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Used BMW Z4 buying guide
What's the BMW Z4 like?
Desirable, if the numbers on UK roads are anything to go by. With the Z3 having been a popular addition to the range BMW wasted no time in launching a follow-up in the shape of the 2003 Z4 (or E85 in BMW-speak).
The new model addressed some of the Z3's shortcomings with a roomier cabin, a smoother ride, and better material quality and even if Chris Bangle's 'flame surfacing' styling split opinion, there was no shortage of takers for the cars rolling off the Spartanburg, South Carolina production line.
Despite an increase in weight over the Z3, the use of aluminium and magnesium in its construction, an advanced multi-link rear suspension system and 50:50 weight distribution meant decent road manners. And the two-seater drop-top now had a boot that could accommodate a couple of sets of golf clubs which pleased those of a sporting bent.
The Z4 was no slouch in the performance stakes either. Having learnt that the anaemic 1.9 litre unit in the Z3 didn't cut the mustard with buyers, BMW installed a range of smooth and punchy six cylinder motors in the lengthy nose of the Z4. 170bhp was the starting point for a range that went on to encompass 2.5 and 3.0 litre units topping out at a useful 231bhp in early variants.
This was backed up by the full gamut of electronic driving aids such as 'Dynamic Stability Control', 'Dynamic Traction Control' and 'Dynamic Drive Control', the latter allowing the driver to alter the responses from the throttle and steering at the press of a button.
A contemporary and minimalist dashboard
One of the criticisms levelled at the Z3 was a cabin that fell below the standards of quality and luxury that buyers of the blue and white propeller expected, and the Z4 improved on this in some style.
Gone were the meagre equipment levels and indifferent build quality to be replaced by something altogether more becoming of the marque. A contemporary and more minimalist dashboard now faced the driver while aluminium effect trim and soft leathers made the cabin a much more tactile place in which to spend time.
There was a welcome boost in equipment levels too, with an electric roof and high-quality audio system now standard, and a rich list of tasty options for those with deeper pockets. Many buyers attacked that list with gusto too, so you can expect to find used examples with plenty of niceties such as higher-grade leather, xenon headlamps, bigger wheels, and electric sports seats. A satellite navigation system with a screen that rose elegantly from the dashboard on start-up was probably the most popular choice.
What trim levels are there?
SE and Sport were the main trim choices but with no two cars likely to be the same, it pays to do a bit of homework so you know exactly which spec you are looking at.
A mid-life refresh in 2005/06 bought trim and equipment upgrades, a revised engine range with the choice of an entry-level 4-cylinder unit with 150bhp, and the introduction of the stunningly rapid Z4 M which utilised a tweaked version of the 3.2 litre, 338bhp motor from the M3.
Were there any recalls?
There have been no official recalls for the Z4.
BMW Z4 engines
- 2.0 litre, 150bhp
- 2.2 litre, 170bhp
- 2.5 litre 177bhp
- 2.5 litre, 192bhp
- 2.5 litre, 218bhp
- 3.0 litre, 231bhp
- 3.0 litre, 265bhp
- 3.2 litre, 338bhp
Manual and automatic gearboxes were offered from launch, the auto available with optional paddle shift. The six-speed 'Sequential Manual Gearbox' (SMG) was also offered as an option though this automated manual isn't the smoothest unit and worth trying before taking the plunge.
BMW Z4 history
2002 - Announced at the Paris Motor Show
2003 - Launched in the UK
2005 - Mid-life refresh announced with revisions to trim and equipment levels and changes to the engine range
2006 - Launch of the Z4 M
Which version should I buy?
With just the convertible body style on offer, it ultimately comes down to which engine and level of trim takes your fancy, and finding a Z4 with the perfect specification for you isn't too difficult.
With a lengthy options list when new, what is perhaps trickier is establishing exactly what equipment has been fitted so it pays to quiz the vendor carefully so you know exactly what you're dealing with. Items such as sat nav, upgraded audio, and xenon lights will add value so it is worth seeking out a car with these fitted, while items such as special trim colours and larger alloys are a matter of personal taste.
SE-spec strikes a good balance for most buyers. Engine-wise, there are no duffers in the range with 2.5- and 3.0-litre units offering a delightful blend of smoothness and performance, though economy will suffer if they are used in anger.
The automatic gearbox suits the Z4's relaxed demeanour and would be our choice, but if you are tempted by the SMG unit do try it first as they don't suit everyone.
What problems should I look out for?
The Z4 was a much higher quality item than the Z3 that preceded it, which is good news for the used buyer. That said, with early cars knocking on for a decade old and with many having slipped out of the main dealer network, it does pay to approach a used example with a degree of caution.
While a high mileage shouldn't put you off, a lack of servicing stamps certainly should and with plenty to choose from on the market there is little excuse for landing yourself with an unloved example. Bear in mind too that repairs are likely to be costly - even at a specialist - so a thorough check of a potential purchase is recommended.
- With proper servicing, engines are generally trouble-free. Poor running or a rattle from the top end of the engine could point to problems with the 'Double Vanos' variable valve timing unit. There are specialists out there that can supply rebuilt units, but a new one from BMW is over £1,000.
- Make sure you check the hood, both condition and operation. Repairs or replacement are hugely expensive with even the most basic arrangement costing over £3,000 at main dealer prices. Those with a special lining will cost considerably more. Water leaks have been known to finish off the hood motor - this sits in a special well which should be water tight but blocked drainage tubes can allow water to collect around the motor. The part alone is over £500 and the hood needs to come off to replace it so you can imagine the labour bill. If the hood is down when you go to inspect a car, make sure you see it working.
Reckon on spending around £100 each side
- For some reason the Z4 was prone to snapping its rear springs - rattles from the rear on the test drive will alert you to any problems. Reckon on spending around £100 each side for a replacement, a bit more if a sportier suspension set-up has been fitted. Front springs can also suffer the same fate with breakage around the spring platform, so get a good look underneath a potential purchase.
- Wear in the front suspension wishbone joints and bushes will lead to vague steering and a tendency to tramline. Not hugely expensive to fix but consider fitting uprated replacements to protect against future problems.
- Niggling electrical problems can occur, most notably affecting the alarm and wiper mechanism. The latter can lead to the wipers not parking properly or stopping altogether. It may be just a linkage problem but a replacement wiper motor is around £280 from a franchised dealer. Misting inside the headlamp covers can be caused by poor sealing - new covers are fairly cheap.
- In the cabin, watch for squeaks and rattles from interior trim and scuffed leather seats. And make sure everything works in there, particularly the motorised sat nav screen.
- While a service history is desirable whatever the model, this is particularly true of the rapid M model. Walk away from any without an unimpeachable maintenance record.
What should I expect to pay?
Be prepared to plump for an early car with over 100,000 miles on the clock and a 2.5- or 3.0-litre model can be yours for £5K from an independent trader. Service histories could be getting patchy though and you'll want to give it a thorough check-over to ensure all is in order. Stretching the budget to £7,500 will put 2005/06 cars with around 60k miles within reach, again from an independent.
Main agent prices start at about £10K for an early-ish car, another £5K for one sporting a 2008 plate, though these will come with the security of BMW backing and associated benefits.
The Z4 was one of BMWs earlier applications of the run-flat tyre as a standard fitment. Contrary to various myths, these tyres can be repaired though suppliers are often reluctant to do so in case the tyre suffered internal damage while being driven completely flat. Bear in mind that replacements are generally costlier than traditional alternatives, and make sure there are no alerts on the dash from the tyre pressure monitoring system.
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