2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Oshawa, Ontario – Coming out so late in the model year that I’m surprised it’s not badged as a 2010, the all-new BMW Z4 deftly replaces two models, the outgoing Z4 coupe and convertible. It manages this feat through a retractable hardtop, the only choice available, which automatically folds up and stows to transform this two-seater from a weather-tight hardtop into a fast-n-fun convertible at the touch of a button.

The outgoing 2008 model included a higher-performance M variant, but this time around, there are only two choices (at least for now), which use BMW’s award-winning 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder, also used in the 1, 3 and 5 Series. The company has recently embarked on an odd renaming program that might eventually require making the vehicles larger just so the monikers will fit on the sides, and the Z4 is no exception. The Z4 sDrive30i uses the naturally-aspirated six, making 255 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. But my tester, the Z4 sDrive35i, uses a powerplant that’s undoubtedly one of the best engines produced by any company to date, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre that cranks out easy-to-remember numbers of 300 horses and 300 lb-ft. The small turbochargers are configured so that each feeds one bank of cylinders. The result is virtually no turbo lag, awesome acceleration at any spot on the throttle, and low-end grunt that would push you into the rear seat, if the car had one.

Both come by default with a six-speed manual transmission, but the available automatics differ. The sDrive30i uses a six-speed automatic, while my tester was equipped with a seven-speed double-clutch automatic for an additional $1,950.

2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i
2009 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

The Z4 isn’t inexpensive by any means. The sDrive30i starts at $53,900, while the sDrive35i begins to tip the scales at $61,900. My tester was optioned with packages and stand-alone options that included sport seats, 19-inch wheels, heated wheel and upgraded stereo that pushed it to $72,550 (including $800 for metallic paint that originally resulted in BMW giving me a bright silver car that was the wrong one; no one, including me, thought that a dark champagne shade would be called “Orion Silver”). Those with deeper pockets can also add such items missing on my tester as a $2,000 navigation system (which includes the first iDrive control system on a Z4), a pure white $2,700 leather interior, Park Distance Control for $900, or an M Adaptive Suspension system for $2,000.

Indeed, it’s that price point that makes me wonder if BMW is doing the right thing by offering the same engines in such a variety of models. I could order the twin-turbo 3.0-litre in the nimble little 1 Series, which comes with a soft top instead of a foldaway hard roof, and save myself $14,700 on the base MSRPs. On the other hand, some people eat their scrambled eggs at the kitchen table and others prefer their breakfast on fine china at an upscale restaurant, and there’s room in this world for both. Realistically, I could save my pennies, put a 1 Series in my driveway and be very happy with it. But with the Z4, I want to win the lottery just so I can buy this car.

I was somewhat limited with the car, in that most of the roads I had available to me were as straight as Jerry Falwell, and not much prettier. The few hard thrashings I was able to give it around some curves confirmed what a few other journalists have said about it: there’s more body roll than expected, and while the steering is accurate, there’s a bit of numbness to the feel. (I don’t know if the optional M Suspension would make it considerably more tossable, since I haven’t had an opportunity to try it.) Without having spent a lot of time with it on twisty roads or on a track, my impression is of a mature, rock-steady and very satisfying machine on the type of roads most drivers encounter, with no twitchiness and with beautiful balance.

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