Two-seater sports cars come in an amazingly broad array of shape, size, price and performance.

The variety is amazing because such vehicles represent an extravagance, an expression of carefree indulgence where practicality takes a back seat to pure fun, if there was a back seat to take.

BMW Z3 arrived on the scene in 1995, a few years after Mazda revived the genre with its retro Miata. Soon, there was competition from the likes of Porsche Boxster, Audi TT, Honda S2000 and Mercedes-Benz SLK, each offering a different twist on the sports car formula.

Z3, with its classic proportions and sporting heritage, stayed a popular favorite throughout its seven years, improving steadily in performance. The Z4 put into production last year was a giant step forward for BMW's little roadster with edgier styling, improved drivability and roomier interior.

My favorite is the roomier interior. Among small convertibles, Z4 has the most accommodating cockpit for my lanky 6-foot, 6-inch frame, particularly in legroom. Thank you, BMW. Everyone else, pay attention.

The exterior styling at first seemed oddly contrived, all strange angles and creases. It has grown on me, now looking sharply progressive and purposeful while retaining the long hood and short deck of a true roadster.

Z4 comes in two flavors, with either a 2.5-liter or 3-liter inline six. The 2004 Z4 tested here had the lesser engine, which still provides enough punch at a lower cost.

However, the test car came loaded with about $10,000 in features, which blunts the price advantage. So it goes.

What it is

BMW's midprice roadster receives a major upgrade in size, style and accommodations, yet stays true to the roadster form.


Though the 2.5-liter six might disappoint acceleration addicts, it's still strong and healthy.

Generating 184 horsepower, the free-revving straight six delivers enough power for a proper sports car. The aluminum six feels strongest coming off the line and through the lower gears, losing potency at higher speeds.

The higher-performance version of Z4 comes with the excellent 3-liter, 225-horsepower engine also found in other BMW cars and SUVs. I sampled this engine in the Z3 and came away impressed by its hard-charging torque and flexibility.

The 3-liter Z4 costs more than $7,000 over the 2.5-liter version, but has some other performance and feature upgrades. The 3-liter also comes with a six-speed stick shift instead of the 2.5-liter's five speed.

Worth the extra money? That depends what you want out of the Z4 and what you want to spend.

There are two other transmissions available: an automatic with a manual-shift mode and a Sequential Manual Gearbox that provides race-car-style paddle shifting.


Z4 has an all-new chassis and suspension that provides exemplary handling and a stiff body s tructure without a hint of shake or shudder.

Cornering and back-road agility are enjoyably crisp, the front-engine/rear-drive layout helping to provide good balance. The new electronic steering, which does away with the traditional hydraulic power steering, feels highly responsive and nicely weighted.

The throttle is also electronic, eliminating solid linkage or cable actuation. This provides better response and precision.

The electronic controls also allows BMW to add Dynamic Driving Control to its optional Sport Package. Via a button on the console, drivers can enhance steering effort and accelerator response. That package also adds a firmer sport suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels.


Edgy and curvaceous at the same time, Z4 eclipses the rounder shape of the Z3. The style looks great from front and side, though is less appealing from the rear.

The convertible top has a heated glass window and comes down manually or powered. The test car had the power top, which worked quickly and stowed under a cleverly designed integral cover.


Roomy and comfortable, Z4 is well-equipped with standard features. An optional Premium Package included leather upholstery and brush aluminum trim that were attractive and appropriately sporty.


Although the Z4 2.5i started at $33,100, a full load of luxury and performance features shot the price up to $43,595. The base 3.0i starts at $41,045, which includes a high level of equipment, and would soon pass the $50,000 mark if loaded up like the test car.

Options on the test car included the Premium Package, $2,900, with power top, power seats, leather, aluminum trim and cruise control; navigation system, $1,800; Sport Package, $1,500, with Dynamic Driving Control, 17-inch alloys, sport suspension, fog lamps and cold-weather extras; Convenience Package, $1,050, with rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlight aiming, climate control and computer.

Also, premium audio, $875; bi-xenon headlights, $700; heated seats, $500; Toledo blue paint, $475; and shipping, $695.

Those are some expensive options, and I'd cut out a bunch of them. The Sport Package seems most worth the money.

Bottom line

A sports car that's now up to the standards of BMW's highly regarded line of cars and SUVs, the Z4 now competes head-on with the best of them.

BMW Z4 2.5i

Vehicle type: Two-passenger, two-door sports car, rear-wheel drive.

Base price: $33,100.

Price as tested: $43,595.

Engine: 2.5-liter inline six, 184 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 175 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed stick shift.

Wheelbase: 98.2 inches.

Curb weight: 2,932 pounds.

EPA mileage: 20 city, 28 highway.


Handling, performance.

Roomy interior.

Edgy styling.


Expensive options.

Rear styling.

Not a 3.0i.