Review: BMW Z4 (2003 – 2009)
Better looking and a sportier drive than its Z3 predecessor.
Rear tyre wear on 3.0. Rims prone to kerbing. Can ground out on road humps.
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BMW Z4 (2003 – 2009): At A Glance
- On average it achieves 96% of the official MPG figure
The first generation of BMW Z4 showcased the firm’s ‘flame surfacing’ design style. Coming on the heels of Chris Bangle’s radical new direction for BMW’s styling, the Z4 was a complete and welcome break from the previous Z3.
However, the Z4 was styled by BMW’s Danish designer Anders Warming, so the car has its own unique appeal that helped it take on the Porsche Boxster directly where the Z3 had always trailed in the Porsche’s wake. Thanks to a spread of engines and dose of practicality, the Z4 also managed to challenge the Mercedes SLK and Audi TT to be a very competent all-round roadster.
Produced in BMW’s Spartanburg factory in South Carolina it was obvious the main market for the Z4 was in the USA. That hasn’t stopped it being a success in the UK, which has been a strong market for the BMW convertible.
A fabric soft-top aped the Z3’s design, but the Z4 features a glass rear screen for added comfort, noise suppression and security. It also makes it easier to defrost on chilly mornings to make the Z4 usable all-year round.
Sticking with a classic front engine, rear-wheel drive layout, the Z4 enjoys perfect 50:50 weight distribution. It shows in the handling balance of the Z4, which errs much more on the sporty side than its Audi and Mercedes rivals. There is also quick reacting steering to deliver a keen driving experience.
BMW fitted the Z4 with its smooth, sonorous six-cylinder engines from the start in 2.5- and 3.0-litre guises. Both offer strong performance and were joined by a 2.2-litre six-cylinder in 2003. This latter engine was superseded by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor in 2005 which, although slower than the 2.2, is smoother and more enjoyable to use.
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BMW Z4 (2003 – 2009): What's It Like Inside?
- Boot space is 200–260 litres
All Z4s come with an electrically operated fabric roof that folds away in only 10 seconds. It does this quietly and stores away behind the standard built-in roll-over hoops to the rear of the seats. When folded, the hood does not have a cover for the hood. Instead, the upper section of the roof acts as its own tonneau cover.
With the roof up, you can fold up part of the hood’s storage compartment to free up more boot space. It does mean you have to fold this back down when you want to drop the hood and that means opening the boot, but it’s a small price to pay for the added convenience this feature offers.
With the roof up and the boot configured to give the maximum space, there’s 240 litres of luggage space, which is less than an Audi TT Roadster’s and also a Porsche Boxster’s, but the Porsche’s is split between two separate boot spaces.
With the roof up, refinement is on a par with any of the Z4’s open-top rivals with the exception of the Mercedes SLK that trounces the competition thanks to its folding hard top. Lower the roof and the cabin is no more or less susceptible to wind buffeting than the Porsche Boxster or Mercedes.
A small wind deflector can be fitted between the two roll hoops to lessen wind disturbance in the cabin at higher speeds. At motorway pace and with the roof down, the driver and passenger in the Z4 can conduct a conversation or listen to the radio without resorting to ear drum-splitting decibels to make themselves heard.
The passenger has plenty of legroom and both seats are supportive and ideal for long distance touring. As you’d expect of a BMW sports car, the driving position places the driver low and snug in the car, though all-round vision is good for this breed of car. The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and height, while manual seat adjustment controls can be upgraded to electric operation.
With the seat set for the driver, the gear lever falls naturally to hand and the foot pedals are ideally spaced for keen driving while still giving you somewhere to rest your left foot.
BMW has designed the Z4 dash with the minimal of fuss, so directly in front of the driver is the speedo and rev counter, with a small digital display in the space between these dials. The stereo controls are grouped on the upper slope of the centre console, while the ventilation controls are placed beneath on the lower edge. It’s a neat and functional design that works well.
All Z4s come with twin front and side airbags as standard, as well as electric windows, CD stereo and climate control. Not all have leather upholstery, though, so be careful to choose this desirable option. The Z4M’s interior is similarly equipped, with the only notable upgrade its more hip-holding sports seats.
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What's the BMW Z4 (2003 – 2009) like to drive?
Any sports car with a BMW badge on its nose has a lot of expectation to live up and the Z4 does not disappoint. Its classic front engine, rear drive layout combines with 50:50 weight distribution to deliver one of the best driving experiences you can have. Even up against the benchmark Porsche Boxster, the Z4 measures up.
It’s a different driving experience in the Z4 to the Boxster. Where the Porsche is all about precision and metering out its responses in carefully judged, delicate proportions, the BMW has more of an old fashioned Brit sportster feel to it. Steering that is quick to react to the driver’s inputs can make the car seem a little fidgety or flighty until you get used to it, but when you do the Z4 can be placed with astonishing accuracy and lets the driver use small inputs to great effect.
Another area where the Z4 feels more traditional than the Boxster is the way it demands a little more respect and care when driving out of tighter corners or roundabouts. There’s standard ESP in the form of BMW’s third generation Dynamic Stability Control to prevent this from ever becoming a problem, but the Z4 will still twitch the rear end under hard acceleration. For some this will be a huge part of the appeal of the Z4, while for others they will prefer the unflappable nature of the Porsche or Audi TT.
Be under no illusions the Z4 is unstable or does not handle with great panache: it is simply a car aimed more at the enthusiast driver than most of its rivals. This makes it a great choice for those who might be tempted by the occasional track day foray in a similar way to the Honda S2000.
Unlike the Honda, though, the BMW comes with engines that do not have the revved to stratospheric levels to give their best. At launch, BMW wisely avoided a repeat of their mistake with the Z3 and introduced the Z4 with the best engines from the start. These are the 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre six-cylinder motors with 192PS and 231PS respectively.
Both of these engines have a slick six-speed manual gearbox as standard and the Z4 3.0i sees off 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds. The 2.5i takes 6.8 seconds for the same sprint, but on the road both engines rev so freely they feel quite similar in pace.
A 2.2-litre six-cylinder arrived in 2003 with 170PS, but it has never enjoyed the same popularity as the larger engines. This is because the smaller ‘six’ needs to be worked quite hard to access its more limited performance, which defeats the purpose of this type of motor.
Much better, if a little slower than the 2.2, is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that replaced the smallest six-cylinder unit in 2005. It may have a modest 150PS, but it’s only a mite slower from 0-62mph and feels much more fun to use as it revs keenly.
A Sport button in all versions crisps up the response from the accelerator pedal, as well as adding a little more weight to the steering feel. An SMG (sequential manual gearbox) automated manual transmission is an option in the Z4 but frankly is best avoided, so choose the standard auto if you don’t fancy a standard manual ’box.
A standalone model within the range is the 343PS Z4M Roadster that conjures up 0-62mph in 5.0 seconds. It’s an altogether more focused performance car that appeals to enthusiasts and has considerably higher running costs than the rest of the Z4 range.
Regardless of which engine you have under the long bonnet of the Z4, all of them handle very well. They are great fun on country lanes and even the lengthy bonnet doesn’t cause any problems when it comes to pointing the car through tighter bends or parking up.
A reasonably tight turning circle also helps here, while visibility with the hood is no better or worse than any of the BMW’s competitors’. The suspension is firm over bumpy roads, but not so much that you couldn’t take the Z4 on holiday. Sport models have larger wheels and sports suspension as standard, so they are firmer still and this means an SE is the better choice as a daily driver.
|2.0i||38–38 mpg||8.2 s||176–181 g/km|
|2.5 Si||34 mpg||6.5 s||199 g/km|
|2.5i||34 mpg||7.1 s||197 g/km|
|3.0 Si||33 mpg||5.7 s||204 g/km|
|M Roadster||23 mpg||5.0 s||292 g/km|
Real MPG average for a BMW Z4 (2003 – 2009)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
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