BMW Z4 sDrive35i (2009)

For the second-gen Z4, BMW has given it slightly smoother lines and a schmick-looking new folding hard-top. It also comes with a redesigned and much friendlier iDrive system for mixing your music and guiding your sat nav.

Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

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To our eyes the outgoing Z4 was a pretty sweet looking car, mixing avant garde sweeps, slashes and curves with the traditional long bonnet, short boot roadster shape. This time around, BMW has dialled down the controversy a little bit but essentially it's more of the same. The big news, however, is the axing of the separate coupe and convertible editions, with a single retractable hard-top model taking their place.

In many ways, the new Z4 is aping its most obvious competitor, the Mercedes-Benz SLK, which started the whole folding metal roof craze over a decade ago. Like all folding hard-top cars, except the Mazda MX-5, the Z4 requires the concession of boot space should you want to do a spot of alfresco motoring -- shopping capacity goes from 310 litres to 180 if you want the wind in your hair.

With a paucity of buttons and screens, not to mention the optional Nappa leather strewn across not only the seats and armrests but also across the dashboard, the Z4 looks to be the perfect refuge of that dying breed of well-heeled, technophobic aesthetes. But fear not, prod a button or two and an LCD monitor will rise majestically from the centre of the dashboard.

Using the redesigned iDrive system, drivers can access the audio system and various car settings, as well as the navigation system. The new sat nav system is now hard-disk-based for faster load times and quicker searches, and has a 3D view too. Some of the nav system's hard-disk space -- 8GB out of about 60 -- can be used for storing digital music from your iPod, MP3 player or other USB devices.

Our pet peeve with the new Zed, is its rather daft naming system. You see, BMW's jumped on the branding bandwagon, slapping an xDrive badge on many of its four-wheel drive models. So you'd expect the sDrive-affixed Z4 to be something gee-whiz, high-tech amazing but, alas, no. It's just the company's new brand name for some of the sportier rear-drive models. What's wrong with BMW Z4 35i we ask you?

Other than that -- and based solely on our time with it at the Motor Show -- there's not much we don't like about the new Z4. Obviously it doesn't come cheap with a price close to AU$120,000. And that's before you start stacking the car full of extras -- like that gorgeous Nappa leather we mentioned earlier. The show car has BMW's award winning 3-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine in it, but there are also non-turbo 3.0- and 2.5-litre engines to choose from, for significantly less money.

We can't wait to spend some more quality time with the Z4, but it goes on sale in Australia in May -- in the middle of winter.