BMW Z4 — A mood elevator that only goes up

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Cooped up in a waiting room for what seemed like hours with dozens of people milling in and out, and listening to the constant buzz of mindless conversation mixed with an occasional baby’s wail was claustrophobic.

We arrived for this mismanaged appointment under cool, drizzly skies in our 2010 BMW Z4 roadster, comfortably cocooned with steel top overhead — no claustrophobia present.

When we finally emerged from the torture of waiting two hours beyond our appointment time, the sky had cleared and the temperature had risen to a delightful convertible top-down 75-degrees.

Twenty seconds after a push of the dashboard button, we were sans the roof and taking the long way to the office. A rich reward for our interminable wait. The new Z4 is a mood elevator no matter the circumstances. And the long way back in the open air with 300 energetic horses up front was just the ticket for an attitude adjustment.

This roadster is a humdinger, a blast to drive and a blast to be seen in with its gorgeous roadster styling that turns heads. To us it’s BMW’s best Z effort since its inception 14 years ago. It’s the best looking vehicle in BMW’s ever-growing fleet of “ultimate driving machines.”

The Z flows nicely from front to back. Styling does not look contrived as in the previous rendition, but a complete statement of comfortable coolness. And the sharp flowing lines work just as well with the top up or the top down. The top blends well with the overall styling, and to BMW’s credit designers managed to avoid the bubble-butt look of so many hardtop convertibles.

The Z4 was particularly eye catching in our test car painted in a sparkling silver metallic; it looked dazzling. More than once we got the roll-your-window-down sign at a stoplight. “Hey, man I love your car,” one guy in a big Suburban hollered to us.

The interior is equally stylish in a traditional BMW way. Our test car came with the $2,050 Ivory Extended Leather Package that gives the two-seater a definite upscale look.

Exceptional performance and typical cutting-edge BMW handling make this new Z a complete package.

The Z4 has gone upscale with a combination of sophistication, luxury and performance. And that means the price has gone up accordingly. It may be worth the money, but owners of older model Z4s may be put off when they decide it’s time to purchase a new car.

There are two trim lines — differentiated mainly by engine choice — with base prices of $46,575 for the sDrive30i and $52,475 for the sDrive35i. The BMW is well equipped in the base configuration, but be forewarned for most people that’s just a starting point. There are some very delectable option packages and optional stand-alone equipment that will be hard to pass up.

The sDrive30i comes with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline 6 that makes 255 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic optional. We didn’t drive that engine, but we figure it will be satisfying for most people.

What we drove, the sDrive35i with BMW's delightful twin-turbocharged inline 6 rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, is a performance demon. Standard equipment is a six-speed manual, but we would opt for the seven-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission.

While we enjoy shifting for ourselves, we aren’t so enamored with a clutch that we would purposely avoid this outstanding automatic. It can be shifted by steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters if so desired.

There is no performance-tuned M edition this time around, and none is needed. The turbocharged six, with its low, menacing growl, posts times nearly equal to the previous M. Both Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines measured the sDrive35i in 4.8 seconds from 0 to 60. Quarter mile time is 13.3 seconds at 106.7 mph. Just hit the accelerator and power instantly arrives in steady doses. We found no hint of turbot lag when an immediate response was demanded.

One performance option we would purchase for $1,900 is the sport package that includes 18-inch wheels with performance tires, sports seats and most importantly Adaptive M Suspension. The suspension can be dialed to three settings — normal, sport and sport plus.

Under normal setting, the suspension is probably softer than any previous Z, but it’s great for long-distance cruising comfort. If you are in the mood for carving up some back-road twists and turns, set it to sport plus and the suspension firms up to typical BMW roadster standards.

Top-down cruising has never been easier. Hit and hold the power top button and the two-piece top folds into the trunk in about 20 seconds. Wind flow with the top down is minimal, one of the more serene open-air experiences we’ve had in recent times.

The top does eat up trunk space, but with the top up the Z4 trunk is rather spacious for a roadster. A luggage partition has to be pulled in place for the top to lower, cutting useable storage to 4.6 cubic feet. But push the partition out of the way with the top up, and space increases to a very useable 10.9 cubic feet.

BMW says two sets of golf clubs will fit, but unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to put that claim to the test.

The softer ride adds to the new refinement evident in the Z4. The spacious-for-a-roadster interior is relatively quiet thanks to the new metal top, with one exception — the intrusion of excessive road noise, especially on certain road surfaces, thanks to the high performance, low profile tires. But there is not enough noise to make us forsake the Z4.

The seats are comfortable, and the optional sports seats with adjustable bolsters add to the feel of the car’s driving dynamics.

Order up navigation and iDrive comes with it. Don’t give up the navigation because you don’t want to deal with the infamous iDrive. We just finished a 2,500-mile trek in a 7-Series with the new-generation iDrive and we found it surprisingly user friendly.

Our test car, an sDrive35i, came with numerous options bringing the bottom line to $63,245. In addition to the aforementioned Sport Package and ivory leather seats, our test car featured premium sound and a premium package that includes power seats and auto-dimming mirrors.

The new Z4 is an entertaining, handsome and refined luxury roadster. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Base price: $46,575; as driven, $63,245
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline 6
Horsepower: 300 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 300 foot-pounds @ 1,400 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Seating: 2
Wheelbase: 98.3 inches
Length: 166.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,450 pounds
Turning circle: 35.1 feet
Luggage capacity top down: 4.6 cubic feet
Luggage capacity top up: 10.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 25 mpg highway, 17 mpg city
0-60: 4.8 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Mercedes SLK, Nissan 370Z, Corvette convertible

The Good:
• Handsome, head-turning styling
• Slick folding hardtop
• Typical BMW performance

The Bad:
• Gas mileage not befitting a roadster

The Ugly:
• New Z4 priced out of many people's reach