By on November 29, 2013

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A business trip sent me to Tampa last week. I had decided that I would rent a car for my own use while I was there. The plan was to visit family in Fort Myers and then drive back to Tampa for the meeting. After a particularly bad day at work prior to leaving for Florida, I decided on the plane that I would upgrade to a convertible. You know, as a gift to myself. From myself.

Me: What convertibles do you have available?

Rental Car Guy: (Looks at the computer, makes a phone call, and asks for something “sporty”) There’s a Chrysler 200 and a BMW Z4.

If he had said anything other than a 200 I would have picked the more reasonable choice. A Mustang? Right on. A Camaro? I’m there. I would rather drive anything other than a 200. Renting a BMW wasn’t something I had considered but it seemed like a really good idea.

Me: How much is the Z4? A million dollars?

Rental Car Guy: Not quite.

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Twenty minutes later, I’m standing beside a 2012 BMW Z4 Sdrive28i watching two guys from Budget try to figure out how to put the top down. Twenty five minutes later, I’m trying to put the top back up so I can get my car charger out of my suitcase. Twenty eight minutes later, I’m trying to put the top down again. The men that took me to the car had left and there was a woman sitting at the key booth watching me get in and out of the car and futz with the persnickety trunk.

“Do you need help?”

“Erm…No?” There’s a tray in the trunk and anything being stored has to be underneath it and the tray has to be pulled down and locked before the top can go down. Eventually, I figured out that the tray may look like it’s locked in place but, according to my own personal, highly scientific study, 79% of the time it is not. That’s a lesson that I learned, and I learned it about four times.

With the top down, the trunk will hold a carry-on and not much else, but I didn’t get the Z4 for the trunk space.

I did however, get it because it is a convertible. It was cloudy when I left the airport but the purpose of me getting the Z4 was to see the sky, so I ignored the clouds and headed from TPA to Fort Myers. The trip is about 120 miles and it involves crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Halfway across the bridge it started to rain. The shoulder was narrow and I didn’t think about pulling over. I did think about trying to slow down enough to put the top up, but considering the average speed of Florida drivers (roughly equaling infinity plus one), I decided to just drive faster. I was able to personally verify that driving fast will sort of prevent rain from coming into a convertible, but as soon as I slowed down at the end of the bridge, the inside of the car got damp and I had to wipe down everything.

I like buttons in cars. Buttons in general actually; they’re instant gratification — press a button and something happens. As soon as I got out of the rain and into the bulk of the trip, about seventy miles on 75 South, I started pressing buttons. iDrive has several different menus: media, radio, navigation, telephone, preferences, etcetera, that are accessible while driving. I had no problem driving and entering in my destination address at the same time. I wasn’t confident in BMW’s navigation system so I was using Google maps from my phone (the directional devil that you know is better than the one that you don’t). For a while I forced them to compete until I eventually turned off the BMW voice and just used its display maps.

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After the dashboard buttons were conquered, I moved on to the seat adjustments. Without seeing the button that I was pressing, I hit what I thought to be the lumbar adjustment. It turned out to be the memory button for the seat. The seat went back until I couldn’t touch the gas, and the side view mirrors pointed downward. (I am going to assume the previous renter was an extremely tall, short-waisted man.) I’d done it; because of my awesome button pressing abilities, I’d managed to find the one button that should not be able to be pressed while the car is in motion. I spent several minutes afterwards fixing the position of the mirrors and was slowed down by the fact that the side view and rear view mirrors are auto dimming. They looked and acted like crappy window tint. I would much prefer being blinded to mumbling about not being able to see anything behind me.

The next day, after a completely pointless and infuriating meeting, I was able to drive the Z4 and get a better feel for it. I found a mostly empty park with lots of roads that had lots of speed bumps. It turned out that the Z4 could get from 10 MPH to 50 MPH to 10 MPH in between bumps. After the park, I drove around Clearwater. Traffic wasn’t conducive to flappy paddling, but I did my best to annoy everyone around me. I would slow down enough to get a good amount of room in between my front bumper and the car ahead, red line it, and then shift. I never was able to get it up to eighth but fifth gear was good enough for having fun purposes. Flappy paddles + traffic = plenty of fast stops. After the first fast stop, my purse with its eight Chapsticks/lip glosses and $15.94 worth of loose change ended up on the floor of the passenger seat. After that, it got tucked behind the passenger seat on a 4” shelf that’s good for little else. After subsequent fast stops, a cheese Danish slid out from under the seat. Apparently tall, short-waisted man had an affinity for prepackaged pastries. I took a picture of it and then put it back under the seat. A friend called me chicken later for not eating it, but I stand by my decision.

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The rental ended up being $211.00 for the day or four times what the midsized would have cost and about three times more than the 200. It was more than I what was planning on spending (and sadly not able to be 100% expensed), but insofar as it was at least three times better than the Chrysler 200 would have been, I feel it was money well spent.

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70 Comments on “Rental Review: BMW Z4...”


  • avatar

    I enjoyed this, it was really funny!

    It would have been nice to hear more about how the car drives, though. Although to be fair, Florida is not really BMW territory thanks to the lack of any kind of hills or roads that are not arrow-straight.

    Hope the reimbursement + whatever TTAC pays will pay for the rental, that would be good carma :).

    David

  • avatar
    JimC2

    The part about the memory button on the seat made me think of the movie Airplane! for some reason.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Where Otto the autopilot pops out?

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I’m surprised the car let her operate the seat memory button while moving. My 98 Lexus is the opposite extreme: once you’ve shifted out of Park, the seat memory buttons are deactivated until you turn the car off again. Actually pretty annoying when I start to back out if the driveway then realize I forgot to set the seat back to my setting.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    North FL also has some well maintained red dirt roads that are kind of cool to drive on.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Literally my neighborhood! Love driving the Skyway every other Friday or so to ADESA Sarasota.

    Might not be much around here in terms of PCH-type twisties, but the scenery is beautiful and all around you if you drive in the right roads – Bayside Bridge, Courtney Campbell Causeway, and my daily drive from Clearwater to Palm Harbor up ALT 19 is a pleasant change from the hustle of US 19.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    My first convertible rental was a Sebring when I went to Miami for the first time on a business trip. I was so excited, but the excitement only lasted about 5 minutes when my Pacific Northwest heat/humidity wussiness got the better of me and I left the top and the AC on for the rest of the week.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice article.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Great review… With a little humour added .
    I’m the resident TTAC domestic loving, import hating, UAW/CAW fanbois.

    That being said, aesthetics is a huge priority for me. Though it pains me deeply to say this. BMW make the most beautiful cars/ vehicles available today.

    Wow! that is one fine looking convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @mikey – agree on the looks of this car. Way better looking than the first z4. It truly is pretty. Makes a fantastic looking racecar if you ever get the chance to see the GT3 or ALMS/USCC GT-LM version. Unfortunately, every review I’ve read of the car (never driven one) says that the driving dynamics don’t live up to the sporting promises of the exterior, and although I realize it’s the future of motoring, I still can’t stomach the idea of the spending $50k on the car and only getting a 4 cylinder.

      • 0 avatar

        I test drove a 30i manual, 35i manual, 35i auto, 35is, leased a yellow 35is on a crazy deal back in May 2011 and bought a different off-two-year-lease CPO 35is earlier this month.

        Other Z4 reviews mostly miss the point that Ms. Bauer seems to grasp — The Z4 is satisfying, fun to drive on public roads and the flappy paddle transmission is a thing of joy.

        Every handling based complaint I’ve read about the car deals with how it is at ten-tenths, be it the RFT tires lousy feel or the transmission’s unwavering belief that it is smarter than you when it comes to not unexpectedly shedding its insides to the outside.

        The OEM low-profile run flat tires have very, very stiff sidewalls, yet when equipped with the adjustable magnetic shocks, the Z4 offers a very comfortable ride in “normal” mode.

        What cripples the Z4 against its sports-car-not-GT-car competitors, and for that matter other BMW performance models, is those rock-hard tires. Tires so stiff that they have developed a reputation for destroying OEM cast rims.

        I haven’t burned through a set of the RFTs yet, and I’m too cheap to replace them before they wear out, but all reports indicate that switching to non run-flats changes the handling nature of the car dramatically for the better. My recently purchased CPO example was delivered with a near-new set of the OEM bricks, so it’ll be a while before I can offer first-hand commentary on the effects of a tire swap.

        Thoughts on the other trim levels — The 30i feels noticeably lighter and turns in better, but it lacks the grin-creating pathos of the 35is. With just 9% less stated horsepower, the 35i somehow manages to feel dramatically slower than the 35is, and the 30i is right out in the speed department.

        • 0 avatar
          bludragon

          Having owned an e90 with sport package I can say that swapping the rft bridgestones for some conti DW tires made the car ride like it should have in the first place. I have also driven a 5 of similar age and a later 3 without the sport package. Both were significantly less ruined by the rft tires – I think in part because they actually had some sidewall to work with. In the end I decided the sport package with what felt like cast concrete wheels was as much to blame as the run flats and the two together should be avoided.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            I just swapped the RFT’s for Conti’s as well, and it’s made a big difference in ride quality, and a small difference in ultimate handling.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Designed by a team of two women.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I always liked the buttons in their gauge-style along the center stack. That’s a nice touch. They look well made also.

  • avatar
    jimble

    If you ever have to rent a car in the DC area, please play with the buttons BEFORE you get on the highways, OK? Better yet, please just stay away. Your idea of driving fun sounds like the worst drivers around here (i.e., the Maryland ones).

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    One thing that bothers me about BMW is that the company’s steering-wheel-heat switch depicts a two-spoke steering wheel when BMWs have three-spoke steering wheels. Yes, I’m picky like that. And I didn’t realize that the Z4 had gotten the electronic gear selector. They must have put that in at the same time they added the four-cylinder engine…

  • avatar
    Ion

    I would’ve added another Danish to the car with the false hope that the next person will do the same. I left a quarter in the Chally since their was one there from the previous renter. I’d hoped the next renters would keep loving quarters but in reality they probably got pocketed.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    That interior is terrible.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    What kind of a review is this?

  • avatar
    jz78817

    huh, I thought it would be way more than $200-ish per day to rent a car like that.

  • avatar
    jjf

    I felt like the half of the review was left out. Details like the danish were interesting, but I want more meat.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Wonder what the cost of rental of 200 Convertible vs. V6 Mustang Convertible vs. Z4?

    But as 2 seat 4 cyl convertibles go I think I’d rather have a Miata.

  • avatar

    Also, “passenger seat cheese danish” would make a great name for a band.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    Good article, well illustrating what interacting with a strange car can be, whether the gearheads liked it or not.

  • avatar
    360joules

    I liked the review. Grabbing a rental upgrade and figuring it out on the fly is something I have done many times.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    I wish they made the Coupe for this generation. The last one was classic! In March 2008, they had incentives of 14k, so you could get one for a reasonable price. One day, when I’m rich off of Bitcoins or something. =)

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    Great article….more Amanda please.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    I think it was a 2006 5 series that had the seat memory return to the owner setting every time I stopped for gas.

    In a 2007 3 series, you had to hold the seat memory button down for it to move the seat while driving. As soon as you left of it would stop moving the seat.

    I like that you picked up on the auto dim mirrors. Having owned a car with them for two years I happilly upgraded to a car with manually dimming mirrors. Now I know part of the reason BMWs drive like they are the only car on the road – it’s because you can’t actually see anything out of the mirrors half the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      The auto dimming mirror melted internally in my 330i.

      Fortunately BMW offered a manual mirror in the E46 poverty spec models. Ordered one from a BMW dealer in Maryland that offers much cheaper internet part prices than my local dealer and installed it.

      The classic manual mirror works better than any auto dimming mirror I have ever encountered.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Amanda, if you haven’t figured out how to funnel “unacceptable” but valid expenses back through “acceptable” categories over a few months, you definitely are not ready for the Big Leagues.

    Fun article, but more on the car’s driving characteristics would have been great.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Drove a rental over that bridge a few times last spring. Best driving road I found was a barely built out and nearly abandoned burbclave. Flat as … Well, flat, but it had nice winding roads with no houses and traffic. The flatness and lack of buildings let me run speeds that would have been psychopathic if I wasn’t sure no one else was around.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    No ugly black molding, no M Sport Package. Just clean, uninterrupted red paint:)

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Acura won’t let you change between seat memory settings when driving.

    That silver plastic is just so awful.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The obligatory Chrysler 200 cheap shot. You’ll do well in your automotive writing career.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Now I’m just getting angry. Every time I rent a car, all they have left is a white Impala, except one time when they gave me a ’95 Volvo 240. I even dropped down to a compact once, and the Mitsubishi’s were all gone, so they upgraded me to a white Impala. It’s the curse of flying from California to the northeast and arriving after all the good stuff is gone! I’d try a late night flight, arriving in the morning, but who can sleep on a plane?

  • avatar
    SomeGuy

    So how does the car drive again? I think I missed that part of the article…

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    I am trying to figure out if Amanda Bauer was hired for her writing skills about cars (not looking so good) or because she is a buddy of one of the editors.

  • avatar
    vaujot

    Common guys, obviously this is not meant as a serious review of the car. I found the read enjoyable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I enjoyed the visuals and sounds imparted, as you hear the danish crinkle and slide out from the seat, or all your ChapSticks falling out. Or all the noise you were probably making as you struggled with the roof. You have a nice, accessible writing style.

    Entertaining stuff. More driving dynamics next time though!

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I too liked the article. I’m fond of BMW Z3s and Z4s. And Z8s. ;)

    Something else, though: If Amanda is paying for her own rental, then she gets to decide how to write the article.

    At only $200 per day, you too could write your own review. And then you’d get to pick what you want to say! Until then, you other guys qwitcherbtchn! :D


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