When you hear a bad word spoken about the 2014 BMW Z4 retractable-hardtop roadster, it usually has to do with the handling. Some critics complain that the electric power steering system doesn't transmit enough feedback to their sensitive palms. Others grouse that they were unable to execute a powerslide.
We humbly submit that they may be missing the point.
The reality is, most Z4 drivers don't take their roadsters to the local autocross club every weekend. They're more likely to go for a spirited drive along a scenic byway or boulevard, reveling in the car's combination of luxury, technology, elegance and hardtop security. It's the Z4's sophistication that draws people in, not its tough-guy racetrack credentials.
So although the 2014 Z4 is a Porsche Boxster competitor in price, it's more of a compact, bargain-priced Mercedes-Benz SL-Class in spirit. And you know what? We dig that concept, and we bet you will, too. Steering feel and tire smoke may sell magazines, but when building appealing luxury roadsters, BMW has its finger on the pulse.
What's New for 2014?
The Z4 is unchanged this year.
What We Like
Excellent turbocharged engines; impressive miles per gallon with the turbo 4-cylinder; accomplished handling; civilized ride; wonderful optional M sport seats
What We Don't
Fancy automated manual transmission hurts fuel economy; die-hard enthusiasts might prefer something more focused
The Z4 sDrive28i is motivated by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The default transmission is a 6-speed manual; an 8-speed automatic is optional. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the 4-cylinder Z4 returns an impressive 22 miles per gallon city/34 mpg hwy with the manual and 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the automatic.
The Z4 sDrive35i gets a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that sends 300 hp and 300 lb-ft to either the 6-speed conventional manual or a responsive 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual. The 6-speed transmission yields 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy, while the 7-speed drops to 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.
The Z4 sDrive35is boasts a tweaked version of the twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder that cranks out 335 hp and 332 lb-ft, increasing to 369 lb-ft for brief stretches at full throttle. The 35is is offered only with the 7-speed automated manual. Fuel economy is unchanged from the automatic sDrive35i at 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.
All Z4 models employ rear-wheel drive.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 BMW Z4 hardtop convertible is offered in three trim levels: 4-cylinder sDrive28i, 6-cylinder sDrive35i and highest-performance sDrive35is.
The sDrive28i ($49,875) starts with 17-inch alloy wheels, electronically adjustable throttle and steering response, auto stop/start (requires manual transmission), adaptive xenon headlamps, fog lights, heated mirrors, leatherette upholstery, 8-way power seats with driver memory, automatic climate control, push-button start, cruise control, and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
The sDrive35i ($57,875) adds the 6-cylinder engine, 18-in alloy wheels, leather upholstery and 10-way power seats (including power side bolsters).
The sDrive35is ($66,725) tacks on a lowered suspension with M-tuned adaptive dampers, M sport seats with 12-way adjustability (including thigh support) and various M-themed styling cues.
Notable options include iDrive with an 8.8-in display and hard-drive-based navigation, an M Sport package that features the sDrive35is model's standard seats and suspension, a Cold Weather package with heated seats/steering wheel and a premium audio system.
The Z4's power-folding hardtop is a work of art, really, doing its intricate origami folding act in minimal time and with minimal fuss. Trunk space isn't bad for a compact hardtop roadster, measuring 10.9 cu ft with the top up and 6.3 cu ft with it folded down.
The 2014 BMW Z4 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a rollover protection system and six airbags (front, knee and side). It has not been subjected to any crash tests on American soil.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation, we deemed the Z4's standard front seats adequate in a straight line, but they don't do much to hug you in place around corners. As such, we consider the available M sport seats mandatory. Unless you plan to avoid corners at all costs, you'll want the M seats' exemplary adjustable side bolsters (though the sDrive35i's standard seats do include power side bolsters of their own). Interestingly, BMW's ubiquitous iDrive system is optional in the Z4, so it's possible to get one of these roadsters without a color infotainment screen protruding from the dash.
The view of the road ahead is complemented by the Z4's classic long nose, which is fully visible from the driver's seat. You're almost sitting on the rear axle in this car, like an old goggle-wearing racer from the 1930s. It's one way in which the Z4 and Boxster could hardly be more different, as the Porsche situates the driver practically in between the axles.
Accelerating from rest in the Z4 sDrive28i, the turbo 4-cylinder puts out more than the officially quoted 240 hp. The sDrive28i is a quick little roadster that never left us wanting for more power, while the 4-cylinder's enthusiastic noises evoke the exuberant MINI Cooper S. Of course, the inline 6-cylinder versions are quicker still, though fuel economy plummets.
On the road, the Z4 has BMW's trademark solid feel at speed, and the cabin can be downright quiet with the top up. You could take a chatty road trip with a friend and not raise your voice once. The top-down ride is quite civilized, too, with wind buffeting kept nicely in check. On the handling front, the Z4's somewhat numb electric-assist steering doesn't channel the spirit of older BMWs, but you can still have a lot of fun in this car. The grip and body control are certainly there. The Boxster's sharper, yes, but it's not as good at being a top-up touring car. Decisions, decisions.
Other Cars to Consider
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class -- We've mentioned the SL, but that roadster's twice the Z4's price. The direct rival from Benz is the pint-sized SLK-Class, recently restyled and offered in AMG trim with a glorious V8.
Porsche Boxster -- As a driver's car, the brand-new Boxster is even more of a revelation than its illustrious predecessor. If it's a pure sporting roadster you're after, the Boxster is an easy choice.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible - The Corvette and the Z4 are actually price peers. Different philosophies, to be sure, but you might become a 'Vette convert after some quality time with the standard 6.2-liter V8.
Give serious thought to the entry-level sDrive28i. That 240-hp 4-cylinder has a lot of energy, and it's considerably less expensive than the 6-cylinder alternatives.