Another classic roadster characteristic which is altered with the Z4 is experienced inside the cabin. In a car which used to be considered extravagant if it had anything more than a horn and an asthmatic heater, the Z4 delivers brain-seizing technology while coddling you in German luxury with a heater blowing more hot air than your favorite elected official.
Although there are numerous features to talk about, including BMW’s infamous iDrive control system – in that it controls you and not the other way around, making us think it should be called iDontDrive – perhaps the slickest technological integration is with Apple’s iPhone. The phone neatly drops into a cradle in the center console and can control everything on your phone from the iDrive system with a clean 9-inch pop-up navigation window on the dashboard. So if you’re into iDrive, iPhones, or any other heavily marketed techno-dork device with a lower case “i” in front of it, it’s one more reason to consider the Z4.
But like many automakers who get all caught up in techno-dorkiness, they get distracted from delivering on the simple stuff – like designing a stereo interface that doesn’t completely disappear from vision the second you put on your polarized sunglasses. I bet I can still see the radio dials on my buddy’s Datsun 1600 Roadster.
Although it’s pretty clear this author prefers simplicity, technological innovations in the Z4 have provided improvements over the last generation. The retractable hardtop offers 40 percent more visibility, as well as two extra inches of headroom, opening up the target market to those with short legs and long torsos.
So up to this point we’ve been talking about stuff which usually doesn’t pertain to roadsters. So let’s get to the business – how does it drive? In a word: adequately. Not great, not terrible, but right there somewhere in the middle.
What’s under the hood? Well, from looking at the badges on the front fender, you’d be led to believe it’s a 3.5 liter engine with something really cool and techno-dorky called sDrive, but you’d be waaay off. Befuddling for sure, but the Z4 35i is powered by a 3.0 liter twin-turbo inline six cylinder, and the sDrive? Don’t ask. We don’t know for sure, but our sources tell us it means ‘rear-wheel-drive’. Wow. What an innovation for a roadster. Mind blowing.
The Z4 is available in a 6-speed manual, 6 speed automatic, or the 7-speed dual clutch manumatic which can be found in the M3. Our tester was equipped with the 7-speed, and although this author is a bigger fan of manuals, the instantaneous shift speed and gurgle the engine made when blasting through gears improved its stock considerably, allowing us to hit 60 from 0 in a shade under 5 seconds. Of course, the 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque available at a grunty 1500 rpms from the direct-injection, twin-turbo inline-6 made the sprint possible.
And for that extra ‘push off the cliff’ as Nigel Tufnel would say, a new, temporary overboost function briefly increases torque under full acceleration to 300 lb-ft. Quite an obscene amount of power for a roadster.
Although we loved the speed of the dual clutch, in classic BMW form, the company has to complicate matters which don’t require complication. The console shifter for the dual clutch transmission commands a minute to figure out how to shift from park to drive to neutral and back. It’s by no means a brain-twister, but really, what’s wrong with P R N D and a setting for manual? After wrestling with iDrive, my mind needs a break.
In a straight line, on the freeway and on reasonable backcountry roads, the Z4 is a delight. It perfectly blends the serenity of highway driving in a luxury hardtop coupe with the open top fun of a weekend roadster while still managing passable fuel economy number of 18 city and 25 freeway. So from an everyday driver perspective, the Z4 is a must drive.
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