By on May 18, 2009

Despite constant evolution, the BMW Z4 has always been something of an enigma. Quality issues, cabin constraints, questionable styling, not-quite-there handling, dubious tire choices and premium pricing have all bedeviled the sports car—although not all at the same time. Far be it for me to suggest that this lack of synthesis had anything to do with production in South Carolina. But it is strange—and a little reassuring—to know that this next gen Z4 is made in Regensburg, Germany. Less comforting to those of a sporting bent: it’s grown in width, length, wheelbase and weight. Once again, Mazda Miata lovers looking to upgrade need not apply.

The new BMW Z4 sDrive35i’s design is like something I might have doodled as a twelve year old daydreaming in class. Whether the folding hardtop’s up or down, the two seat Bimmer has that long, low-slung phallic look favored by pre-pubescent boys. Now that I’m on the wrong side of 50, I can’t quite get my Camaro thing happening; the new Z4 seems a bit cartoonish, more Roger Rabbit than Speed Racer. While the Z4 is less awkward than the car it replaces, the design is still too exaggerated for its diminutive dimensions.

The new Z4’s interior is more of the same and then some, with lots of sparkly jewelry to distract your eye from the driving chores. It’s elegant, but overdone. I’d advise avoiding the temptation of the Ivory White Nappa Leather interior, which hurts your eyes even as it plunders your pocketbook ($2,050). The dealer had to inspect my pants to make sure I would leave no colors or stains behind on what was rapidly becoming an Ivory Gray interior.

Consistent with BMW’s mission to transform familiar controls into fashionably indecipherable and non-intuitive switchgear, I give you the Z4’s HVAC system. There are a total of four large dials: two separate temperature controls for the driver and passenger, one for fan speed and another air distribution. Now for the punch line. Two of the dials are really buttons organized in a rotary manner. The subliminal message from the engineers in Munich: “You complained so much about iDrive we decided to make things even harder for you. Next time, just love what we give you or we will graft more weird stuff onto and into our designs.”

When I heard that the test vehicle was equipped with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, I expected to find a tranny similar to the wikkid system on the M3. Instead, I was greeted by the Nokia cell phone automatic transmission stalk now proliferating across the BMW line. While there’s no separate control for the shift times as in the M3, the Z4 sDrive35i’s throttle mapping can be controlled by toggling between normal-sport-really-sport-plus modes. Compared with the M3’s DCT box, the Z4 sDrive35i’s transmission feels decidedly dumbed down. Despite all the power under foot, I never thought I was driving anything more (or less) than an automatic transmission.

Wow, am I really complaining that the transmission is too transparent? Yes, particularly when the steering wheel shift paddles push in from either side to upshift or pull forward to downshift.

Once I got past these effronteries, I found progress quite pleasant, albeit antiseptic and uninvolving. The seats were roomy and comfortable with adequate support during frisky maneuvers. Visibility is much improved versus the prior ragtop, but there is still large blind spot at 135 degrees. The long front end is invisible from the driver’s seat—a huge mistake from a “it was worth it” point of view. The unseen snout’s sure to be the eventual brunt of some parking lot abutment.

The Z4 sDrive35i’s twin-turbo inline six is well suited to the Z4’s chassis. It motivates the 3,500 pounds very quickly, with very little turbo lag. The handling, braking and steering are all up to BMW’s usual high standards. Bonus! The car’s turn-in’s quite eager. Some reviewers have complained that the Z4’s pivot point seems too far ahead of the driver, making it harder to judge the apex while cornering. I disagree, perhaps because I grew up loving the Triumph TR3. But there’s no question the Z4 lacks an important ingredient: fun. Or SL-like comfort; the rigidity of the retractable hardtop improves the ride quality, but the [optional] 19″ wheels, sub-100″ wheelbase and [standard fit] run flats take their toll. As did the leather piece that squeaked throughout my test drive.

I like the new Z4 enough to date one, but I wouldn’t marry it. The look is too precious for me; I’d feel obligated to make an effort to dress nicer and wash behind my ears. The performance is excellent— but not inspirational. The really bad news: a price tag which easily reaches into the $60’s. I can think of plenty of rousing vehicles which capture my attention for less money, promise more involvement and demand less of my fashion sense.

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43 Comments on “Review: 2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i...”

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I am struggling to understand “why?” What is this car for?

    $60,000? What are they nuts?

    Hollywood divorcees to complain to each other about?

  • avatar

    That grille will be big hit in the ghettos especially among the pharmaceutical crowd.

  • avatar

    About 5 years ago, I owned an M Roadster as a second car. The BMW M version of the Z3. The car was comfortable for me (6’3″), yet low, light, fast, and superbly entertaining. It was 300 HP in a 2900 lb car. One of my biggest regrets was selling it. I still think every once and awhile about purchasing a Z4 as a second car. While I love the overall look and the hartop of this car, it just isn’t as attractive as an option for me anymore. But I guess I do understand why the Z4 is in the market segment it is now. BMW is making room for the possible entry of a Z2 roadster.

    Let’s also not forget one thing. A roadster does not have to be a performance sports car. The majority of people that shop these cars are looking for a fun, sporty cruiser.

  • avatar

    At 3500lbs, it is porkier than some SUV/CUVs

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    A Male menopause machine?

    B Divorced hairdresser bitch bucket?

    C Provincetown’s most popular ride?

    D All of the above?

  • avatar

    Putting a hard top on this was a good move… i could never decide between the rag top and hard top versions of this beastie.

    However, this is not the solution that I envisioned. It is the right size, but way overpriced. How about a decontented version? A 4 banger, cloth, power nothing, little or no fanciness.

    I suppose we will never see that

  • avatar

    weighs the same as a ford escape or a mustang gt

  • avatar

    If nothing else…getting rid of that damn Bangle line (that ran at a 45 degree angle to the beltline and bisected the Roundel behind the front wheels) was worth it!

    There is an interview that shows up on the Discovery HD channel with this Z’s designer. It was a woman. And the word “phallic” didn’t come up even once in 30 minuntes! ;-)

  • avatar

    I can’t understand why they’re still pushing runflats.

  • avatar

    Personally, I like the looks a lot. Though I agree that the long front end is not very practical for city driving. Jay, how much room is in the trunk before/after folding the top?

  • avatar

    Blech, I don’t like even thinking about driving it. I’ve got a personal aversion to hoody cars – I understand the design aesthetics and all that, but sitting in the rear 1/3rd of the car just seems goofy. It is very cartoonish, almost a parody of itself. It’s certainly interesting, I just think driving it would be about as fun as piloting a oil tanker.

  • avatar

    like.a.kite – They’re pushing run-flats because there’s no spare.

    Jay – Very much like the first paragraph apart from the bit about the manufacturing location. Any perceived differences there are purely psychological.

  • avatar

    I have never thought much of the non-M Z roadsters. It almost seems that BMW just made them because everybody else had one – a lack of passion that translated into a “just good enough” product. It seems that the loveless relationship between BMW engineers and the Z4 continues.

  • avatar

    Must resist urge to make unfavorable comparisons to Miatas and Corvettes and even 370Zs. Must…resist…

  • avatar

    Fantastic looking car.

  • avatar

    I continue to prefer the Z3 to either generation of Z4. The Z3 was crude and underengineered by BMW standards, but simply more fun to drive.

    It is disheartening to see this car take a big step away from the sports car ideal. But then I suppose that’s where the market is.

    TrueDelta doesn’t yet have reliability stats on either the Z3 or Z4, but hopes to have them later this year. Due to our research process, we could have results for the new Z4 well ahead of any other source, if enough owners sign up to participate soon enough.

  • avatar

    3,500 pound

    No need to say more.

    Fun review, especially the dealer+pants part…

  • avatar

    That is one ugly car. I mean, just look at that beak of a nose. It has more undulations than I-94.

    Don’t Germans have any shame?

    It’s one thing to actually sell such an ugly vehicle, but it’s quite another to sell it at such an astronomical price.

  • avatar

    And it’s quite another for it to make sense!

  • avatar

    It is a shame to not be able to see the hood in the driver’s seat. That is one of the things I’ve always liked about the Corvette – the menacing view of the arched front quarters. I can’t stand vehicles where I can’t see any hood. The Honda Element and Land Rover LR3 are two other examples that come to mind where you have this great view and placement ability because you can see every bit of the hood.

    Like energetik9, I had an M Roadster – around 2000 – and thought it was a blast to drive. There were some nice touches on that one – deep-dish M wheels, lit-up M logo on the shifter at night, and buttery Napa leather. No, it wasn’t quite right at the limit in the handling department. It was damn fun though. I agree that the new one is a porker and way too expensive. Put that BMW suspension, driving feel and M engine to work in a lightweight version with a proper manual tranny and I think it would find its true audience. We don’t really need leather – especially not ridiculous cream colored leather. Give us some Alcantara Recaro-type buckets and lose the ridiculous novelty crap that passes as BMW controls and interior design while you’re at it.

    And I second the comment about South Carolina having nothing to do with how this thing is built. Are you really implying that Americans can’t put together a vehicle as well as the Japanese or Germans? It really isn’t about the worker as much as it is the quality of components, assembly process, overall management and work environment. That applies to nearly any industry. My Honda Element and Accord are both built in Ohio by Americans. You can check the reliability of those two, but I think you know that they are some of the most reliable vehicles in the world.

  • avatar

    Such a shame. I had a Z4 3.0i which I got for $38,500 with M-Sport seats and the Sport Package (no dealer, I don’t give a fuck about resale so stuff the power top and bose system up your ass).

    It was a fun car, my wife loved it, we could fit all our stuff for a weekend in the trunk, and it returned 32 mpg on the highway with the top down at 80 mph.

    More weight, more price. Not for me.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    How do you say: “Serve them dog food, they will say it is pâté.” in German?

  • avatar

    I think for BMW adding the retractible hard top and increasing the price puts it in line with the Mercedes-Benz SLK300/350. As a current SLK350 owner, I say this new Z4 is a pretty nice improvement. Our 350 sticker price is around $62,000 and the SLK55 AMG is about $10k more. I believes this will leave room for a smaller / simpler Z2 roadster.

  • avatar

    I am struggling to understand “why?” What is this car for?

    To be seen speeding down Sunset Blvd with your trophy wife/mistress

    $60,000? What are they nuts?

    Absolutely not.

  • avatar

    noreserve: “It is a shame to not be able to see the hood in the driver’s seat. That is one of the things I’ve always liked about the Corvette – the menacing view of the arched front quarters.”

    Agreed. The icon of the phallic-style sportscar, the E-type Jaguar is all bonnet when in the driver’s seat. The big bulge over the engine, the louvers (which shimmer with heat every time you stop moving) and the fender lines at the outside. It just has a menacing, big-cat feline presence about it. It is a shame that nobody has been able to recapture that view in a modern car.


  • avatar
    The Anam Cara

    could anyone elaborate on what the “quality issues” of the previous generation z4 amount to (or is it just the usual bmw stuff?)? i’m considering an 06-ish z4 coupe (not the convertible) in the manual flavor and would like to know. i googled “bmw z4 quality issues” and couldn’t find anything specific. in fact, this article shows up as the first search result.


  • avatar

    Give me a Miata any day over this monstrosity.

    This has traces of Bangle; will he rot in hell? Or will his sins against aesthetics be forgiven by a benevolent God?

  • avatar

    i think this car is stuck between wanting to be a proper sports car like a Boxster and being a cruiser like an SL.

    it’d would be best with 17 inch wheels, non-turbo 6 and a proper automatic gearbox. and personally i think it looks great, but then i loved the original Z4 too.

  • avatar

    chuckgoolsbee’s comparison to the iconic Jaguar E-type is right on the mark. Kids, this is EXACTLY what an inline 6 roadster is supposed to look like. Plus, the relatively wide stance and muscular rear haunches give it just enough DB9ishness to look contemporary and serious. Absolutely beautiful, if you ask me.

    The white interior…er, no, that’s just way too Rodeo Drive.

    And yes, it certainly is a shame that you can’t see the hood from the driver’s seat.

  • avatar

    I like the proportions a lot better than the last generation z4 but unfortunately the better looks come with a penalty ( 3500lbs = fatty ). The twin turbo is a really nice motor when it’s not saddled to the automatic transmission. I test drove the coupe last year and the manual vs. auto is like night and day. I’ve never been or met a fan of the SMG tranny either.
    BMW apparently lost its way with the z4 and turned it into a boulevard cruiser ….nothing an aftermarket chip wouldn’t solve but at 60k you’re almost in an m3.

  • avatar

    What is the difference between the old and new?
    $60,000 Wow for a 2 seater and for 60 thousand I can buy myself 2 Lancer Ralliart or buy an M3.

    And your complaining about the front end of the new Lancer.

    Well, Look at this grill looks like it’s a smiling mako shark. Remember that movie “Finding Nemo”? looks like the shark that was chasing a little fish with huge smile on it.

  • avatar

    Whether the folding hardtop’s up or down, the two seat Bimmer has that long, low-slung phallic look favored by pre-pubescent boys.

    The first gen Z4 looked like Joe Camel’s nose, the latest reminds me of the car Peter Griffin from Family Guy drives in and out of a tunnel. Obviously the German engineering design team spend most of their summer’s wandering the European love parades.

  • avatar

    The car looks drop dead gorgeous. I can even see a hint of Aston Martin in it.
    But what good is dating a super model if she absolutely sucks in bed?

  • avatar

    I don’t see this as competition to a high end vette, or a Cayman. Nice, but unless it’s the M version, hah !

  • avatar

    that name makes no goddamn sense!

  • avatar

    Finally test drove one of these yesterday- a bronze 3.5 with MT. Hated it. Novocaine numb steering, way too much power assist, and poor visibility. I can imagine parking being a real chore trying to figure out where that long hood ends. Plenty of power though, but exhaust note left much to be desired. I can only imagine the DCT would bottom out any sense of driver involvement at all.

    Walked across the street to the Porsche man and test drove a Boxter S and Cayman S. WOW…. never drove a Porsche before, but my next car will definitely be a Cayman S. It was like a whole new world of motoring opened up that I never knew existed before. Up to this point I was in love with my 335i daily driver. The Cayman makes the 335i feel like a toy. Still love the bimmer, but my wife will soon become it’s primary driver.

  • avatar

    Why do people think this car is so ugly? Have you seen GM’s lineup for 2012, it’s enough to make you puke! Seriously one thing europe does is keep clean immaculate looking lines in there automobiles. Hell the Porsche 911 has looked the same since the 60’s and it’s stood the test of time as one of the best sports cars. BMW keeps it’s cars clean cut and there are no radical changes like American automakers. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen cars always look nice and ther performance is second to none! The new Z4 is a bit spendy I agree but you get what you pay for! Do you want a car with engineering that will last and spend more or a mediocre car that looks like shit and will be forgotten about in 5 years! The fact that people are still talking about the previous Z models tells you something!

  • avatar

    Interesting comment, written by Frank A. Aukofer of Scripps Howard News Service, in his review of the Z4 dated 25th July 2009:

    “The long hood/short rear deck has been a characteristic of many American muscle cars. Looking out over that elongated hood, as opposed to sitting in a sports car like a Porsche Cayman or Boxster where you can’t see anything but asphalt, has a charm all its own.”

    Kinda makes you wonder. Definitely have to drive it myself to see if the hood is visible or not.

    I think it’s a beautiful car. I’d go with the 255 HP, NA engine and heated seats…thanks but no thanks to the white interior and Premium Package…and the “normal” 6-speed manual, and I’m in for just under $50k.

  • avatar

    i’m fairly neutral about most points above, as personal preferences sets in…  HOWEVER
    people who say you cant see the front.. .seriously?!! you haven’t driven one.
    it’s there in your vision alright! kinda like driving an oil tanker and i love it!!

    + btw it has front and rear parking sensors which show up on the nav screen ;)

  • avatar

    I drove both the 3.5 and 3 new models at the dealership when they arrived. Since I own a 2004 Z4 I feel I certainly have some perspective on the cars.  Simple answer, I intend to keep my 04 Z4 for a while longer.  It’s a fun car to drive with the wife on Sundays and the top down. It is what it is, a garage queen and not a road racer, SL500 or Porsche anything.  It is a roadster fun car. It simply reminds me of the TR4 I owned years ago. (And yea, I agree the run flats are rough, when these wear out  I will put conventional tires on and carry a can of air and fix a flat.)

    Now as to the new version, it is a ballsy ride, it has a lot of power under the hood.  The dealer had the 1st blue with white interior fully loaded version and the black with red interior 5 speed. I liked the looks of the lesser equipped car. The blue and white combo looked nice in someones show room as a show car, not for the real world.  And this is a car you don’t talk money as far as I am concerned, either buy it and pay the price or back away slowly. Ha ha.  The price certainly cuts potential new car buyers down to size. So the other option is to wait until one comes of a 4-5 year lease and get it then.
    In any case, it is a sharp car and has left the roadster tag into the high priced over complicated sports car range that might have fallen a bit short.

  • avatar

    I like my Z4 35i, however, so hate the RFT they will be history in the spring of 2011 and real tires will make this a great car. My winter set NON-RFT will get a go in a few weeks then the RFT are never to be seen again by my Z4
    Should some BMW salesman peek in here … let it be known that I will never ever again purchase a BMW again as long as there is no choice to have other then them ill faded RFT on such a fine automobile … RFT indeed what are you thinking about LOL

  • avatar

    “I like the new Z4 enough to date one, but I wouldn’t marry it.”

    BMW is offering insanely cheap two year lease rates on the Z4 35is this month (and the 30i, and to a lesser extent the 35i).

    I just picked up a 24 month, 10K mi/yr fully loaded “Citrus Package” 35is for just $362.27 a month with nothing down except the security deposit(s – multiple security deposits for a lower money factor.)

    The deal wouldn’t be quite as good without an additional bump for the BMW loyalty incentive, but you don’t have to negotiate too hard when the 24 month residual is set at 82% of MSRP.

  • avatar

    “I like the new Z4 enough to date one, but I wouldn’t marry it.”

    I bought my Z4 (E89) just some weeks ago and LOVE it. Actually I cant agree on the complaints in the article. The look is stunning, open-roofed even more than closed. The interior, built-quality, engine sound and seating are very good.
    The Z4 might not be as twisty-cornerer as a Boxster or Miata, more of a sporty convertible-tourer. And well, its a bit pricy, not so much trunkspace and when bombing down the motorway its kinda thirsty.
    Still – I would definitely recommend this car to a friend!

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