The old saying “don’t mess with success” certainly does not apply to the world of performance and sports scars. Rest on your laurels too long and you’ll likely find your design left behind – not to mention your sales. So that’s why BMW has chosen now to replace their successful Z3 roadster with an all new “edgier” design, the Z4. But is this new sports car also a better Bimmer?

The 2003 BMW Z4 had better be, if it expects to live up to the high standards established by its predecessors. Since its earliest days as a car maker, Bavarian Motor Works has produced convertibles that are classy, capable, and frequently possess a very unique style. And the American-built Z4 certainly has its own look. BMW stylist Chris Bengle has taken a firm, futuristic step away from the lines of the Z3. While most applaud overtones of the Z8 super car in the front facia, the front fenders, with their diagonal crease and hockey puck side market lights, are quite controversial. But most agree the Z4’s clipped rear end is a huge improvement.

That forward style is backed up with a new platform based on the latest 3-Series. It’s longer and wider than the Z3 with a stretched 98.2-inch wheelbase. The convertible top has a lightweight aluminum/magnesium frame and glass rear window with defroster. Power assist is optional. But the best touch is that the top’s hard leading edge becomes a boot cover when down. Stout steel roll bars behind the seats provide overhead protection, while standard front, side and knee airbags protect against threats in other quarters. Though for maximum protection from the weather, owners can purchase an optional removable hardtop.

Under the long, low aluminum hood, the Z4 is powered by a brace of dual-overhead-cam inline six-cylinder engines. Both derived from the Z3, the base 2.5-liter delivers 184 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Our test car had the larger 3.0-liter with 225 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5i comes standard with a 5-speed manual, and a quick shifting 6-speed on our 3.0i. Both the 2.5i and 3.0i can also be fitted with a 5-speed Steptronic automatic, while a sequential manual will be available later this year.

On road performance of the Z4 is like the styling, a step above that of the Z3. The ride is smoother, more compliant, with less road noise as a much stiffer chassis keeps body twist and cowl shake to a minimum. But it’s the track performance that impressed us, as our 6-speed Z4 sprinted to 60 in 6.0 seconds flat, 3/10 of a second faster than the Z3, and ran the 1/4 mile in 14.7-seconds at 94 miles-per-hour. Our sport model includes a switch that quickens throttle response.

The 3.0-liter engine is strong, especially in the midrange, punching the Z4 out of the corners and down the straights of Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway. The car’s front strut/rear multi-link suspension was balanced on the optional Sport Package’s 18-inch alloy wheels, which wore grippy Bridgestone Potenza run-flat tires. Engaging the sport button also reduces boost to the electric power steering, and further adds to the Z4’s crisp feel and near neutral handling, with just a touch of front plow in tighter corners. Although the Sport Package stiffens up shocks and springs and lowers the ride height, there was still more body roll than we expected. Given the Z4’s still comfortable highway ride, however, we can live with it. Plus, BMW’s standard Dynamic Stability Control always kept a firm check on aggressive cornering.

Brakes are naturally 4-wheel discs with ABS, and are larger than those of the Z3. They delivered strong, solid deceleration, even from triple digit track speeds.

Of course BMWs aren’t just about performance. Luxury is an important part of the BMW experience, and the Z4’s roomier, well equipped cockpit shows an evolutionary growth from the tighter, sparser Z3. The dash also favors the Z8, with a broad sweep and all controls laid out in a simple, logical fashion. The twin binnacle gauge cluster looks perfect.

The 3.0i includes a powerful Carver Technology 10-speaker CD-audio system and mostly rotary climate controls. Also 6-way power adjustable sport seats. Leather is standard. Luggage space, however, is never a roadster strong point, and the Z4 offers only 9 cubic- feet in a shallow trunk.

But that’s enough room for the $33,795 needed to net a base Z4 2.5i. If you want the 3.0i, it starts at $40,945. The highly recommended sport package tacks on another $1,200, with a maxed out car costing nearly 48 grand.

With the Z4, BMW has delivered a car that improves on the Z3 in almost every way. It’s stronger, faster, more competent, and more luxurious, and it makes the once distinctive Z3 look out-of-date. That’s quite an accomplishment, and why we think the 2003 BMW Z4 is a better roadster, a better sports car, and a better Bimmer in every way!


  • Engine: 3.0 Liter, Inline Six-Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 225
  • Torque: 214 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.0 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 14.7 Seconds @ 94 MPH