Small roadster with folding hardtop is big fun.
The BMW Z4 is a two-seat roadster with a retractable hardtop. With the top up, the Z4 is like a coupe, offering the benefits of a hardtop: better security, superior chassis rigidity, less obstructed rearward visibility, better interior isolation and better protection from the weather. Drop the top, and it’s a roadster.
For 2011, the BMW Z4 sDrive35is joins the lineup. The Z4 sDrive35is delivers even more performance than the already-quick Z4 sDrive35i. It comes with enhanced aerodynamic and handling features, unique wheels, distinctive exterior trim and details, and interior comfort and feature upgrades. It is as close as to a high-performance M model as BMW will offer because there no plans for a Z4 M (that we know of, that is).
A new M Sport package is available for the 2011 Z4 sDrive30i model. Otherwise, the Z4 lineup stays mostly pat, adding smartphone integration for 2011. The current BMW Z4, introduced for the 2009 model year, is the second generation of the Z4 name (first launched in 2003).
The Z4 offers the driving character you expect from BMW and it will be familiar to any fan of the brand. The performance and feel of balanced precision is there in every Z4. We like the base Z4 sDrive30i with its free-revving engine, equipped with the manual gearbox and no iDrive, no navigation system. We feel the highly optioned Z4s weigh more and tend to feel more like grand touring machines than sports cars. The high-performance sDrive35is with the dual-clutch gearbox gets close to a track-day tool.
While some will choose a Z4 based solely on the badge and others solely on style, over time they will learn the real reasons, both objective and emotional, behind the car and why they want to keep it. Others will appreciate the performance and technology without regard to style, and yet others will shop merely because they’ve been waiting for a folding hardtop roadster from Munich.
In side view it looks like someone traced a French curve over each wheel, the forward one twice the length of the rear, and from the driver’s perch the hood seems to rise from the windshield base before falling off forward. We think it looks better with the top down but it’s still relatively sleek top-up, and its closed profile is similar to that of the Mercedes SLR. Gills behind the front wheels carry the substantial badges, and the side signal repeaters are located behind opaque panels in the gills; the BMW propeller logo is still here, but no longer serves to disguise the turn signal repeaters.
The BMW Z4 is clearly aimed at those who enjoy driving. The retractable hardtop and added features have nudged it a bit closer to grand touring car than sports car. The inline six-cylinder engines rev smoothly to redline.
The sDrive30i engine is a very light, modern, rev-happy unit that brings 255 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 220 pound-feet of torque at 2600 rpm; it has more than enough power for any road and delivers it in linear fashion, its output rising commensurate with revs. This package is EPA-rated at 18/28 mpg with both the manual and the automatic, numbers we easily met or exceeded when we drove one. This is a delightful engine, particularly with the manual.
The BMW Z4 reminds us of a more intimate and engaging version of the 6 Series cabrio. The folding hardtop offers the best of coupe and roadster forms with few of the drawbacks of either. The sDrive35is model carries a hefty premium, but it is the most powerful and the best performer. We recommend the base Z4 sDrive30i with its lively engine, especially with the manual gearbox; order ours without the distracting iDrive. We think the Z4 is the best sports car in this class, excepting the Porsche Boxster.