BMW’s Z3 series of sports cars was replaced in 2003 by a longer, wider, all-new Z4 duo. A newly available hardtop and standard rain-sensing wipers are among the changes for 2004.
The Z4’s electric power-steering system was a first for BMW. Standard run-flat tires eliminate the spare. Trunk capacity is 9.2 cubic feet; when the soft-top is down, space decreases to 8.5 cubic feet.
“People like to have emotional, assertive, aggressive products,” said Ed Robbins, BMW’s executive vice president of operations. Even so, no high-performance M editions are available — at least for now.
Far different in appearance than the Z3, the Z4 displays a blend of convex and concave surfaces, deeply sculpted bodysides and twin belt lines. The Z4 has more sharp edges, especially at the rear, than its rounded predecessor.
Featuring a relatively long, 98.2-inch wheelbase, the Z4 has short overhangs and a low, rearward seating position. Round side blinker indicators protrude from each front fender.
The hood is aluminum, and soft-top components are magnesium. Equipped with a heated glass rear window, the top features an integrated tonneau cover. Manual operation is standard, but power operation is available. Roll bars sit behind the seats. A sport suspension and high-intensity-discharge headlights are optional.
Other than its two-passenger capacity, the Z4’s cockpit is completely different from its predecessor’s. The instruments are well spaced on a distinctive, clean-looking dashboard. Full-width dash panels are either woodgrained or brushed aluminum, which looks especially appealing.
A 2.5-liter inline-six-cylinder engine produces 184 horsepower in the Z4 2.5i, while the Z4 3.0i uses a 225-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six. The Z4 2.5i gets a five-speed-manual transmission, and the Z4 3.0i is equipped with a six-speed manual. Both models have the option of a five-speed-automatic transmission, which features BMW’s Steptronic for manually selected gear changes. BMW’s six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox became available during 2003.
BMW’s Dynamic Driving Control is part of the Sport Package. BMW claims the Z4 3.0i equipped with the manual shift can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds.
Side-impact airbags, knee airbags and antilock brakes are standard. A cutoff switch for the front passenger airbag is included.
If the Z3 was an enjoyable sports car, then the Z4 ranks as a serious thoroughbred that takes full advantage of its pedigree. The Z4’s styling might be controversial, but its road behavior is not; its precision handling is a BMW hallmark.
Acceleration in the Z4 3.0i is forceful even with the automatic transmission, which shifts smoothly and responds swiftly. There’s plenty of low-end torque when starting off or passing.
With its slick manual shift and well-behaved clutch, the Z4 2.5i isn’t far behind in performance. Except for a subtle but alluring exhaust note, the Z4 is very quiet.
Just a touch of road wander was noted in a Z4 3.0i, but the defiantly taut suspension delivers a reasonably smooth ride on most surfaces. Drivers can hit nasty bumps pretty hard without losing even the slightest bit of control. The Z4’s magnificent seats are satisfyingly cushioned and supportive.