Driven: BMW Z4
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, sports car enthusiasts should be quite fond of the newly reintroduced BMW Z4. Gone from the market for about three years, the Z4 returned in 2019 with an attractive redesign featuring a 4-cylinder model, soft top, and improved handling and performance. This year, BMW introduces a more powerful, inline, 6 cylinder turbo model.
The first thing you notice about the new Z4 is its very attractive styling, which features the classic long hood and short rear deck proportions for a sporty look that will turn heads. Of course, one of the best features of a classic sports car is its convertible top, which, on the new Z4, reverts to a soft top with a glass rear window with defogger. Though a soft top provides a little less practicality and weather protection, when retracted, it frees up more space in the trunk, which is at least big enough for a suitcase or two. The top goes up and down easily at the touch of a button, even while moving up to 31 mph. It also keeps the interior quiet for a soft top; the only noise that intrudes is the welcome sound of the sonorous exhaust.
Attractive styling continues in the spacious cockpit where all gauges and controls are now digital, including a dashboard that displays speedometers, a dial tachometer, navigation map, fuel and water temp readings, outside temp and gear indicator. Additional controls and interfaces are through a screen in the center of the dashboard. Basically every company has adopted the screen interface originally pioneered by BMW’s iDrive about 20 years ago. The iDrive system has improved markedly in that time and now includes a touch screen. You even can speak instructions to the system, and BMW’s patented ‘intelligent personal assistant’ also is available (think Alexa). Personally, I prefer not to find out that the car is smarter than I am.
One way the car is not so smart is the fact that you have to turn off the air conditioning through the iDrive system, hitting ‘menu’ and then going through two screens to uncheck a box—not nearly as simple as a button. Otherwise, the automatic climate control system works well through its button interface. Buttons (and a volume knob) also are used for the audio functions and heated seats.
Of course, the real fun of a sports car is driving it, and the Z4 disappoints only with the lack of a manual transmission. Though the 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters operates well, this car screams for a real three-pedal shifter. That aside, the Z4 is a joy to drive, especially in sport or sport plus mode (comfort and eco pro modes also are available). Light, nimble and with plenty of power from the almost turbo lag-free, inline, 6-cylinder turbo engine, this little rocket will get you where you want to go in a hurry. Sixty mph can be reached in just 3.9 seconds. Being a BMW, it also offers a tightly tuned yet comfortable suspension, which, when combined with solid brakes and excellent communicative steering, produces a car that’s really fun to drive.
A variety of tech features assists functionality and safety, including forward collision mitigation and braking, lane departure warning, active lane keep assist, a back-up camera, park distance control, active blind spot warning, and an available heads-up display that projects your speed and the posted speed limit on the windshield. I have it on good authority that when you approach double the speed limit, it flashes to let you know you’re having too much fun. All can be turned off with the push of a button for track use, which I was lucky enough to experience at last fall’s MAMA rally at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. The Z4 was a blast to drive on the track, holding its own against much more expensive and exotic fare.
According to Gerd Petermann, salesman at Autohaus BMW, “The new Z4 has modernized styling while maintaining its classic roadster proportions. The reversion to a soft top lowers the center of gravity, dramatically improving driving dynamics and creating spectacular handling.”
» Base: $64,700, including delivery
» As driven with options: $68,500
» 24 city
» 31 highway
» Front engine; rear-wheel drive
» 3.0-litre, turbo, 6-cylinder engine
» 382 horsepower
» 8-speed automatic transmission
Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.