Unlike any other type of car, cruising in a roadster captures both the best and worst about driving. Top down, the wind rushes through your hair, every passing scent fills your nostrils (whether pleasant or not) and it's easy to feel at one with the road. But when it's time to put the top up, the fun usually ends.
Thanks to its retractable hardtop, the BMW Z4 offers the freedom of a convertible with the convenience of a coupe: more security, superior chassis rigidity, more rearward visibility and less susceptibility to pesky weather. While Porsche focuses more on performance and Mercedes seems to emphasize luxury and comfort, the BMW Z4 strikes a happy medium.
The 2012 BMW Z4 offers a choice of turbocharged engines: a 240-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 in the new sDrive28i, a 300-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 in the sDrive35i, and a 335-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 in the sDrive35is.
New for 2012 is the Z4 sDrive28i, which replaces the outgoing sDrive30i. The 2012 BMW Z4 comes standard with more features than before (although the base price has also increased), including Bluetooth, a USB port and floor mats. The current-generation Z4 sDrive35i was launched as a 2009 model. The Z4 sDrive35is was introduced as a 2011 model.
The new 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i is the base model and the first to use BMW's all-new N20 engine, a 2.0-liter twin-powered turbo four-cylinder that makes 240 horsepower, slightly less than the venerated, naturally aspirated inline-6 it replaces, but with more power available at lower revs, along with 30 percent more torque. As they say, horsepower sells cars, while torque wins races.
Four-cylinders have never been a staple in the BMW lineup; earlier use was limited to a few models with less-than-stellar performance, and Munich's engineers admit it wasn't an easy decision to return to smaller powerplants. But with increased global pressure to reduce emissions, all automakers are faced with the challenge of increasing efficiency while maintaining performance. Several technologies in BMW's new engine enable the Z4 to keep its sporty dynamics while achieving what BMW says will be a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy. For one, the crankcase is about 22 pounds lighter. High-pressure direct injection as well as electronic variable valve timing uses fuel more efficiently than older systems. And the turbocharger, which consists of one turbine directed into two chambers (hence BMW's TwinPower nomenclature), uses engine exhaust to generate an extra boost of power.
Slightly quicker is the Z4 sDrive35i. EPA numbers for the sDrive35i are 18/25 mpg with the manual transmission and 17/24 mpg with the DCT. The sDrive35is delivers even better performance with the same fuel economy.
We found the Z4 offers the nimble, responsive driving character one would expect from BMW. The performance and feel of balanced precision is there in every Z4. Models with the manual transmission and devoid of many of the techno-gadgets including iDrive will make for the most sporty, free-feeling roadster, while heavier, highly optioned Z4s feel more like grand touring machines than sports cars. For car club track days, the high-performance sDrive35is with the dual-clutch gearbox might be the hot setup.
We think this roadster is best suited to someone who values luxury as much as performance. The closest competitors to the 2012 BMW Z4 include the luxe Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster and the Audi TT. For those who want an unadulterated roadster that gives the true feeling of the open road, the Porsche Boxster might be a better choice. But in general, the BMW Z4 does an admirable job combining fun, comfort and style.
The 2012 BMW Z4 comes in three models, sDrive28i, sDrive35i, and sDrive35is. (In current BMW nomenclature, sDrive refers to rear-wheel drive. However, there are no xDrive all-wheel-drive Z4s.)
BMW Z4 sDrive28i ($48,650), is powered by a 2.0-liter, direct-injected twin scroll turbocharged inline 4 cylinder engine that makes 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. Standard features include 17-inch wheels, power-retractable hardtop, automatic adaptive xenon headlights, run-flat tires, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, six-way manually adjustable seats, adjustable sport driving settings, cruise control, trip computer, floor mats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, anti-theft alarm system, rear pass-through slot, Bluetooth handsfree connectivity, and an audio system that includes single CD player, HD radio, iPod and USB adapter and satellite radio capability.
Options include a premium sound system ($950) and Kansas leather upholstery ($1,250), along with several wheel designs. The Cold Weather package ($850) includes heated seats, a heated steering wheel, storage package and headlight washers. The M Sport package ($3,900) for the sDrive28i bumps the wheels size up to 18 inches and adds an aerodynamic kit, an increased top speed limiter, sport seats, M steering wheel, adaptive sport suspension with electronic shock absorber control and special interior trim. The Canyon Brown package ($2,300) includes full Canyon Brown Merino leather upholstery, sport seats, and Anthracite wood interior trim. A Citrus Yellow package ($2,550) adds black Alcantara and citrus yellow leather interior, sport seats and special interior trim. The Premium package ($3,300) includes auto-dimming exterior and interior mirrors, a universal garage door opener, eight-way power seats with memory funtion and ambient interior lighting.
BMW Z4 sDrive35i ($55,150) has a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-6 that delivers 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1400 to 5000 rpm. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard and a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT) is optional. This model gets larger brakes along with standard 18-inch wheels. Cabin upgrades include standard leather upholstery, brushed aluminum trim or ash wood, and automatic dual-zone climate control. Options are similar to those above.
The Z4 sDrive35is ($64,200) features an engine with increased intake airflow and increased boost pressure to deliver even more power. Its maximum output is 335 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 332 pound-feet of torque from 1500 to 4500 rpm. In addition, its engine management system includes an electronically controlled overboost function, which increases torque by another 37 pound-feet, for a temporary peak of 369 pound-feet for up to seven seconds. The sDrive35is comes standard with 18-inch wheels and includes M aerodynamic body kit and adaptive suspension. The sDrive35is comes standard with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Options and packages are similar to those above.
Safety features included on all Z4 models include dual frontal airbags, head/thorax side airbags in the seats, active knee protection, roll hoops, electronic stability, traction control, anti-lock brakes, and tire-pressure monitoring. Manual transmission models also have a hill-holder clutch to prevent the car from rolling backward when the clutch is engaged. The only option related to safety is the front and rear park assist.