Welcome to Casually Collectable, where we take a look back at an interesting car with enthusiast appeal that won’t break the bank on the used market. For the inaugural edition, we’re looking at the first generation BMW Z4.
It’s nearly impossible to deny the appeal of a small two-door sports car. Whether you prefer the top-down cruising of a roadster or the canyon-carving clout of a coupe, cars like the BMW Z4 offer a compelling mix of luxury, performance, and style.
The Z4 was launched in 2002 in two body styles—the E85 roadster and the E86 coupe. Replacing the aging Z3, the Z4 was designed by Anders Warming during BMW’s controversial but commercially successful Chris Bangle era.
BMW pulled out all the stops for the launch of the Z4, including the production of three new short films for their promotional series “The Hire.” The series was originally launched in 2001 with Clive Owen playing a nameless driver-for-hire with a penchant for using high-performance BMWs to get out of sticky situations. Continuing to work with some of the best directors in the world, the trio of Z4-specific films called upon John Woo, Joe Carnahan, and Tony Scott. With appearances from James Brown, Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, and even Marilyn Manson, “The Hire” should be required viewing for any car enthusiast. Start with Tony Scott’s “The Hostage” or go back to the first season and watch Guy Ritchie’s “The Star” (featuring both Madonna and the iconic E93 M5).
Back to reality, those wanting to do their best Clive Owen impersonation will likely be looking at the much more common E85 roadster (convertible) version of the Z4. The roadster is a modern interpretation of classic British sport convertibles like the Sunbeam Alpine or the Triumph TR6. No roof, two seats, plenty of power, and rakish good looks. While the Z4’s styling was controversial, its design has aged really rather well. With a long hood and a short rear deck, the Z4 looks quick and does a good job of not feeling like a 15-year-old design.
Being a BMW, there are nearly endless combinations of features and subtle changes to the packaging over this generation’s six-year run. Built at the Greer Plant in South Carolina, the Z4 could be had with a manual or an automatic transmission and handful of different engines, from the higher performance 3.0-liter inline-six (with up to 265 horsepower in later examples) all the way to a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder making some 150 horsepower. The E86 coupe version was offered only in the 3.0si trim level with the high N52B30 inline six-cylinder engine.
Should you have the need for the most speed (and the highest possible level of collectability for the Z4), look no further than the Z4M models. Part of BMW’s legendary M performance division, the Z4M was fitted with their 330 horsepower S54B32 3.2-liter straight-six, the same engine found in the E46 generation of the M3.
As always, interested buyers should always get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI), look for a car with a complete service history that shows proper maintenance, and be sure to refer to the online BMW forums as they are an excellent resource for owner information and feedback. Common issues reported by owners include rear spring cracking, leaking from the convertible, and the common BMW Vanos solenoid complaints. That said, with proper maintenance and care, the Z4 has a reputation for being quite reliable.
The E85/E86 generation of the Z4 was replaced in 2009 by the current E89 Z4. With a new generation rumored to be announced this summer for the 2018 model year, the Z4 has become not only a lasting part of BMW’s lineup but also a standing presence in the sports car market. From the big screen with “The Hire” to a possible spot in your garage, the Z4 has the performance, good looks, and road presence to make it a fun and desirable sports car.