2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i
I know BMWs are expensive because they are premium cars with premium equipment and lots of technology inside. But this car is far too expensive. How can a roadster that's no more fun than a Miata start at $49,525? That feels about $8,000 too expensive for a four-cylinder roadster in my book. Yes, the Z4 is far more refined than the Miata, but it doesn't bring as big of a smile to my face as the little Mazda does.
If you're set on a premium roadster, be sure to check out an Audi TT before you sign up for the Z4. Although the Z looks a little more masculine, the Audi's simpler cloth top is a bit more appealing to me. Folding hardtops don't make much sense to me for roadsters because they complicate the simplest form of a sports car.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Having driven the top-dog, 335-hp Z4 sDrive35is earlier this summer, I honestly prefer this 240-hp sDrives28i. Though it sounds counterintuitive to say a slower car is more fun, it's really true for the Z4. On paper or a track, the 335-hp version is undoubtedly superior: more power, tighter handling, and lightning-fast gearchanges. Yet out in the real world, the slower 240-hp Z4 is more engaging because it gives me more time to savor the power delivery, and a manual transmission actually lets me feel involved in sending the engine's thrust to the rear wheels.
While the BMW Z4 with the new 2.0-liter turbo-four is very fast and huge fun to drive, I wish the new engine didn't drone and whistle quite so much, and I'd love for more (read: any) road feel from the fat-rimmed steering wheel.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Like Jake, I also prefer this turbo-four-powered Z4 28i to the 35i that came through our office several months ago. The smaller engine gives the Z4 a more relaxed demeanor at low speeds but still provides more than enough power in the mid-range where you use it most. I am a huge proponent of the "less is more" model in sports cars and this Z4 is the first of what I hope to be many vehicles from BMW that advance this ideal. The sticker price is appalling but buyers can take some solace in the savings at the pump with a fuel economy improvement (with the 6-speed manual) of 4 mpg city, 6 mpg hwy over the normally aspirated straight six it replaces.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I wish BMW's powerful new four-cylinder played a nicer soundtrack. Volkswagen has proven that high-output engines like this can howl and growl, but BMW's effort is more content to whistle and burble. I won't say it's an unpleasant noise - and it's hard to argue with its flat torque band - but it's not quite what I envision in a $58,875 roadster.
In fact, the Z4 as a whole isn't really what I envision as a $58,875 roadster. It's a car that's good at many things, but brilliant at none, which is a problem since there are several brilliant alternatives. A Porsche Boxster is more engaging, a Mercedes-Benz SLK more comfortable. As Phil Floraday wisely notes, even a Miata hardtop is a better overall package - and I'm not even taking into account the enormous price difference.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
It's unfortunate that BMW, like all automakers, has to cater to the majority of car buyers who don't really give a whoop about cars. Thanks to market pressures, this Z4 sDrive28i is the first of many BMWs to trade the silky in-line six-cylinder engine for a more efficient turbocharged four-cylinder. There's no question that the new N20 2.0-liter is a good engine and arguably a better engine than the one it replaces, at least in the objective sense. While it's down 15 hp on the old 3.0-liter, it gains 40 lb-ft of torque and fuel economy jumps to 22/34 mpg from 18/28 mpg.
Subjectively, though, the boosted four doesn't have the charm and character of the old straight six. I miss the unparalleled smoothness, the thrill of taking the engine to redline, and like David, I miss the sound. The straight six is at the heart of what makes a BMW a BMW and as the Munich automaker moves away from that specialness, it opens the door for Mercedes-Benz and Audi and Cadillac to woo some of the brand loyalists. For now, the Z4 35i still offers salvation with its turbocharged in-line-six, but one wonders how much longer that engine will be around.
Several staffers seem to think that the Z4 isn't fun enough or edgy enough. I disagree. While this car may be softer and less engaging than the BMW ideal, this company knows that droptop buyers aren't the sports-car savants buying 3-series, 1-series, and M cars. David Zenlea may have given the nod to the SLK in his comparison of the Mercedes-Benz and BMW roadsters, but the takeaway from that story is that the two German automakers have met in a middle ground. While Mercedes' car has gotten sharper, BMW has relaxed their Z4 to broaden its appeal. It remains a sporty, quick, and well-built choice for top-down driving with a sense of occasion.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i
MSRP (with destination): $49,525
PRICE AS TESTED: $58,875
2.0-liter turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 240 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 1250 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
225/40WR-18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A front tires
255/35WR-18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rear tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 8.0 cu ft
Legroom: 42.2 in
Headroom (front/rear): 39.1 in
Titanium silver/Coral red
Brake energy regeneration
Stability and traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Cornering brake control
Adaptive Xenon headlights
Heated rear window glass and exterior mirrors
Adaptive brake lights
Two center console cup holders and one clip-in cup holder
Auxiliary audio input
USB and iPod adapters
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Metallic paint- $550
M Sport package- $3900
Increased top speed
Adaptive M suspension
18-inch light aluminum wheels
Premium package- $3300
Power front seats w/driver memory
Automatic climate control
Premium sound package- $950
Satellite radio w/one-year subscription
Hi-fi audio system
BMW Assist w/Bluetooth- $650
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
Cold weather package- $850
Exclusive Canyon Brown package- $2300
Exclusive Citrus Yellow package- $2550
Top speed is increased from 130 mph to 155 mph, thanks to the M Sport package.
Mercedes-Benz SLK350, Audi TT