The E89-generation BMW Z4 gets very little love from enthusiasts. And there are legitimate reasons why. It was a bit soft compared to its predecessors, it looked awkward from some angles, and it was the first Z4 to use the N20 turbocharged four-cylinder engine. However, I’ve always like the E89 Z4 and felt that it was not only a better looking car that it was given credit for but that it was an under-appreciated car in general. Though, some of that might be sentiment.
Story time. A much younger me—one with a better hair line, more energy, and less belly chub—was just starting out writing about cars for this very publication. Despite my inexperience, some of the kind folks at BMW North America asked me if I wanted to tag along while they shot a commercial at Monticello Motor Club in New York. I even had the chance to interview Marc Forster, the famous director who’d made Quantum of Solace. As a massive Bond fan, that was an incredibly cool moment. I was so nervous I spelled his name wrong on my note pad and, when he noticed, he very politely corrected me and kindly gave me his time, despite me being a young, inexperienced idiot. However, as cool as all of that was, the standout of the day for me wasn’t talking to Forster or seeing the cars race around the track. Instead, it was the three-ish hour drive I took home in an E89 BMW Z4.
Being that I live in New Jersey, BMW asked if I could drive myself to Monticello, rather than have me picked up. No sweat, I like driving. Especially since I was allowed to pick up a BMW Z4 sDrive28i M Sport with a manual along the way. So I drove to BMW’s North American headquarters, snagged the Z4, and drive to Monticello. It was a chilly Spring morning with some light rain but I didn’t care. I kept the top down for as long as I could and I flung that little orange Z4 through corners—ringing out its plucky four-cylinder engine and rowing through the gears—with the biggest grin. I was new to this world of auto journalism and I couldn’t believe that was my job for the day. You couldn’t have punched the smile off of my face.
On the way back, I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only did I get to drive a new-at-the-time Z4 with a manual through some gorgeous New York roads to a race track, to meet the director of a movie I’d seen a dozen times and watch race cars on track up close, but I had the chance to take a long trip back home with that same cool car. Sure, it was cold, but that roof wasn’t coming up and my smile wasn’t going away.
So as unloved as the E89 Z4 is, it’s a car that will aways have a special place in my heart and one that brings back happy memories every time I see it. Which is why this photo gallery is like a quick serotonin shot to my brain, even if it isn’t the exact same car.
This BMW Z4 sDrive35is actually used an N54 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engine, with 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. It didn’t have a manual option but it did get a seven-speed dual-clutch, which was pretty cool. However, my little road trip partner wore the same orange paint and that makes it perfectly cool in my book.
Was the E89 Z4 the perfect sports car? No, its steering was accurate but incredibly numb, its chassis was capable but a bit too soft, and it just lacked the precision and excitement of its predecessors. However, it looked fantastic, had a great interior, was comfortable on the long haul, and had a ton of tuning potential. So while it wasn’t spectacular, it was better than it was given credit for and it could make for a great affordable sports car on the used market.