Why you’d want a BMW Z4
Larger all round than the Z3 and three times stiffer, but barely any heavier, the Z4 wowed its customers with typically vivacious styling by Chris Bangle.
The driving position was much better, too, with a clean, modern cockpit that felt far higher-quality.
A move upmarket meant it wouldn’t sell in quite as big numbers as the Z3, but a remarkable choice of engines – 2-litre ‘four’, plus 2.2, 2.5, 3.0 and 3.2-litre ‘sixes’, as well as the Alpina 3.4 – during its six-year life, with spec options that increased the range much further, meant there was a Z4 for everyone.
It’s advisable to learn the range and options before buying, because few dealers know them well, so desirable models can be underpriced.
The stylish and practical Coupé came later, and only in high spec – cheaper new than the Roadster, they’re now scarce and significantly more expensive. Its suspension is a bit stiffer than the Roadster.
The ultimate is the Z4M, but the Alpina Roadster S that preceded it, with its handbuilt 3.4-litre ‘six’, Alpina wheels, unique interior, body and suspension modifications, could be the collector’s bargain of the year.
Just 167 were built in right-hand drive, yet there are currently plenty on the market, with some priced well below an M Roadster.
In the UK, check the taxation rates for the model you fancy ,because there can be a big difference – Alpinas and the first few Z4Ms registered before 23 March 2006 are £325pa; from 23 March on it’s £570pa.
There’s a lot of electronics, with a drive-by-wire throttle, electronic traction and stability control (that can be disabled via a button) and optional Sport/Comfort modes.
The Z4 was the first BMW with electric power steering, and the soft-top was fully automatic with no manual clips or latches, taking under 10 secs to go up or down.
When it worked, that is, which it didn’t always due to an unfortunate placement of the hood motor in a bowl in the hoodwell drain area, so when the drains blocked, it filled with water.
Z4 enthusiasts have an inexpensive fix, and the great following and self-help groups set up for the cars confirm their classic potential.
The’06 facelift brought yet more electronics, and further underlying problems in old age – later cars currently command a premium, but it’s important to buy wisely and look for a car that has already had love (and money) lavished on it, especially over the past few years.
Images: James Mann
BMW Z4: what to look for
See above for key areas to check before buying.
This 2.2-litre Z4 has BMW’s M54 straight-six engine, superseded by the N52 at facelift time in ’06. A misfiring M54 probably just needs a DISA valve.
The N52 has hydraulic cam lifters that can suffer from losing oil, leading to a tractor-like noise when starting from cold. Check the coolant expansion tank for leaks.
Check for seat damage and wear, especially to the driver’s bolster, and watch out for damp carpets, which can wreak havoc with the electrics.
Electric steering assistance was provided on all but Ms (which are hydraulic); problems with stiffness and noise are usually easy to cure.
On the road
All Z4s have lively performance, and which model you choose should reflect how you want to use it: the smaller engines are only ‘slow’ when compared to the bigger ones.
If you want to show off you’ll need at least a 2.5Si, but for relaxed weekend touring, the lesser – and softer-riding – models are ideal.
Verify the soft-top’s condition and function. If the roof motor isn’t in the boot, budget £120-150 to move it, unless you’re going to garage the car.
Check wheels for damage and tyres for age, type and wear.
Rear springs can snap: ‘lowered’ may mean broken. Wayward drive is suspension bushes.
BMW Z4: before you buy
Check that the service history has been kept up, especially in recent years: on-board diagnostics decide when a service is due, so ask for a paper history to check.
Few Z4s clock up the mileages saloon BMWs do so, while it’s nice to have a lower-mileage car, a well-maintained high mileage Z4 could be a great low-priced option.
The pre-facelift M54 engine is very durable. Ancillaries can fail, such as the DISA valve, which controls airflow: a misfire and reduced power at low revs mean a relatively easy DiY replacement.
Failing Vanos seals also reduce power, but new seals are cheap.
Post-facelift ‘sixes’ (except the M) use the N52 unit, which has no dipstick – just a warning light – and an electric water pump that may fail at 50-60k miles and costs £3-500 plus fitting; rarely, it causes overheating and engine damage.
Noisy hydraulic lifters can also afflict the N52: it should clear after a few minutes and will not damage the engine, but is expensive to eradicate.
Regular servicing is important, so check the history: some had a replacement cylinder head and lifters under warranty, a permanent cure.
The Z4M has the S54 engine: valve clearances need checking every second service (£700-1200).
Conrod bearings and even bolts can fail, so if there’s any rattle from deep inside the engine, be very wary.
If the service history doesn’t show replacement and the mileage is over 60k, budget £1500 to replace the bearings.
Change the head gasket, engine mounts, timing-chain guide and Vanos filter, too, if they’ve not been done.
BMW Z4 price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £5k/6k/7-9k/16-20k
- Average: £2500/3250/5.5-7k/14-17k
- Restoration: £1000/1250/2-4k/10-12k
*Add up to 25% for later cars
Prices correct at date of publication
BMW Z4 history
2003 March: E85 Z4 launched, as 2.5i and 3.0i only at first
2003 Sept: 2.2 added; Alpina Roadster S launched – 3.4-litre, 296bhp, close-ratio ’box, 5.1 secs 0-60, 160mph
2005 Four-cylinder 2.0 added
2006 Facelift: 2.2 dropped, N52 six-cylinder engine replaces M54 – 2.5i 174bhp, 2.5Si 215bhp; 3.2 M added (5070 built); E86 Z4 Coupé launched (3.0/M only); Alpina Roadster Sproduction ends, 365 built
2008 August: Last E85 built
2009 E89 coupé/cabrio Z4 replaces E85/86
Faster than most Z4s on the limit, the S2000 gives its driver a real buzz in return for a real workout, but is less comfortable in a relaxed cruising role; expensive UK tax from 2006 – and insurance, too.
Sold 1999-2009 • No. built c113,000 • Price now £6-18,000
PORSCHE BOXSTER/CAYMAN (987)
Mid-engined magic with 2.7-3.4-litre flat-six engines. Great handling and performance, but not a DiY car if engine problems strike – and parts are costly.
Sold 2004-’12 • No. built c150,000 • Price now £6-25k/£8-38k
Prices correct at date of publication
BMW Z4: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Practical, fun, spacious, stylish and extremely easy to live with, the Z4 offers a wide choice from relaxed cruiser to serious bruiser, depending on the options you choose.
Try to find a cared-for example and remember that performance models are likely to have been thrashed around tracks.
Take time to learn the different specs and options, and try to find the car that most closely matches your ideal, or you’ll regret it later.
- A very usable sports car that can be modified into a serious track tool, or just be a boulevardier, as you choose
- There’s a great support network
- Parts prices are mostly very reasonable
- Neglect and some engine weaknesses lurk to bite the unwary
- Rust is now beginning to be an issue
BMW Z4 specifications
- Sold/number built 2003-’09/180,856 (E85), 17,094 (E86)
- Construction steel monocoque, aluminium bonnet
- Engine all-alloy, dohc, 16-valve 1995cc ‘four’ or 24-valve 2171/2494/2497/2979/2996/3246cc ‘six’,with electronic fuel injection
- Max power 148bhp @ 6200rpm to 338bhp @ 7900rpm
- Max torque 148lb ft @ 3600rpm to 269lb ft @ 4900rpm
- Transmission five/six-speed manual or automatic, or six-speed automated manual, driving rear wheels (M with limited-slip diff)
- Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear multi-link; coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion, with electric or hydraulic power assistance
- Brakes 11¼-13½in (286-345mm) front, 11-13in (280-328mm) rear vented discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 13ft 5in-13ft 6in (4091-4113mm)
- Width 5ft 10in (1781mm)
- Height 4ft 2½in-4ft 3in (1287-1299mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 2in (2487-2495mm)
- Weight 2855-3230lb (1295-1465kg)
- Mpg 15-35
- 0-60mph 8-4.8 secs
- Top speed 137-155mph
- Price new £22,945-42,795 (2.0-M, 2006)