By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.6
BMW has been doing this roadster thing since the 1930s, although its entries into and out of the market are – at best – sporadic. The company's recent efforts (Z3 and Z8) have been decidedly retro, whereby a long hood and short rear deck are meant to combine a prewar feel with postwar performance. With the second iteration of the Z4, first introduced in 2009, we have a fully contemporary platform, the 2-seater's first folding hardtop and – starting with the 2012 BMW Z4 roadster – a turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant joining last year's two turbocharged 6-cylinder iterations. Here, then, comes the sun...
If you enjoy the traditional architecture of a 2-seat roadster, but find the Miata too small, Chevy's Vette too large and Honda's S2000 too, well, pre-owned, the 2012 BMW Z4 roadster has a lot to recommend it. A low price, however, isn't among its most endearing attributes. Despite the downsizing under the hood, the promise is of better efficiency and not a lower window sticker.
If you're looking for an expansive interior and great outward vision, BMW's 1 Series or 3 Series convertibles are arguably the better option. Despite its upsized footprint (relative to the Z3 or first Z4), this remains a smallish roadster with a very "personal" passenger compartment. To that end, don't expect day-to-day practicality. On any given weekend, however, Z4 roadster is a screamer.
The biggest news for the 2012 BMW Z4 is under the hood. The normally aspirated in-line-6 is gone. Its replacement, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, is the new entry-level face of BMW, providing the performance foundation for the new 5 Series, the upcoming 3 Series and this, BMW's performance roadster. With similar horsepower, more torque (!), lighter weight and better balance, this newest Z4 promises to recall any number of great drop-tops, some of which were built by BMW.
Driving Impressions Our most recent drive of a Z4 was in the rain at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. And while all systems were go (including BMW's Dynamic Stability Control), given...a choice we'd still prefer a dry track. The rain didn't diminish, however, the absolute pleasure one gets from behind the wheel. The BMW Z4, regardless of powertrain, is nothing more than a reinvention of the classic sports car, whose roots date back to the racing chariot. Of course, all of the classic elements are now elective. Wind in your hair? Only if you drop the top. Bugs in your teeth? That's BMW's motorcycle division. In short, the 2012 Z4 is simply an extension of your own personality and capability. If you bring your [racecar driver] Lewis Hamilton, it's game on. But the Z4 will work equally well if you bring your [sun-worshiper] George Hamilton.
6-Speed Manual Transmission
Call us crazy, but in the right car there are few things better than being fully engaged. And by that we mean the right hand is on the shift lever, while the left foot deftly operates a clutch. You're right – it ain't rocket science, but doing it well behind the wheel of a true Sports/GT supplies one of life's better moments.
This isn't, by any stretch, a new idea. BMW, Saab, Porsche, even Buick, were offering turbocharged variants of their more "cooking" powertrains long before volume carmakers (or regulators) laid claim to the benefits. But BMW's new one is a charmer, with generous horsepower, prodigious – for its displacement – torque, and a visceral voice that needs to be heard to be appreciated. We're big fans of smallish turbos, and only hope this is the first (on a BMW showroom) of many.
The 2012 BMW Z4 interior provides a driver-centric cockpit. A comfortable touring environment, however, is provided both driver and passenger. An ergonomic 3-spoke wheel greets the driver, while ventilation and audio controls – and BMW's now-iconic iDrive – are easily accessible by the passenger. In most instances 2-place roadsters provide almost cocoon-like passenger cells, but the Z4's seems more open and accessible, providing an easy intimacy that can be enjoyed during a run for coffee – or a run for the border. We wish, however, BMW hadn't seen the need to reinvent the control for the automatic transmission. While we're sure there exists a perfectly logical reason to dispense with P-R-N-D-L, we (personally) haven't grasped it.Exterior
The Z4's shape is a softened, more mature treatment of what went before. And both Z4 shapes are dramatic departures from the overtly retro theme of the Z3. The 2012 Z4 shape is one BMW describes as the modern look of a classic roadster. And in most instances, a classic roadster covered the car's mechanicals with a minimum of metal and flourish. We like what BMW's design team has done with it, and while preferring cloth to folding hardtops (they just seem so much more "convertible") we're taken with BMW's execution. Up, the roof looks like a well-integrated coupe, while retracted there is virtually no stylistic evidence (no humps, no bumps) of its trunk-mounted hiding place.
Any 2012 BMW Z4, from the entry-level sDrive28i to the most-expressive (and potent) sDrive35is, is well equipped. And all come with a standard spec that from many other carmakers would be deemed "optional." From the functional (6-speed manual transmission, folding hardtop) to the safe (Driving Dynamics Control, a rollover-protection system) to the entertaining (AM/FM/CD with MP3 capabilities), a base Z4 won't bore you or kill you, and may actually thrill you. Most notable item in the standard spec, we think, is the move to the turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant. May its force be with you.
Given that the 2012 BMW Z4 resides on a BMW showroom, you can safely assume that BMW options are in greater supply than BMW service writers, and in most metro areas you'll have no trouble finding a service writer. (BMW stores compensate service personnel very well.) Given its sport orientation, one of two Sport Packages – Sport or M Sport – would be a worthwhile consideration, as either choice amps up your Z4's "sportiness.". In keeping with the theme, so does the DCT gearbox available on the sDrive35i (and standard on its performance sibling, the sDrive35is). With the paddle shifters – ordered concurrently with the DCT – you'll feel like an older, less affluent version of Lewis Hamilton, only happier. Of course, any number of premium and convenience packages promise to make you more comfortable, but if you wanted to be comfortable you should have ordered the 5 Series. This, after all, is a sports car!
For those of you "classically trained," the loss of a naturally aspirated six (sDrive30i) will come as a disappointment. We'd skip the therapist and go straight to your BMW showroom, where a drive in the new Z4 sDrive28i will both enlighten and inspire. Of course, if like many successful Americans too much is never enough. For you, the pure adrenaline BMW dubs sDrive35is (the top of the line) is the engine to have, if only to tell your friends of a 0-60 in under five seconds. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on both the turbo 4-cylinder and base 6-cylinder versions. The sDrive35is receives a DCT automatic transmission as standard.
2.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line-4 (Z4 sDrive28i)
240 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm
260 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/34 (manual), 24/33 (automatic)
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line-6 (Z4 sDrive35i)
300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,400-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/26 (manual), 17/24 (DCT automatic)
3.0-liter turbocharged in-line-6 (Z4 sDrive35is)
335 horsepower @ 5,900 rpm
332 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/24 (DCT automatic)
By JohnV on Tuesday, January 13, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 22,200overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun, performance, comfort, mpg, hardtop, design"
Cons: "trunk lighting - that's it!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This is my 3rd Z4, and the best one we have owned. Our 2009 & 2011 last generation Z4's were great cars but never quite felt like they were "finished". The ride, performance and handling were all BMW but the finesse of the interior was not quite there. Fast forward to the 2013 Z4; its got the performance, ride and handling that you expect with an interior that is larger, more comfortable, has all the creature comforts you expect and best of all it can be used year round now that is has an amazing hardtop. We just got back from a trip from central NJ to Boston this weekend and averaged 71.7 mph while getting 32.2 mpg. That's with a 4 cylinder and automatic. Don't worry, that little four cylinder has better performance than the last Z4 we had with a 6 cylinder. I very highly recommend this car to anyone looking for a car that is the whole package. It doesn't hurt that you don't see many of these on the road. If you want exclusivity without the crazy price that exclusivity sometimes demands, this is the one!"
5 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By Sparkey on Tuesday, July 08, 2014
I owned and sold this car
Reason: Mechanical Problems
Pros: "Beautiful body design."
Cons: "Lots of mechanical and electrical problems."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Lifters replaced TWICE since purchased, fuel pump replaced, brakes repaired several times, starter replaced, climate control panel replaced, OEM tires very loud and hunt on the road, adaptive headlights repaired, lots of squeaks and rattles. I will never, ever buy another BMW Z4. I must say the BMW dealerships have been very helpful trying to get things repaired properly . . . too bad, I do like the design of the body but mechanically and electrically it has lots of problems."
14 people out of 25 found this review helpful
By alex on Friday, January 31, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "beuty.gas milge.hard top.awsme inter(wood).lge nav"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I leased this car, now plan to buy it...excellnt car,fun to drive reliable, and gas mileage....36miles to gallon coming back from vegas! Fit and finish great..navi great with big screen! And all of this with the best part....when you put the top down..gorgeous....poetry in motion!! Who cares about cupholders!"
19 people out of 34 found this review helpful
By Spare Tire Disappointment on Wednesday, January 08, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 3,800overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Looks and Driving Fun"
Cons: "No spare tire, outdated technology package"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"I fully enjoy the look and drive of this car. It is amazingly fun to drive and it turns heads in the looks department. Several things annoy and disappoint me, however. I do not feel comfortable taking this car on short (300 mile) trips, no spare tire. Yes, it has run flat tires (difficult to replace) but after you get to a rest stop on a turnpike, then what? Wait and wait for a flat bed truck to tow you to where ever for a tire? Very time consuming and it stops a fun trip dead in it's tracks. Next, the navigation screen is not clear and crisp (as it is on my Acura) and does not change automatically when you cross into another time zone (as it does with my Acura). Then, no back=up camera, that's just sad. Additionally, the upgraded sound system is not good. I traded a 370Z on this car and it had a better (Bose) system. So many easy to correct errors and I fault myself for not doing my homework to find these things out before I bought this $70,000 car. I will just enjoy the car around town on nice days with the top down. My next car will not be a Z4."
8 people out of 15 found this review helpful
By mcsquared on Sunday, December 01, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 30,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great looks, fun to drive"
Cons: "Interior noise with top up, Tire life"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I ordered this car from Germany because manual transmissions are very difficult to find. It took about 2 months to receive it after I put down my deposit. The service from the dealer has been exceptional. My only complaint is a rattle in the roof panel when the top is up which the dealer has not been able to resolve."
5 people out of 6 found this review helpful
By Fear and Loathing in LA on Monday, September 16, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 16,000overall rating 2 of 10rating details
Pros: "Beautiful Vehicle"
Cons: "Not a safe car to drive"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I have a 2011 BMW Z4 ( Vin# wbalm5c51be378952 ) with around 16,000 miles on it that has been constantly in the shop for a variety of electrical, mechanical and structural issues. These issues range from the driver’s side of the hood unlatching again and again after multiple services to the car, continually not starting and stalling out when driving at slow speeds. Each issue has been serviced multiple times and as of yet none of the issues have been resolved. Further, these issues have persisted in spite of countless service visits. The vehicle has stalled in stop and go traffic and while making left turns and my friends and family refuse to ride in it for safety reasons. It has now come to a point where I am actually fearful to drive the car. I have been formally reprimanded at work for getting there late due to my car not starting or needing to be taken into service. I keep it in a garage that is both air conditioned and heated. I am a high school counselor and work just 5 miles from my house and usually just drive it to work and to visit my parents on the weekend. I take the car for all of it’s services and only put super-unleaded gas in it. I really can’t think of how I can treat the car better or care for it more. I am sad I own this car and even sadder about the lack of ability BMW has to fix even the simplest mechanical problems..."
20 people out of 27 found this review helpful