Nov 04, 2023

2023 BMW Z4 sDrive30i Convertible review

Time flies especially fast in a Z4, BMW’s mid-level luxury roadster.

But it had really flown as it had been 14 years since I last shoe-horned into a Z4. This sDrive30i version came just as autumn was creeping into Wisconsin, the leaves starting to turn and the morning air skewing crisp. Nice timing!

That’s because this compact sportster featured a power drop top that made it all the more appealing and simple to enjoy autumn’s visual stimuli. Sometimes, convertibles can feel a bit unrefined or jittery, although one wouldn’t expect that from BMW. No, this one felt solid, almost heavy, and oozed luxury from every Vernascan leather pore. That’s a super-strong sun-resistant leather that wears like steel wool. It costs $1,500 extra.

BMW has been chided of late for its cars’ big funky nostrils, er grilles, but the Z4 is modestly restrained in that area and adds rounded haunches, a long hood, and handsome scallops accenting its sides to create a strong visual sense of movement.

The Portimao (Portuguese port city) Blue Metallic test car was topped with a black canvas roof that took about 15 seconds to drop with the flip of a console-mounted lever. Easy!

With it up, the interior was only modestly quiet, but down, of course there’s the rush of the wind to cancel out the 408 watts of power from the fine Harman Kardon 12-speaker stereo, just an $875 option.

But top-off, like those guys at a Packers game, I’m not interested in jazz, hip-hop or heavy metal, I’m experiencing the physical world, audio philia can wait. And despite there only being a twin-turbo I4 under that massive hood, this Z4 sounds good with a roar that insinuates more power than it actually has. Yet the 255 horses are sufficient for racing down a highway ramp or in Sport driving mode, it’ll blast the Z4 away from a stoplight, embarrassing even those V8-packing trucks and SUVs.

Car and Driver says the tested Z4 will do 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds thanks to its nearly 300 pound-feet of torque. Thank you turbos and responsive 8-speed automatic! No manual transmission is available on any Z4.

Yet, for a mere $13,500 more, one could upscale the engine to BMW’s twin-turbo I6 that generates 382 horses and hits 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Your call Diamond Jim or Jane!

This is plenty fast and the handling is quick and easy so the rear-drive Z4 can be jammed into tight corners with gusto, turning easily with excellent grip. Wide Continental ZR19 tires help there. So do front and rear anti-roll bars and BMW’s variable sport steering.

There are three drive modes here, activated via clearly labeled console buttons. Sport firms up the steering and changes the gear ratios to allow for quicker acceleration. Comfort is fine for daily driving and Eco Sport for stretching your gas budget. Z4 is a premium drinker.

Yet, gas mileage is fine for a performance-oriented roadster. I managed 33.5 mpg, just beyond the EPA ratings of 25 mpg city and 33 highway. My drive was 70% highway.

BMW’s sport suspension here combined with the Z4 being a short-wheelbase car, just 97.2 inches (think 1 inch shorter than a MINI Cooper), is not comfortable, simply too stiff. While performance is important and is available from the powertrain, the Comfort drive mode should smooth and soothe. There needs to be a softer setting here for Midwest city driving. This Z4 suspension probably works well on smooth roads in dry southern climes.

The braking though is top shelf, as one would expect from large drilled disc brakes with showy BMW M red calipers. Note, the color won’t help it stop faster! But this is part of a Dynamic Handling package ($2,450) that adds the brakes and adaptive suspension (just not compliant enough) and an M Sport differential.

Coupled with its performance, the Z4’s interior is as nice as some models costing more, and more functional too. I found the Z4’s black over saddle brown interior well laid out with all the buttons (there are a lot) well labeled. That cuts out guessing as one drives which is a safety feature.

For instance, while there’s a knob on the console for adjusting items on the modestly sized screen, the touchscreen is easily adjusted, radio stations simply found, and the navigation is obvious. Hey Lexus, no spastic touch pad here. And even when using the knob, it clicks solidly on whatever you tune it to. No jumping about as in a Lexus.

While some might want a giant screen, this 10.3-incher is wide enough and easy to see and use.

All the dash buttons make sense too with all the climate controls under the screen, cruise controls and such on the steering wheel hub, lesser used buttons to the left of the wheel and driving related buttons on the black gloss console.

The Z4’s leather seats are extremely comfortable too, with supportive cushions and power side bolsters for the back cushion along with a manual extension for the lower cushion. The latter is helpful for long-legged drivers.

The dash is black as are door tops with the brown leather inserts below and the seats and arm rests being brown. Console sides are black with satin chrome trim that also is used on the air vents at either end of the dash, plus a splash of it mid-dash and around the steering wheel hub. Classy, plus there is slight ambient light trim below the air vents and screen.

Much of the expected safety equipment is standard in Z4, yet it takes a $700 Driving Assistance package to add blind-spot detection, a lane departure warning, and smart cruise. One might expect at least the first two to be standard on a luxury car.

Also added to the tested Z4 was a Premium package including adaptive LED headlights, a heated steering wheel and heated seat, keyless entry, remote start and a self-parking feature all for $3,000. Again, I’d expect most but the self-parking feature to come on a luxury model.

Other add-ons contributed to an inflated out-the-door price.

First up was a Shadowline package that adds black mirror caps and other blacked out features, such as the upper and lower front grille work. That’s just $400. The wireless charger (a necessity now) was $500, and snazzy 19-inch M style double spoke gray wheels were $600.

Note too that the handsome blue exterior color was $650 extra, and while not a huge upsell, the only standard Z4 color is white. The other five colors, this blue, black, gray, red, and dark blue all cost extra. Pretty much pure profit.

Pricing is actually pretty reasonable for a performance luxury roadster with a power top. The base is $53,795 with delivery, but all the add-ons pushed this to $64,470. Avoid a few of those options and the Z4 sDrivei30 can be had at a reasonable entry luxury price.

Moving to the more powerful M40i model pushes the cost beyond the tester at $67,295 for starters, plus paint color of course.

And what might slow a potential buyer here? Well, the trunk is smallish, but I’ve seen worse, the car drinks premium fuel, and it could use a flat-bottom steering wheel. As with many convertibles, the A-pillar and side mirror combine to partially obstruct the side view too.

Certainly no car is perfect, but the Z4 delivers power, handling and luxury features at a reasonable price, before options.

Hits: Sporty styling, strong acceleration, sporty handling and grip, super brakes, and easy lowering canvas top. Heated supportive seats with power bolster, multiple drive modes, wireless charger, nicely laid out dash with well-labeled buttons, OK screen and functions.

Misses: Tiny trunk, prefers premium unleaded, giant A-pillars obstruct view, stiff ride. Plus needs flat-bottom wheel and cooled seats.

Made in: Graz, Austria

Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 255 hp/295 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,636 lbs.

Wheelbase: 97.2 in.

Length: 170.7 in.

Cargo: 10.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/33

MPG: 33.5 (tested)

Base Price: $53,795 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $51,345


Portimao Blue Metallic paint, $650

Cognac Vernasca leather, $1,500

Driving assistance Pkg. (driving assistant, blind spot detection, lane departure warning), $700

Dynamic handling pkg. (M Sport differential, adaptive M suspension, M sport brakes w/red calipers), $2,450

Shadowline pkg. (black mirror caps, extended Shadowline trim), $400

Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel and front seats, remote start, keyless entry, lumbar support, adaptive LED lights, parking assistant), $3,000

19-inch M double spoke orbit gray wheels, $600

Wireless charging, $500

Harman Kardon surround sound, $875

Test vehicle: $64,470

Sources: BMW,