The 2015 BMW Z4: Just shut up and drive



We can sometimes become too disconnected to the world around us.  With earbuds connected to our IPods, or movies playing on our smart phones while we are checking status updates, we can become lost in our own little world oblivious to the goings-on around us.  This trend has been coming on for several years now both inside and outside are cars.  Cars on the road today are the same; we can crank up the tunes settle into comfortable seats and not even have to turn our heads to look in the other lane. Our cars nowadays have all sorts of gadgets that can swaddle us in our own little pod; a light and  a beep if another car is in our blind spot, a gentle warning should we stray from our lane.

Several weeks ago we even drove a car that not only provided the driver and front seat passenger a nice heated massage and would gently nudge back into your lane if you strayed,  “careful sir”. Sure technology is nice, blind spot mirrors, adaptive cruise control, forward collision prevention, lane assist, all that. But it seems that it won’t be too long before we will all be rolling around in self-driving pods oblivious to the world around us while checking Facebook and sending out Tweets.  Maybe we will see a day when no longer will we have to even touch a steering wheel or pedals; simply input our destination on our smart phone and go. “Yup kids, I can remember when you actually had to drive a car”.

And that’s a shame.

The point is that we are losing the simple joy of driving. The experience of being in control, having to actually watch where we are going, the feel of the road under us.

BMW hasn’t forgotten that.  Sure, the German carmaker has vehicles that have all the fancy gadgets that are slowly eroding our driving experience, like all the others; however BMW is also one of the few carmakers that offer something that reminds us of just how much fun driving can be.

Roadsters seem to be a dying breed. Small two seaters that hug the road and can zip around corners with ease. The BMW Z4 is just such a car, and a very good one at that.

For the uninitiated, the Z4 is a two-seat convertible with a retractable-hardtop roof. We drove a 2014 version last year and recently had the 2015 model for a week.  The 2015 model has very few changes beyond some new paint choices. In fact very little has changed since the model was refreshed in 2009. There are three versions of the Z4 that match to the engine choice: sDrive28i, sDrive35i and sDrive35is.

Being a BMW the basic model is loaded with standard features like automatic and adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, and eight-way power seats with driver memory functions. You also get a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, auto-dimming mirrors, basic BMW Assist service, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a sound system that includes a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

The 28i comes standard with the four-cylinder engine and 17-inch wheels. The 35 has a more powerful six-cylinder powerplant and 18-inch wheels, along with sport seats (with adjustable side bolsters and thigh support) and sun-reflective leather upholstery (these same options are also available on the 28i).  The 35is is the raciest of the trio adding an even more powerful engine, along with some unique styling signs, a lowered suspension with adaptive dampers, an upgraded audio system, upgraded interior trim and a sport steering wheel.

There is a plethora of option packages to choose from; like the Cold Weather package that adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and retractable headlight washers. The M Sport package is standard on the 35is and on the other trims it adds the 35is’s adaptive suspension, aerodynamic body kit, sport steering wheel and special interior trim. The Technology package features a navigation system, 12GB of music storage, voice controls, enhanced BMW Assist and smartphone apps integration. Color-themed packages can also be had that feature leather seating, the power sport seats, a simulated suede headliner and various interior accents.

You might think that a car that is basically the same since 2009 would look a little outdated. You’d be wrong. The long sloping hood flows back across the hardtop and gives the entire car a very, almost retro, roadster look. Interior wise, as with all roadsters, there is very little room or storage. Practicality will be found elsewhere. The trunk holds very little beyond the various equipment needed to stow the hard top. Nothing wrong with that, after all a roadster does one thing; drive.  And it does that very well. We had the base 28i with the Cold Weather, M and Technology and premium sound package. The down sides are minimal, the sound system doesn’t exactly sound too premium, although it’s alright, but just that, alright.  There are no blind spot warnings, and with a small back window the rear visibility is somewhat limited. But after some thought, we were struck with the fact that there is nothing wrong with that. After all having to turn ones head to see if someone is next to you is part of the skill set we are slowly losing and part of the driving experience we may someday lose.

Our 28i had the base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivering 240-horsepower and  260 lbs torque (the 35i gets a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engine; and the Z4 sDrive35is gets a 335-horsepower in-line six-cylinder turbo).  The 35i is no longer available with a six-speed manual transmission and comes only with the seven-speed DCT; a six-speed automatic is standard across the line. Mechanically the BMW is, well, a BMW, flawless.  On the road however we have to admit to being a bit spoiled from last year. The Z4 model we had last year was the 35i and there is a real difference with the bigger engine, however the base 4-cylinder is still fine on the road.  Unlike last year, putting the top down with a dark interior during the height of a Florida summer is not a good idea; but as we learned when we had the 2014 during a cooler time of the year, having the top down is a great deal of fun. Even with the top up though the drive is enjoyable with the Z4 responding to every input immediately and the seven speed shifting without question when called upon.

Our opinion of the Z4 has not changed since last year. It falls somewhere between the less expensive Nissan 370z and the Porsche Boxster.  The 370z is far less luxurious, while the Porsche seems a bit more “unleashed” and wild. The Z4 delivers a great road experience with comfort and control. It’s refined enough to satisfy just about anyone, and enough fun to remember that motoring is all about just that: motoring.  So unplug the IPod, put down the smart phone, turn off the gadgets like the blind spot mirrors and lane assist and just get in and drive, before it’s too late.

The 2015 BMW Z4 28i
MSRP (Base): $48,950
MSRP (as tested with M Sport, Premium Sound, Technology and Cold Weather packages): $$59,250
Engine (as tested): 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder , 240 hp, 260 ft-lb torque
Fuel Mileage (EPA estimated): 22 city, 34 hwy, 26 combined
Fuel Mileage (As tested, mixed conditions): 25mpg
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed shiftable automatic w/paddle shifters
Base Curb Weight (lbs) 3263

Interior Dimensions
Front Leg Room (in) 42.2
Passenger Capacity 2
Front Shoulder Room (in) 53.3
Front Head Room (in) 39.1

Exterior Dimensions
Track Width, Front (in) 59.5
Width, Max w/o mirrors (in) 70.5
Wheelbase (in) 98.3
Track Width, Rear (in) 61.4
Height, Overall (in) 50.8
Length, Overall (in) 166.9
Cargo Area Dimensions
Trunk Volume (ft³) 8

Basic Miles/km:  50,000
Basic Years:  4
Corrosion Miles/km:  Unlimited
Corrosion Years: 12
Drivetrain Miles/km:  50,000
Drivetrain Years: 4
Maintenance Miles/km: 50,000
Maintenance Years:  4
Roadside Assistance Miles/km: Unlimited
Roadside Assistance Years:  4

Greg Engle