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2017 BMW Z4 Overview

The current BMW Z4 convertible sports car fades into the rear-view mirror for 2017, as production ceases and a next-generation version prepares to take its place. In fact, the Z4 itself might be leaving forever—when it debuted in 2003, it replaced the Z3, and according to early reports, the next-generation version will likely carry the Z5 tag. So in more ways the one, the Z4's time on the world stage appears to be permanently drawing to a close.

Of course, if BMW updates the Z4 convertible's nomenclature to the Z5, it will still be essentially the same basic 2-seat drop-top roadster, just with the new badging, restyled interior and exterior design, and upgraded list of features typical of a next-generation refresh. The Z5 prototypes spotted recently in Europe during road tests have been heavily camouflaged to disguise their new design, but the upcoming roadster is expected to carry a sharpened front end with a more stylized 3D look, a low roofline, tightly cinched sidelines, and a low-slung stance, resulting in a sportier, more athletic appearance. It will reportedly share a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform with the revived Toyota Supra, in an effort to reduce development costs, and will borrow some other Toyota components, especially for a possible hybrid trim. However, BMW will use its own design architecture and powerplants for the Z5, which will most likely include a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a turbo inline 6-cylinder.

The 2017 Z4 traces its heritage back to the Z1, which debuted in 1989 and kicked off a long line of BMW Z roadsters. It still carries the DNA of that original Z car, which has threaded its way through the Z3 and two generations of the Z4. Last revised at the beginning of its second generation in 2009, the Z4 still looks sleek and muscular, especially along the front end with its long, sculpted hood and prominent wheel wells. Distinctive creases in the hood angle back from the center-front BMW badge and from the inside edges of the headlights, creating a flowing, unified look. The dual-kidney grille, fascia, and front bumper are starting to feel a little flat and unadorned, and they will probably receive the most noticeable changes when the new Z5 finally arrives. The base sDrive28i trim rides on 17-inch light-alloy wheels, while the higher trims get 18-inchers. Standard exterior features include heated power-folding side mirrors, xenon adaptive auto-leveling headlights with LED headlight rings, and heated rear-window glass.

Unlike the first-generation Z4, the second generation came equipped with only a 3-piece folding hardtop roof. That might change with the Z5, however, as reports indicate the return of a soft top—likely in an effort to reduce weight and cost—and this alone might increase the appeal of the outgoing Z4 for some buyers. The current hardtop opens and closes in about 19 seconds and at speeds of up to 25 mph. With the roof up, the side profile gives visual preference to the long hood, with the relatively small cabin sitting far back on the body—just in front of the short but hunky rear end. When retracted, the roof stores in a compartment in the trunk, creating a sleek, windswept profile with long head-to-tail lines.

The 2017 Z4 continues to come in sDrive28i, sDrive35i, and sDrive35is trims. The base sDrive28i trim is equipped with a twin-turbo 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine good for 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard but a 7-speed automatic transmission is available, and with this engine the Z4 can reach 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. The sDrive35i makes the dash to 60 mph in an even faster 5 seconds, thanks to a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder powerplant that generates 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. The 6-cylinder engine is paired exclusively with the 7-speed automatic transmission, which comes with a manual-shift mode and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. BMW limits top speed for both lower trims to 130 mph, and fuel-economy numbers check in at 22 mpg city, 33 highway, and 26 combined for the sDrive28i with the manual transmission; 22, 32, and 26 for the sDrive28i and the automatic; and 17, 23, and 19 for the sDrive35i.

The Z4 sDrive35is trim gets the same twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine and 7-speed automatic transmission as the sDrive35i trim but adds a trim-specific M Sport package, which includes an adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers, M aerodynamic exterior upgrades, and engine adjustments that boost output to 335 hp and 332 lb-ft. As a result, the sDrive35is makes the dash to 60 mph in a short 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph, and fuel-economy numbers remain the same as the sDrive35i at 17, 23, and 19. A modified version of the M Sport package is also available as an option for the sDrive28i and sDrive35i trims.

While the Z4’s 6-cylinder engine provides a faster pace off the mark, many reviewers prefer the 4-cylinder of the sDrive28i, calling it more than adequate for the Z4 and with better fuel-economy numbers. All trims come with a Driving Dynamics Control system with Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings, allowing drivers to adjust the handling characteristics and firmness of the ride. Servotronic speed-sensitive electric power steering, standard on all trims, provides a precise feel and good feedback, although the Z4's performance and handling doesn't quite match those of segment leaders like the Porsche Boxster or the pricier Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. Overall, however, the Z4 continues to deliver decent performance and a quiet, smooth, and comfortable ride.

The Z4 seats 2 passengers in its compact but well-equipped cabin, boasting a clean design, high-quality materials, and plenty of leg- and headroom. Feature highlights for the sDrive28i trim include 10-way power-adjustable sport seats, black SensaTec upholstery, brushed aluminum trim, and a 3-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. The sDrive35i upgrades to Kansas leather upholstery, and the sDrive35is also gets aluminum carbon shadow trim, an Anthracite headliner, an M leather-wrapped shift knob, an M footrest, and M door sills as part of the M Sport package. All trims come with such basics as an engine start/stop button, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, ambient lighting, and a wind deflector.

Tech features for the 2017 Z4 are relatively light in comparison to the smorgasbord offered by many of its competitors, although this should change with the next-generation Z5. For now, standard items include dynamic cruise control and an audio system with Bluetooth and HD Radio, although satellite radio remains an extra option. A Premium Sound package adds an upgraded 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, while a Technology package brings navigation with traffic information. Safety features include a rollover protection system, an advanced airbag system with active knee protection, and BMW Assist eCall for emergency situations.

The outgoing Z4 runs in a highly competitive market segment, facing off against 2-seat street racers from the likes of Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, and Alfa Romeo as well as such stalwarts as the Chevy Corvette. In some ways it has struggled to keep up with such a fast-paced crowd, but with a new Z5 waiting in the wings, expect all that to change for 2018 and beyond, as BMW upgrades and fine-tunes its long-running roadster.


Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.

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