhilaration. Also, the inherent turbo-power delay will leave many corners feeling unsatisfied or require getting on the throttle a touch earlier than what feels “natural”. Overall, and despite the exhausts’ crackle and pop sounds echoing from the canyon walls, the engine has a sense of being subdued and practical rather than direct and emotional.
Ride and Handling
This particular Z4 is equipped with the M Sport Suspension package which includes a lower ride height and electronically controlled rear dampers that noticeably soften or stiffen the ride. No matter the setting, the 19-inch wheels manage to glide over most sharp and small road imperfections but you’ll rightfully anticipate and properly prepare for larger bridge gaps and dips on your everyday commute. Body roll is minimal in Comfort setting and absolutely nil in Sport+ setting. The M Sport differential varies automatically from open to fully locked and is very efficient at putting the power down – aided by the summer tires. Experiencing the car’s high level of grip is enticing and impressive, though exploring its limits exposes an isolated steering feel that’s not so fun. The traction control allows for some rear end wiggle but unfortunately, once it cuts the throttle, the turbo-power party is over. While the suspension and traction feel up for the sports-car crowd, the steering is more focused on touring. It’s less of a complaint, rather a question of what could be.
The Z4’s limited space comes with being a small convertible just as a high price comes with a fully optioned BMW. The tech is there but it won’t win the practical argument. It’s basically up to the exterior design and interior quality to win the practical argument and, based on the unsolicited positive feed-back I personally received in just one week, it has a compelling case.