The BMW Z3/Z4 roadster has never really had a truly widespread following because it has either been too humble and small a roadster (albeit with some fun and very low-volume M editions) or it has been - in this E89 generation - too casual an image leader with no racier aspirations. The current 480-hp Z4 GTEs don't count, since they are as stock a Z4 as today's Pamela Anderson is the same blonde actress we knew as Heidi on Home Improvement. You know, sort of like those ever-so-slightly modified Toyota Camry coupes competing in NASCAR.
The ultimate highpoint for the BMW Z roadster franchise was at the very start of its life in the mid-90s, in the James Bond film GoldenEye with Pierce Brosnan. The Stinger missiles that Q's team installed behind the Z3's headlights were never fired, and BMW never even offered this self-defense package as an option. Yet another case of the ol' bait and switch.
And in all these subsequent years of Z3s and Z4s strutting their long-hooded stuff, the little sporting Bimmer could really have used a live Stinger missile or two to spice things up. The current Z4 exists, it is pretty dang sexy, and BMW seems content to let it linger there. We just drove the new midlife version of the roadster near BMW headquarters in Munich, and it served to reinforce our feelings.
- We have always harbored a desire to fall in love with this swoopy and well-proportioned roadster, but it still strikes us a bit like the way the over-designed Mercedes SLK now strikes us: a really nice lifestyle/reward car, with not much else going on.
- All BMW had on hand for us was this Z4 sDrive35is with its 335-horsepower, 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo straight-six that also cranks to 332 pound-feet of torque, all spiffed up with the M Sport spa treatment and adaptive dampers. Things could be worse.
- If we were going to take the graying-chest-hair plunge and grab a BMW Z4, it would be this exact car. Otherwise, and despite all the positives of the newer 240-hp four-cylinder sDrive28i model, what's the point? This particular roadster needs its strong six-cylinder to give it some character.
- We would also be happier if this top-trim roadster could be equipped with the six-speed manual transmission that is offered on the aforementioned sDrive28i.
- The optional Valencia Orange Metallic paint does look a bit two-tone precious to us when the black folding hardtop is closed, but it's still a sweetheart to gaze upon.
- Looking at the standard Monroney sticker of $64,800 (the base sDrive28i now starts at $47,950) and then dragging our eyes down the hyper-extended list of optional add-ons until reaching our car's $80k-plus price estimate, one has to pause to take it all in. The Z4 35is is wonderful enough, but, man, it can cost a ton.
- Our 19-inch, $1,200 optional M alloys with Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A run-flat treads, combined with the speed-sensitive electric power steering and Servotronic assistance, made for a usually fine but occasionally woggy feeling under some circumstances. Through series of curves taken at real speed, there was, at times, a vagueness of trajectory, again leaving us with the feeling that BMW wants the Z4 in any trim to be a car of leisure.
- The adaptive M suspension package does help treat this vagueness from behind the wheel somewhat, but overall the various dynamic elements taken together create a slightly confused ride and handling experience for a sexy car that promises so much. Basically, the Z4 ends up feeling every bit of its 3,549 pounds. (For reference, a Porsche Boxster S weighs a tick under 3,000 pounds at its heaviest PDK curb weight and feels like even less than that.)
- Attempting to make up for any black marks on the Z4's resume is this model's sheer power and torque. That final "s" tagged on to the name certainly helps. And while we miss a manual option, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters is a sweet setup when its most dynamic mode is selected. However, we understand that BMW has no intention of even offering a self-locking sport limited-slip rear differential. Oh, well.