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Key Specs

of the 2009 BMW Z4. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Acceleration
  • Handling
  • Decent ride quality
  • Driving ease
  • Vastly improved iDrive system
  • Compelling styling

The Bad

  • Trunk volume with top down
  • High price, with options
  • Power top only works when car is stopped
  • Too much brake-pedal travel
  • Some inconsistent interior pieces

Notable Features of the 2009 BMW Z4

  • Redesigned for 2009
  • Power-folding hardtop
  • Available turbocharged six-cylinder
  • Manual or automatic
  • available twin-clutch automatic
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Standard adjustable drivetrain settings

2009 BMW Z4 Road Test

Kelsey Mays
News reports suggest affluent car shoppers are putting off new purchases, keeping their current wheels and treading water as they wait for the economy to pick back up. If you're in this group, BMW's redesigned Z4 isn't your most responsible option, but if times were good you'd snap it up in a heartbeat. It's an agile, sharp-looking roadster with decent cabin space and surprisingly livable ride quality for day-to-day use. So be an optimist: The new Z4's timing may be less than ideal, but it's too good a specimen not to consider.

I tested a Z4 sDrive35i. There's also a less powerful Z4 sDrive30i; you can compare both to the 2008 Z4 here. This year's Z4 gets a standard power-retractable hardtop, much like BMW's 3 Series convertible. That means there's no fixed-hardtop coupe, as the outgoing Z4 lineup included, nor is there a high-performance Z4 M, also offered previously.

Sharp Styling
The previous Z4, conceived during the worst of BMW's avant-garde styling years, always looked a bit off. It was the sort of car you'd park nose-in so others might admire the rear and never see the front. There's no need to hide anymore. The low-slung Z4 looks well-proportioned and aggressive, with a long hood, a short tail and a cabin planted rear of the car's center. The grille is larger and more upright, and the headlights have a furrowed, menacing appearance. It's an angrier look, but I'll take it over the previou...

News reports suggest affluent car shoppers are putting off new purchases, keeping their current wheels and treading water as they wait for the economy to pick back up. If you're in this group, BMW's redesigned Z4 isn't your most responsible option, but if times were good you'd snap it up in a heartbeat. It's an agile, sharp-looking roadster with decent cabin space and surprisingly livable ride quality for day-to-day use. So be an optimist: The new Z4's timing may be less than ideal, but it's too good a specimen not to consider.

I tested a Z4 sDrive35i. There's also a less powerful Z4 sDrive30i; you can compare both to the 2008 Z4 here. This year's Z4 gets a standard power-retractable hardtop, much like BMW's 3 Series convertible. That means there's no fixed-hardtop coupe, as the outgoing Z4 lineup included, nor is there a high-performance Z4 M, also offered previously.

Sharp Styling
The previous Z4, conceived during the worst of BMW's avant-garde styling years, always looked a bit off. It was the sort of car you'd park nose-in so others might admire the rear and never see the front. There's no need to hide anymore. The low-slung Z4 looks well-proportioned and aggressive, with a long hood, a short tail and a cabin planted rear of the car's center. The grille is larger and more upright, and the headlights have a furrowed, menacing appearance. It's an angrier look, but I'll take it over the previous Z4's headlights, which lent the car a vapid expression.

The sDrive35i adds titanium-colored inserts in the grille and lower air dam; the sDrive30i retains black inserts throughout. BMW says the power top takes about 20 seconds to raise and lower; I hit that time lowering it, but putting it up took 22 seconds. The whole operation requires the car to be at a complete halt; some powered tops function when the car is in motion, at least up to a certain speed.

Twin-Turbo Fun
The Z4 sDrive35i is perhaps the best application yet for BMW's twin-turbo six-cylinder. Power is abundant, starting out strong — and lacking any noticeable turbo lag — and sticking around all the way to a speeding ticket. Sports cars from the Nissan 370Z to the Porsche Boxster S feel less immediately powerful, peaking only as the tach swings past 3,000 rpm or so. BMW says 60 mph comes in 5.1 seconds for the Z4 sDrive35i. That's a figure both competitors narrowly beat, but in the everyday sense the Z4's balance of power all over the tach makes up for the deficit.

Other Bimmers offer the same twin-turbo engine as the Z4 — and accelerate as blazingly fast — but the Z4's stick is a welcome change from the rubbery, longish shifters BMW installs elsewhere. It feels closer to the manual in the Infiniti G37, which I believe is the gold standard for stick-shift precision. Flick it from one gear to the next, stab the gas for a quick rev-match, then accelerate onward — it's a delightful thing, and that's not a compliment I've paid a BMW manual in a long time.

A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters runs $1,525 on the sDrive35i; the sDrive30i offers a traditional six-speed automatic. The Z4's dual-clutch transmission debuted in the M3 a couple years back, and it was BMW's first such transmission. Thanks to lickety-split shift times, the dual-clutch automatic gets the Z4 to 60 mph a hair faster than the stick shift. (This is the norm for dual-clutch automatics, a reality that I, a stick-shift purist, have only grudgingly accepted.)

All-disc antilock brakes bring the Z4 to a quick halt, though I noticed that the first few inches of pedal travel exact minimal braking. Other editors found that helped fine-tune deceleration, but I prefer the Boxster's brake pedal, which felt more linear.

If the 300-horsepower sDrive35i's $51,650 asking price is too steep, the normally aspirated, 255-hp sDrive30i starts at $45,750. It hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with the manual and 6.0 seconds with the automatic — likely a noticeable enough difference from the twin-turbo engine for you to feel in everyday driving, especially when comparing the automatics. Here's how the drivetrains compare:

Drivetrains Compared
Z4 sDrive30iZ4 sDrive35i
Base price$45,750$51,650
Engine3.0-liter inline-six3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower (@ rpm)255 @ 6,600300 @ 5,800
Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm) 220 @ 2,600300 @ 1,400
TransmissionsSix-speed manual; six-speed automaticSix-speed manual; seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Zero to 60 mph, sec.5.6 (manual); 6.0 (auto)5.1 (manual); 5.0 (auto)
EPA mileage (city/hwy., mpg)19/28 (manual); 19/29 (auto)18/25 (manual); 17/24 (auto)
Required fuelPremiumPremium
Source: Automaker and EPA data

Dynamic Drive Control
BMW's Dynamic Drive Control, which affects the steering feel, accelerator sensitivity and stability system thresholds, is standard. My test car came with a $2,300 Sport Package with an adaptive suspension, whose settings DDC also governs. DDC can be moved through Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes via a rocker switch next to the gearshift — an eminently useful setup, I might add, because you don't have to futz with an onboard computer or set independent driving and suspension settings, as some other cars with selectable driving settings require.

Ride & Handling
In DDC's Normal mode, the Z4 is surprisingly docile: The steering wheel turns with an unexpectedly light touch, and the suspension soaks up bumps nicely. In comparison, the Boxster's steering takes on a heavier feel, and ride quality is far less forgiving. Mercedes' SLK350 has an even cushier ride but suffers from numb, dispirited steering. In the BMW, it isn't quite as easy to rotate the car on its axis and slide the tail sideways as it is in the Boxster, but if you're not a racetrack enthusiast I suspect the ride-quality payoff will be worth the loss.

Switch DDC to Sport, and the Z4's steering wheel feels heftier; it requires more muscle to crank at low speeds but delivers sharper precision and a planted, more secure highway feel. In fast corners, it's easier to sense the rear coming out and to ease off the gas or counter-steer as needed. Normal mode, by comparison, has a bit too much steering slop to manage clean drifts.

The adaptive suspension gets firmer in Sport, though not intolerably so. Of greater import is body roll: In Normal mode, quick lane changes unleash plenty of body roll. In Sport, the car stays much flatter.

Sport Plus mode eases back the Z4's standard electronic stability system so you can spin the tires and let the tail break free a bit more. In Normal or Sport, the stability system allowed enough wheelspin for me, and I didn't notice any other great difference from the other settings — steering assist, suspension firmness — in Sport Plus. It's certainly not as obvious as the transition from Normal to Sport, anyway. Sport Plus might come in handy on the racetrack; on the street, it serves less purpose.

Power the top up, and wind noise is impressively quiet — one of the benefits of a hard- rather than soft-top convertible.

The Inside
If the previous Z4 had a major shortcoming beyond its controversial styling, it was cramped space. The new Z4 is appreciably roomier — the seats don't constrict your sides, and there's a fair amount of legroom when you move them back. I'm 5-foot-11, and even when I got the seat into an ideal position to work the clutch it was still a few inches forward of its rearmost position. With the automatic, you can probably sit farther back, and there's room to spare for that.

Cabin quality in my test car was generally good, with optional leather-stitched dash panels and genuine aluminum inlays. Storage areas are larger than they were last year, with a large enough glove compartment to stow a removable cupholder that attaches to the side of the center console. Your passenger will bemoan the loss of knee room, but this cupholder is far superior to the previous flip-out dashboard one. Tell him the alternative would be to have coffee in his lap when that flimsy device failed.

I'm not sold on the assortment of climate controls — their appearance doesn't really match the rest of the cabin's styling — nor do I like the Z4's dash-top bin, whose tinny cover smacks of cost-cutting. Opt for the navigation system, and its screen goes there instead. You'll also get BMW's knob-based iDrive system, whose latest generation is so vast an improvement over the original that it probably deserves a different name.

Cargo volume measures a useful 10.9 cubic feet with the top up; put the top down and it drops to 6.4 cubic feet. The Boxster, SLK and Audi TT have comparable space with the top up, but all three have less-obstructed confines with the top down; the Boxster's and TT's cargo areas are unaffected by their tops' location.

Safety, Features & Pricing
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has yet to test the Z4; IIHS doesn't crash-test many roadsters — and no prior Z4 has been tested — so I wouldn't hold my breath. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, conventional front and knee airbags, and side-impact airbags that extend high enough for head protection, according to BMW. Click here to see the full list of safety gear.

The Z4 sDrive30i, which starts at $45,750, includes the standard power-retracting hardtop, 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, vinyl upholstery and a CD stereo with an MP3 jack. Leather upholstery and dual-zone automatic climate control are among the options. Both are standard on the Z4 sDrive35i ($51,650); further options on both models include power seats, a premium stereo with an iPod/USB port, heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a navigation system. The six-speed automatic runs $1,325 on the sDrive30i; the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is $1,525 on the sDrive35i.

Load up a Z4 sDrive35i, and the price approaches $70,000.

Z4 in the Market
BMW is a brand that emphasizes performance, often above all else, and the previous Z4 took that too far. Fast but flawed, it had too many compromises for broad appeal. Luxury roadsters, on the whole, will have limited success until the economy gains some steam, but the new Z4 gets a lot of things right. When luxury-car shoppers go back to buying weekend toys, BMW has something that ought to do the trick. And it might just suffice for weekdays, too.

Send Kelsey an email 



2009 Z4 Video

Cars.com's Kelsey Mays takes a look at the 2009 BMW Z4.

Latest 2009 Z4 Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(5.0)
Performance
(4.6)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(4.2)
Reliability
(4.6)
Value For The Money
(4.2)

What Drivers Are Saying

(5.0)

Fast, pretty, reliable, all seasonw/winter package

by Stevenmmmffhmurstgy on September 20, 2018

Most trouble free car I have ever owned. Bought an extended warranty for after my CPO warranty expired and never used either! The car is very zippy stock, but with a tube a civilized beast. mine is ... Read full review

(4.0)

So fun and convenient

by intoGermanCars from San Diego, CA on February 12, 2018

If your lifestyle allows you to drive a 2-seater, this is a great car to consider. Over the many years that I owned it, it was surprisingly issue-free, considering that it had so many ‘moving parts’ (... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2009 BMW Z4 currently has 3 recalls

Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

The 2009 BMW Z4 has not been tested.

Manufacturer Warranty

  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    48 months / 50,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    48 months / 50,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    48 months / unlimited distance

CPO Program & Warranty

Certified Pre-Owned by BMW

Program Benefits

Comprehensive inspection by BMW technician, 24/7 Roadside Assistance, BMW Assist. Exceptional vehicles with exceptional coverage

  • Limited Warranty

    Unlimited Miles for 1-Year

    BMW Certified Pre-Owned: Covers you for unlimited miles for 1-year, after the expiration o f the 4-year / 50,000 mile New Vehicle/SAV Limited Warranty for a total of 5 years with unlimited miles. This includes up to 5 years and unlimited miles of BMW Roadside Assistance and BMW Assist (TM) on many late model BMW vehicles. Additional plans are available to extend your vehicle's coverage for up to a total of 6 years with unlimited miles. See your BMW Center for details.
  • Eligibility

    Under 5 years / 60,000 miles

    Vehicles receive a Comprehensive inspection.

    See inspection details.

Change Year or Vehicle

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Z4 received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker