This two-seater put what was arguably the segment’s most beautiful drivetrain into one of its most striking and elegant bodies.
Is this your year to enjoy traveling in a new-to-you luxury convertible? If so, the 2009-2016 BMW Z4 may well be on your radar. Launched with sleek looks, updated styling, and the longest wheelbase in its class, this frisky little roadster packed changed aplenty in its new-for-2009 model generation.
With a motorized hard-panel roof, graceful and curvaceous body, high-contrast cabin and a selection of engines topping out in the “35is” variant with 335 twin-turbo horsepower, this roadster was as fast as it was beautiful. Put simply, at launch, and especially in the top-line variants, this two-seater put what was arguably the segment’s most beautiful drivetrain into one of its most striking and elegant bodies.
BMW included Dynamic Drive Control as standard equipment, allowing drivers to engage three progressively sportier stages depending on their mood and intentions. With a simple button press, the Z4’s steering, transmission, throttle and even suspension can be altered for optimized performance. The aluminum roof mechanism can be dispatched in 20 seconds when required.
Earlier models from this generation got a 3.0L straight-six engine, a twin-turbocharged version thereof, a tweaked-up version of the twin-turbo engine with an extra 35 horsepower, and eventually, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, in “28i” variants. A variety of transmission options included the seven-speed DCT dual-clutch gearbox, and a six-speed manual. Manual transmissions were available only in the non-turbo “30i” variant, and the “35i” twin-turbo models, if you’re itching to row ’em on your own. All units were rear-wheel drive.
What Owners Like
Owners tend to rave about the refinement, efficiency and performance of the powertrains, the striking looks, the slick roof mechanism, and the abundance of power, especially in turbocharged models.
What Owners Dislike
Limited trunk space, tight entry and exit, and a sometimes-jarring ride are among the most common owner complaints. In fact, most shoppers should avoid a model with the up-sized wheels, if they live in a locale with plenty of rougher roads, as ride quality will suffer.
The Test Drive
Start with a cosmetic checkup, keeping an eye out for peeling paint, signs of problematic moisture or condensation inside of the headlight and taillight housings, and especially, for signs of cracked wheel rims. Note that a cracked wheel may still hold air, and that a crack may be on the hard-to-see inner portion of the wheel rim. So, here’s a good ride to have a mechanic inspect on a hoist. Use a flashlight if necessary to help reveal potential cracks in the used Z4’s wheels.
Here’s some more reading on numerous reports of damaged BMW Z4 wheels, and a play-by-play of a resulting lawsuit from the owner’s community. Apparently, the wheels pictured at this link are the most likely culprits for cracking.
A weak battery may lead to issues with non-functionality of the convertible top and fussy operation of numerous other systems. Keep your new-to-you Z4 hooked up to a battery trickle charger when you’re not driving it for a few days to reduce the likelihood of electronic issues. If any electronic systems fail to operate as expected, or operate sporadically, the battery and charging system are ideal places to start your search for trouble.
Note that failed convertible roof operation that isn’t battery-related may be remedied with some new micro-switches, or a roof system reset. Be sure to run the roof through its paces several times on your test drive, with an eye for issues. Most reported issues with roof operation are easy to address.
On the topic of the Z4’s convertible top, be sure to have a poke around the trunk area, checking the carpeting and area beneath it, for signs of moisture which could be evidence of a leak caused by a bad seal. Another tip? In many cases, convertible leaks are caused by a failure to maintain the rubber seals and body drains, with occasional lubrication and cleaning, about once a year. Here’s a quick how-to video on convertible roof seal and body-drain maintenance.
A mechanic should look for signs of suspension damage and excessive wear, especially around the shock absorbers, which some owners have reported failing prematurely. On a test drive, if you hear any unwelcome suspension noises, or feel the Z4 to be excessively bouncy on rough roads, be sure to have the suspension checked out. Here’s a little more reading, to be taken with a grain of salt.
Next, be aware that turbocharged six-cylinder models may suffer from a well-documented issue with the High Pressure Fuel Pump, or HPFP. In any model with the turbo straight-six, and especially if there’s a check-engine light, abnormally long cranking time before engine start up, or feeling of reduced or poor performance, have the unit checked out for HPFP problems by a BMW technician. The issue is fairly easy to detect, and your local dealer will likely be familiar with fixing the problem.
Clumsiness from the dual-clutch transmission may be remedied with a transmission software update, but be sure that’s the case by chatting to a BMW service advisor for advice. Also, be on the lookout for a somewhat commonly reported fluid leak from this transmission, which a technician will be able to detect quickly with the vehicle on a hoist.
Confirm that the heated seats both work as expected, and be on the lookout for various squeaks and rattles from the interior, which are often fixed with a slight adjustment, or a touch of peel-and-stick padding, once their source (often, the glove-box door) is determined.
A final note: If you’re considering a used Z4 with the newer N20 engine – that is, the 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder, be absolutely sure to budget for extended warranty coverage, or consider selecting another engine option. Owner forums are full of discussions about problems with this engine in other applications, and particularly those centering around timing chain stretch or failure, which can result in total engine loss.
Here’s some more reading on N20 engine problems in the BMW X3. Note that the number of reported issues may still prove minor compared to total units produced, but for many shoppers, a Z4 with the more proven six-cylinder engines may be a safer bet.
The BMW Z4 is all about driving enjoyment – and as such, shoppers are advised to maximize their future enjoyment of this machine by selecting a unit with six-cylinder power, having a thorough pre-purchase inspection performed by a BMW technician, and opting for a model from a Certified Pre Owned (CPO) program, with as much extended warranty coverage as possible.
Just one recall.
Crash Test Ratings