The BMW Z4 Roadster has been considered for years one of the most passionate cars in the BMW line-up and the all-new 2009 Z4 extends that feeling even further. With every roadster built, BMW’s ultimate goal is to connect the driver with the car, offering that famed Sheer Driving Pleasure.
Along with the more elegant and cohesive design, the new Z4 features some of the latest technologies developed by BMW. In a competitive segment dominated by roadsters from Porsche, Mercedes and Audi, BMW needed to demonstrate its ability to build high-performance cars that will sell not only based on style, but mostly on dynamics and pleasure of driving.
Juliane Blasi, exterior designer Z4, finds the right words to define the new roadster in a single phrase: “If the car wants to be emotional and sexy, it needs to speak the language of people and not the language of a product.” And this quote is closer to the truth that you can imagine.
So is the new Z4 indeed emotional and sexy while creating a bond between itself and the driver? Let’s take a closer look
“The Sexy Look Is Back”
Designed by a team dominated by female designers, the two-seater Z4 illustrates the perfect roadster: long massive hood, small rear-end and muscular panels. As explained by BMW, the new Z4 has some influences, both in the exterior and interior design, from the now defunct super roadster Z8.
The initial impressions when we saw the car were elegance and class. From the flame surfacing to the two side creases “flowing” from the back of the car all the way to the front, the new Z4 design adds a more upscale look compared to its predecessor.
Another crease starts behind the door handle and moves up towards the A-pillar, where it starts to run through the hood towards the nose, outlines the inner edge of the headlight cluster and it ends at the lower outer corner of the front grille.
The central creases are sharper and ending before reaching the hood front cut line, forming a small V shape that surround the BMW roundel. An unique element in this new design language is the BMW logo which sits on the bumper rather than the hood.
At the front and rear-end, the aggressive look becomes even more evident, enhanced by the sporty bumpers along with the new lights.
The new Z4 roadster features a folding hard top, similar to the one found in the 3 Series Convertible models. Because of the design of the top, the windows are larger allowing a better visibility and also a feel of more openness. The two piece hard top folds into the trunk in approximately 20 seconds. When the top is stowed, there is a 6.4 cubic feet space available for storage. Top up and the trunk space increases to 10.9 cubic feet.
Sporty Interior Redefined
Like the exterior, the cabin has been completely redesigned. It is by far one of the best interior designs we have seen in a BMW to date and it has been “penned” by Nadya Arnaout, Interior Designer of the CS Concept as well. The new Z4 interior marks the return of the driver oriented dashboard, the first step in creating that connection between the car and its driver. Therefore, the passenger and driver are separated by the transmission tunnel where the second generation iDrive controls and gear shifter are situated.
Softer, cozier, but still sporty, the design and materials used please even the most pretentious BMW owner.Round AC controls dominate the center console with the typical audio controls sitting beneath them. The round shapes approach transfers onto the tachometer and speedometer as well.
The sporty seats are the highlight of this interior. Finished in a supple Coral Read Kansas leather, the seats have now extending thigh and side bolsters providing comfort even to larger bodies. During long-distance driving, we immediately noticed the excellent support and comfort, a great feeling for someone that is 6″2 in height. We might see an issue with taller occupants which will find their knees splayed upward and feel a bit crowded.
The smaller, but thick and sturdy multifunction steering wheel is very responsive to driver’s and car’s feedback. We learned in the past that some people complained about the lack of communication back through the steering wheel which can impact the driving experience, but in our opinion, at least on the Chicago roads, the feedback was more than adequate.
Behind the seats, BMW left a small storage area where the driver and passenger can stove a purse or a laptop bag if needed. Between the seats, the Z4 offers a pass-through compartment for skis or golf bags.
Since safety is part of any roadster design, a rollover protection systems consisting of two roll-over bars protect the occupants in the event of a serious accident. Other safety equipment includes rigid side sills and head-throax airbags.
Conclusion: the Z4 cabin is roomy enough and BMW managed to fully utilize the space available. For those of you that like to carry plenty of small items with you, fear no more, lots of smaller compartments are available for storage.
Performance, Dynamics and Handling
Our Z4 had a base price of $51,650, but after adding a handful of options(Cold Weather, Premium and Sport Packages, Multi-Function Steering Wheel and more), the price jumped to $59,720. Not on the cheap side, but according to BMW, well worth it and priced in-line with its competitors.
Being the true bimmer enthusiasts that we are, we went with the six-speed manual gearbox model and of course, the high-end, sDrive 35i. While some BMW owners might prefer the seven-speed dual clutch transmission, we wanted to experience the roadster in old school style.
In the sDrive35i form, the new roadster outputs 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. With a manual transmission, the new Z4 goes from still to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, just .1 second slower than the old Z4 M. The sDrive35i weighs around 3,400 lbs.
Our goal was to put the new roadster through a variety of driving scenarios and also through lengthy distances. In a little bit more than a week, we drove the Z4 for 1,045 miles on highways, curvy and back roads, and of course, through the infernal Downtown Chicago traffic. Despite the impressive performance numbers we have seen with this sDrive35i model, we still believe the new Z4 is all about handling, dynamics and pleasure of driving.
Some of us might still miss the old days of the Z4 M, with its great handling, but somewhat rougher ride. Truth is that the new Z4 makes you forget all about it in no time. While it still shows why BMW is famous for their handling capabilities, the new Z4 overall ride feeling is far smoother, most of it due to the new adjustable Dynamic Driving Control system.
DDC, short for Dynamic Driving Control, gives the driver the option to adjust several settings with one touch. DDC controls the engine’s responsiveness, steering and of course, the adaptive M suspension.
The car we tested was equipped with the optional Sport Package and the Adaptive M Suspension, so we decided to split the time behind the steering wheel in various driving modes. It is worth mentioning that the rigidity of the retractable hardtop improves the ride quality.
Naturally, we started on the softer side, “Normal” setting.
While commuting and staying in “Normal” mode, the new Z4 is gave us an enjoyable experience and at the same time, it proved that the roadster can be more than a weekend getaway car. The ride is comfortable, but more controllable by the adaptive damper system. Performance is not being sacrificed at all and the engine still gives the roadster that much needed punch when changing lanes or passing other vehicles.
But the truth is that the Joy in a roadster comes out on open roads, highways. This is when the new Z4 really shines. Switching over to the “Sport” mode, the roadster becomes more aggressive, nervous and eager to please. The dynamic stability control loosens up a bit, allowing the rear-end to slide more than in “Normal”. But be fearless, the Z4 is still as stable as one would want and the stability control system does a fine job correcting any mistakes you make.
Some things that we noticed immediately in both “Sport” and “Sport+” modes, are the sharper steering response and quicker throttle feedback. “Sport+” brings out those characteristics even more and at higher speeds, it requires more concentration on the driver’s part.
While taking a couple of trips from the crowded Chicago streets to the open roads in the outskirts of Milwaukee, we had the opportunity to push the Z4 to its limits. The twisty roads were conquered easily by the new roadster and the aggressiveness, that brought fire onto the Porsche’s Boxter, really stands out now. The car feels like it was made for cornering and when pushing heavy on the throttle, the exhaust tone sends shivers down your spine. With the top down, that engine and exhaust noise is ecstatic, and it makes sure it reminds everyone why BMW makes some of the best engines in the world.
While driving across a back road, an imminent dangerous situation occurred, so we performed a sudden stop or let’s say, a desperate slam on the brakes. Going at 90 mph, you would expect somewhat of a longer braking distance, but truth is the Z4 brakes didn’t fade and saved the day for us without much adrenaline rushing through our veins.
Going back into the Chicago traffic, we switched back to the normal driving setting and despite the feeling of having a less connection with the roadster, we didn’t mind when cruising at 20 mph. It also gave us the opportunity to see if the new Z4 roadster is a “head-turner” and indeed it was. Probably a combination of being a new release and featuring a fresh design, the Z4 really stood out, especially when the top was down and we didn’t mind the extra attention and thumbs up we received along the way.
Since fuel economy is an important factor these days, we kept a tab on it. After the 1,000 miles or so we’ve been through, the Z4 sDrive35i with the manual transmission scored a combined average of 18.3 mpg, a bit short of the 20 mpg advertised by BMW, but at the same time, expected because of our driving style.
Has BMW really built the perfect Roadster?
Well, almost we would say, however each roadster has its own customers and what might seem an advantage to a BMW owner, could actually turn into a disadvantage for another driver. The beauty of this 2009 BMW Z4 is that it is now an all-weather vehicle. A smart play by BMW which has automatically expanded the geography and demographics of potential buyers. In states like California where historically the Z4 sold well, this might not be noticeable, but in other East or Midwest states, the new roadster can easily handle winters, turning the Z4 into an usable car all year round.
At its core, the Z4 still represents the image of a true roadster, a car built for high speeds over long distances and last but not least, a fun ride that brings out the joy in any driver.
BMW has proved again that they are on the right track and the shift in both interior and exterior design has been highly praised by BMW fans and not only. Sure, it doesn’t carry the M brand name on it, but the driving experience can be compared to one.
If the Z4 impressed many of us, we’re quite intrigued to see what the lighter, more efficient, but still powerful Z2 Roadster will bring to the table.
|Model Tested MSRP||BMW Z4 sDrive35i ($51,650)|
|Standard Equipment||leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, brushed aluminum trim, electric power steering, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, adaptive Xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, message center, trip computer, CD/MP3/aux input audio system, adaptive brake light|
|Options as Tested (MSRP)||cold weather package ($1,000); premium package ($2,500); sport package ($2,300); Comfort Access ($500); satellite radio ($595), HD Radio ($395)
|Price as Tested||$59,720|
|Horse Power||300 @ 5800|
|Fuel Economy||18/25 (Advertised by manufacturer)
|Front Head/Hip/Leg room||39.1/na/42.2|
|Front Suspension||independent, coil springs, antiroll bar|
|Rear Suspension||independent, coil springs, antiroll bar|
|Curb Weight||3450 (with automatic transmission)
|Stock Tires||225/40R18 front, 255/35R18 rear|
|Brakes Front/Rear||vented disc/vented disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist|