On May 9, the BMW Z4 arrives in showrooms worldwide; it will undoubtedly get a warm welcome. Not only from fans of the Bavarian brand, but also from the dealers, as they expect the new roadster will generate a more showroom traffic than has been seen of late.
“February was another downer for the whole market,” says Jim O’Donnell, president of BMW of North America, in a statement after BMW group sales plunged 35% last month. In 2008 the parent company’s profits almost halved as the global economic crisis took hold.
U.S. dealers are relying on used cars sales to get by; they sold 27,000 in January and February. Of these 19,000 were certified pre-owned, while 17% of the cars came from leases that were ending. The challenge in 2009 and 2010 will be big, as even more 3-year lease contracts expire that were initiated in the boom years of 2006 and 2007.
The new Z4 made its worldwide debut at the North International Auto Show in Detroit and had its European premiere at the Geneva show.
This week, the driving events for the new model started in Spain. In fact, you can hardly compare the 2010 Z4 with the outgoing one, as the roadster is completely new, according to BMW. First in keeping with traditional auto marketing, the size increases inside and out. The length is now 166.9 inches, and width and height are respectively 70.5 inches and 50.8 inches, while the wheelbase measures 98.3. Thanks to the larger width and higher roof line, the cockpit offers more space and 14% better all-around visibility than the outgoing model. The two-piece retractable aluminum hard top folds away with the push of a button in the center console in 20 seconds. With the top down, there is 10.9 cubic feet of luggage space (- 3.6 cubic feet.), enough to stow two golf bags, provided you have chosen the through-loading option.
The Z4 was styled by two women, exterior designer Juliane Brasi of BMW’s Munich studio and interior designer Nadya Arnaout, who works in DesignworksUSA in California. The two worked together in a program that BMW initiated, in order to see if the communication between the exterior and interior designers in an early stage could be beneficiary for the package. Both ladies could not have guessed that their designs would be chosen, which “was quite a coincidence”, said Anders Warming, head of exterior design BMW Automobiles.
With both the top up or down, the new roadster should live up to the slogan about ‘Freude am Fahren’ and it does. Just like the all BMW’s the excellent handling of the Z4 is due to the input of Heinz Krusche, responsible for driving dynamics for all of BMW Group’s vehicles, BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce. Mr. Krusche has been responsible for the feel of every model for nearly 30 years. His colleagues fondly call him Mr. Butt, as it is his spine and buttocks that fine-tunes the final product. No matter the source of the input, he and his engineers did a great job, which I experienced driving the most expensive version of the Z4, sDrive35i.
It has the 300 horsepower 3.0-liter straight six, twin-turbo engine. The less expensive but hardly cheap sDrive30i is equipped with a normally aspirated 3.0- liter of 255 horsepower. Both models come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. The sDrive35i can be also be delivered with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. A six-speed automatic is available on the sDrive30i. Both transmissions can be shifted by paddles on the steering wheel.
(Read our review of the best BMW Extended Warranty options)
The twin-turbo engine in our test vehicle was teamed to the seven-speed transmission. It also had the Adaptive M Suspension that lowers the car by almost 0.4 inches. It also has electronically adjustable dampers. On the winding roads in the mountains along the Costa Blanca, we tested each of the three settings in combination with automatic or manual shifting. These modes, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ can be chosen through buttons left of the shift handle, while a fourth button is for switching off DSG.
Compared to the outgoing Z4, the base car suspension calibration delivers, well, more comfort. The set up is just between the comfort and sports mode of the Adaptive M Suspension, while, according to Heinz Krusche, the Sport+ is not too stiff. There is room for more stiffness, but then we will have to wait for the upcoming M model.
It is very nice and exciting to feel the little differences between the three settings, with comfort allowing active driving and having fun. The Sport mode is meant for bad roads, where Sport+ would be too much. Both Sport and Sport+ ensures a more powerful acceleration and faster gearshift, while the electronics also influence the steering input.
We were happy to find a tunnel on our route, where we could revel in the sound coming through the exhausts while accelerating from second gear. Needless to say, the open air experience in the Z4 is a combination of hearing birds sing and listening to the engine sound. With the top up, we were still connected to the powerplant, but nature was silent.
Our Z4 sDrive35i accelerates to 60 mph in just 5.0 seconds, while BMW expects fuel consumption to outperform the fuel economy on the same model with a manual gearbox. The company has been criticized for its relentless pursuit of horsepower while only making incremental gains in fuel economy. The engineers did a great job by developing and building an excellent driving machine. Its design inside and out, really does it justice.
Prices of the new Z4 start at $46,575 (including $825 destination) for the 30i and at $52,475 for the 35i. Both versions come with standard 17-inch light-alloy rims and runflat tires as well as a Tire Pressure Monitor. The sport suspension is part of the Sport package that includes sport seats and 19-inch wheels on the 35i and 18-inch wheels on the 30i.
Sales predictions were absent.
“With respect to new cars we do not want to push more than what the market accepts,” said Tom Kowaleski, Vice President, corporate communications BMW North America. “We want to keep the profit. In the past 10 years, our 338 BMW dealers have invested $2.1 billion in facilities. We are responsible to help them stay healthy. Right now, the used cars sales are also good for our dealers.”
At the moment the economic situation also provides opportunities. Independent import car dealers are going out of business, and the used BMW business comes back to its dealers. “The stores will be better balanced,” says Kowaleski.
BMW’s ‘Full circle’ program now also is of much value to the brand. One of the features of the program is 4 years free maintenance. Free means the customers do not need to pay one penny. According to Kowaleski, 97% of the BMW owners go back for all of their service to their (certified) dealer.
Be sure to check out all features of the new Roadster on the BMW website, but there is one I’d like to mention: BMW Routes. With the latest generation of the iDrive control system that rules all navigation, information, entertainment and telecommunication functions, it is possible to directly transfer personally planned routes from on the internet portal of BMW Routes to the navi system of the Z4 by USB memory stick.