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2014 BMW Z4 First Drive

Joe Loriowriter

BMW's Z4 is the mostly classically proportioned roadster on the market, with a miles-long hood, a pert rounded tail, and a narrow cabin set just ahead of the rear axle. The latest iteration, which debuted in 2011, saw the designers smooth out the sheetmetal, eliminating the swoops and slashes that marred the first-generation Z4. We thought the Z4-based Zagato Roadster shown at Pebble Beach last summer might have portended a new look for the production car. Instead, BMW has given its drop-top two-seater the mildest of updates for 2014.

Orange rush
Styling tweaks include a redesigned headlight cluster, which now features an LED strip atop the dual round headlights and available 18-inch wheels with a new V-spoke design. The most eye-catching change for 2013 is the optional Hyper Orange package ($950), which replaces last year's Citrus Yellow package. With it, you get Valencia orange exterior paint (other colors are available) and a black interior with orange accents. Alcantara trim panels on the doors and lower dash are orange (or, alternately, black), and orange stripes run down the center of the seats, while a metal-weave trim strip brightens the dash. The orange-and-black theme on our test car was taken a step further by the optional black top; fans of a contrasting-color roof can also choose silver.

The retractable hard top folds and stows in just under twenty seconds and can do so with the car on the move at up to 25 mph -- just make sure the divider in the trunk is in the correct position. With the top up, there's a decent amount of luggage space, but with the divider in place to allow top-down motoring, that total shrinks to just 6.4 cubic feet. If you want to drive al fresco, pack very light, or else your passenger will be traveling with their bag on their lap.

The Z4 interior carries over -- well, OK, there's new black trim around the vents and a new wood trim is available -- but the in-car electronics march ever forward. BMW's ConnectedDrive system now allows drivers to receive Internet radio stations via a linked iPhone; it also adds the capability to have Facebook and Twitter posts displayed on the navigation screen or read aloud. The latter doesn't exactly strike us as a good idea, however.

3 strengths
The Z4 continues to be offered in three strengths: 28i, with a 240-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder; 35i, powered by a 300-hp 3.0-liter turbo six-cylinder; and 35is, boasting a 335-hp version of the same turbo six. (All Z4 models also wear the sDrive label, indicating that they're rear-wheel drive.) Our test example was the 35is. Its extra power over the 35i comes with no fuel economy penalty -- it's rated at the same 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. You do, however, lose the option of a manual transmission, as the 35is comes only with BMW's 7-speed M-DCT dual-clutch automatic, while the 35i also can be had with a 6-speed stick. With the manual, the 35i does get better gas mileage, up 2 mpg in both city and highway driving. Of course, the real mileage champ is the four-cylinder 28i, which nets 22 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

The 335-hp engine and M-DCT gearbox do make for a potent combination, able to reach 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and the straight six sounds great. A standard rocker switch can adjust the powertrain response among three settings: comfort, sport, and sport-plus; this feature is standard on all Z4 models.

The 35is adds Adaptive M suspension (it's optional as part of the sport package on lesser Z4s), and it, too, can be put in any of the same three settings. Whichever one you pick, the Z4 turns in sharply and has tons of grip, but the electric power steering is rather light and artificial. Overall, this car just doesn't have quite the of-a-piece quality that characterizes its Porsche Boxster competitor.

Tour time
Not every roadster buyer is seeking ultimate handling, however. The Z4, although plenty fast in 35is form, is more of a relaxed tourer. The low-slung seating position, the rakishly arced dashboard, and the hood stretching out ahead of you all work together to create that impression. Comfortable seats, a generously sized dead pedal, and a thick-rimmed steering wheel wrapped in soft leather help fulfill the promise.

The same is true, however, of the Z4 28i. And while it's not as quick as the 35is (taking 5.5 seconds to reach 60 mph), it gets much better mileage, is available with a manual or a super-smooth eight-speed automatic, and costs more than $15,000 less than the 35is. It just may be that the 28i is the model that best embodies the classic spirit of the Z4.

2014 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

  • On sale: Now
  • Base price: $65,695 (including destination)
  • Engine: 3.0L I-6 twin turbo
  • Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5900 rpm
  • Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1500-4500 rpm
  • Drive: Rear-wheel
  • Curb Weight: 3549 lb
  • Fuel Economy: 17/24 mpg