As car enthusiasts, most of us can be forgiven for forgetting about BMW’s only roadster, the Z4. It’s easily the oldest car in its segment, a segment dominated by brand-spanking new cars like the Porsche 718 Boxster and Audi TT. Both of those aforementioned competitors are far newer, packed with better technology and are fresh in our mind. The BMW Z4 is just barely hangnin on at the back of our minds, but it is worth remembering.
I recently needed to travel from south New Jersey up to New York State, a solid three hour drive each way. To serve as my steed for the journey, as well as the week following, the kind folks at BMW were kind enough to provide me with a Valencia Orange BMW Z4 sDrive28i with a six-speed manual.
I’ll be completely honest, when I first saw it, I had forgotten what it looked like and was surprised that BMW still had one to loan out. “Man, this thing’s ancient.” I thought to myself, walking up to the bright orange roadster. How fickle we’ve gotten as newer Bimmers have debuted. I was worried that the interior would be boring and the technology would feel dated on the inside, compared to modern BMWs. For the former, I was pleasantly surprised, as the Hyper Orange Extended Alcantara/Leather interior with the “Black Orange Color World” was one of the most interesting and exciting interior color schemes I’ve seen in a long time. For the latter, I was spot-on. While the iDrive system and technology in the Z4 is good, it feels dated and slow in comparison to modern BMW stuff. It’s in a desperate need of an update.
However, none of that mattered once I pressed the starter button. The throaty little N20 four-cylinder barked to life, sounding better than it does in most other applications, such as the BMW 328i. Drop the top, slot the short-throw shifter into first, ease off the clutch, feed in some throttle and all of the old technology and styling goes away.
While the current-gen Z4 is actually a bit of a porker in its class, as its near 3,500 lbs makes it the heaviest car in its class, its 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque surge it beautifully down the road. It isn’t as manic as I’d like, but it’s far quick enough to be fun, getting from 0-60 mph in around 5.8 seconds. The clutch engages high in the pedal travel and the throws are short and notchy. This is one of the better BMW manuals I’ve driven in awhile and it was a pleasant surprise.
When it comes time to turn the wheel, the Z4 isn’t as exciting as its double-orange color scheme would make it seem. While the steering is quick and accurate, it’s seriously lacking any sort of feel or even any useful weight. Even in sport mode, the steering doesn’t weight up in corners as much as we’d like and it’s overly light. However, it is accurate and, after some getting used to, it’s very easy to place on the road. I just wish it was a bit more confidence inspiring in either its feel, weight or both.
But body roll is nonexistent and chassis dynamics are still quite good. Okay, so the Z4 won’t frighten a Porsche Boxster or even the new Audi TT, but there’s an old-school roadster feel to it that makes it fun to drive. The massively long nose, that looks hilariously oversized with the hood open exposing the tiny four-cylinder engine, the short rear deck and the feeling that you’re sitting on the rear axle makes the Z4 look and feel like a roadster from an era of old-school Triumphs and Jaguars. So what the Z4 lacks in outright dynamics, it makes up for in charm.
When you’re ready to cut the shenanigans out and calm your driving down, the Z4 rewards you for being a smooth and comfortable roadster that manages wind noise and road imperfections beautifully. It’s the sort of roadster that you can drive for hundreds of miles without fatigue. However, that’s only the case if the top is down. With the top up, the noise insulation isn’t very good and the engine drones on annoyingly at highway speed and it’s exhausting after awhile. So if the weather permits some drop-top driving, always keep it down. If you can, you’ll be rewarded with excellent outward visibility, fantastic seats and a fun driving experience.
One thing that hasn’t aged at all is BMW’s superb build quality. The interior felt solid and tight, despite being built on an old platform. The mix of leather and alcantara was simply gorgeous, regardless of how you feel about the Hyper Orange interior package. The seats were incredibly comfortable and supportive for both highway cruising and spirited driving and everything you touch in this cabin is either leather, alcantara or soft-touch plastic. Even the sun visors were wrapped in leather. Just a lovely cabin.
Is the BMW Z4 getting old and in dire need of replacement? Yes and yes, the Z4 needs a replacement and as soon as possible. BMW knows this and reinforcements are on the way in the form of a sports car built in joint with Toyota. However, until the next BMW Z4 comes, this current one is still a great car to drive. Is it worth buying over the similarly priced Audi TT, Porsche 718 Boxster or even any of BMW’s current models? I’m not so sure. It just doesn’t have what it takes to compete with modern cars anymore. However, it’s a car that still shows its age well and it was great to get a drive in it before it’s gone.
Exterior Appeal - 8
Interior Quality - 8.5
Steering Feedback - 6
Performance - 7
Handling - 7
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 7
Price Point - 6.5
While it isn't the best car in its class, what the Z4 lacks in outright dynamics, it makes up for in charm.