By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 12/14/2011
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...You'll Like This Car If...
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.You May Not Like This Car If...
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.What's New for 2012
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 It 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.Notable Standard Equipment
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)
There is little in the way of Z4 price increases for 2012. As noted, the entry-level Z4 has lost two cylinders and gained a turbo. Just a guess, but we're betting a turbo costs more than two cylinders – so it's a wash. Expect to pay upward of $50,000 for the Z4 sDrive28i, $56,000 for the mid-level sDrive35i and over $65,000 for the full-zoot sDrive35is. And given that this remains a BMW, albeit a smaller one, think another $10,000 for the options most of the target audience will typically request. Cost of ownership is ameliorated by BMW's no-cost scheduled maintenance for your first four years or 50,000 miles. And BMW's historically high residual values make leasing a worthwhile consideration. Finally, check Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Option for an idea of what consumers are paying for comparable models in your market area.