Z4: Is Weight Really an Issue?

I think many of us enthusiasts have been urging BMW (as well as others) to produce lighter more agile cars while at the same time we do not realize how far things have in fact come. Cars have become lighter, given us more options and safety at the same time.

This leads to the question is the new Z4 really all that heavy? For a brief comparison of sorts lets take the famed Z8 for starters and then the new Z4. The Z8 was (still is to some) the top of the line BMW model not only in performance but style. The Z4 has always had these same intentions.

The Z8 (pictured above) premiered at the 1999 Frankfurt auto show to rave reviews. It ushered in the use of aluminum in the space frame and other components/body panels to reduce vehicle weight. This frame not only decreased weight but increased the cars rigidity and ability to feel the road. Propulsion was provided by the 4.9-liter V8 producing 394 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque adopted from the ///M5 of the same period. All of that power was shifted through a six-speed manual transmission as standard. For all you drag racers out there, the 0-60 time was about 4.7 seconds. The interior included leather upholstery, aluminum accents, buttons and of course retro styling. The hard top was removable and required a place for storage when not in use. No need to keep an eye on the weather as there was also a retractable soft top stowed away (Thanks Joe!). All of this state of the art (for the time) construction, lavish interior and exclusivity was sold for around $130,000. This was a limited production car.

Z8 Specs:

  • Weight: 3494 lbs. without top, 3554 with top.
  • 53% front to 47% rear weight distribution without top.
  • Length: 172.5 ”
  • Width: 71.5 “
  • Height: 52 ”
  • Wheelbase: 99 “
  • Headroom: 37.2 “
  • Shoulder room: 55.2 “

Fast forward to today. The new E89 Z4 has already been acknowledge by some as one of the greatest designs BMW has offered; the car has an overall aggressive look but at the same time it is beautiful.

The new Z4 features the first 20 second automatic folding aluminum hardtop on a production BMW model. The frame is composed of advanced high strength steel which provides increased structural rigidity and weight savings over conventional steel. Aluminum has been used to reduce weight further in other areas. Powered by either a naturally aspirated I-6 producing 255 horsepower or a twin turbo six producing 300 ft/lbs. and 300hp. The available 7 speed DCT sport transmission coupled with the turbo motor will get you to 60 in 5 seconds flat. Balance and handling can be adjusted with the optional ///M suspension. Modern amenities including climate control, as well as energy saving technologies (brake regeneration) are standard. Interior space has been optimized for comfort and storage. The electromechanical parking brake system takes up less interior space than other methods. This and other techniques have made the interior significantly larger than the exterior dimensions would suggest.For a third of the price to buy and much cheaper to build than the Z8 this car may in fact be just what has been desired by us enthusiasts all along.

Z4 Specs:

  • Weight: 3241 – 3494 lbs. (depending on model and options)
  • 49.2% front to 50.8% rear weight distribution (Z4 35i)
  • Length: 167 “
  • Width: 70.5 ”
  • Height: 50.8 “
  • Wheelbase: 98.3 ”
  • Headroom: 39.1 “
  • Shoulder room: 53.3 ”

Utilizing these cars for this comparison shows how far we have come in such a short amount of time. Even though this Z4 appears to weigh more than the outgoing model it has also added structural rigidity and that brilliant folding roof, (almost) the best of both worlds!

In the end this comparison is not all that direct as the reviews are not out on the Z4 yet, but from what we hear it has such composure and balance that it will be a hard car to beat from a performance standpoint.

Do you still think the Z4 is too heavy or is weight becoming less of an issue thanks to other technologies and higher engine efficiencies? We would love to hear some opinions on this!

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  • bunker

    Until people get to drive the thing, the issue of whether the car is, or will “feel”, too heavy, is pure speculation. Let’ just enjoy the eye candy until someone gets some proper seat time in her.

  • Manzancene

    You have the point!.. But sincerely, I really would like to see a M version of this new Z4 without that folding roof! 😉

  • JonPD

    Great article Michael

    I have always gone for lite weight cars, I think its still one of the most eloquent paths toward performance. For example spend a little time behind the wheel of a Exige or Atom and you will see that ever increasing horsepower isn’t the only path towards performance. While I don’t think these lovely track day cars would ever have direct competition from BMW I would love to see the brand walk the mid ground. Reduce weight while continuing to work on the engines, think this would give the best of both worlds. I am pretty sure BMW already was trying to walk this path, actually for a slightly larger car and a folding roof the weight gain is a little better than I had first imagined.

    For the e89 I don’t instantly throw many cars into the dustbin just because of weight, if I had done this the BMW Mini would have never come home with me. How many people here would argue with a Bugatti Veyron parked in there garage even though it weighs more than a little.

    At the end of the day there is only one way for me to tell if the car weighs to much, that is usually felt from the seat of my pants and the feeling of the wheel in my hands. Think that is the most important review I can have towards buying a car. I really didn’t need a large number of reviews to tell me that the Mini had impressive handling as it was apparent the fist time I got in the car. Guess I would just say we should probably hold up on final decisions until we can lay hands on the car.

  • cct1

    I just read an article with a review of the Z4 on edmund’s inside line, and the final impression is a bit worrisome:

    Inside Line says: The Z4 leaves its largely unsuccessful life as a sports car and tries on a luxurious (and expensive) convertible hardtop for size. — Michael Jordan, Executive Editor

    No mention on the driving mechanics, it doesn’t look like they actually drove it, but this is my great fear–and abandonment of performance for luxury, exactly the opposite of the tack Nissan took with the 370 Z, which is looking better and better every day.

    Maybe the Z2 will be more performance oriented, but with rumors about introducing hybrid technology into the Z2, that’s not looking too promising either.

  • Eliot R.

    You’re always going to be disappointed if you let other people make up your mind for you.

    As for the Z4 weight “issue”, I’ve said since I first found out that it isn’t much of an issue. It’s pretty damn hard to write off a car purely because of a figure. Let’s drive it and then make our conclusions.

  • JonPD

    Hmm not sure about that cct1, after all I seem to remember the Top Gear review of the Z4 M, and it sure did spank a Cayman S around the track. Think this has something to say about its sporting ability. Think Mr. Jordan did a quick review of the car stats and has already made up his mind, this is just one small part why I think most car reviews and reviewers are worthless. They tend to make up their minds before they ever touch a car and by the time they do they already have their minds made up about the car and are just looking for info to justify their preconceived notions.

  • JonPD

    As a matter of fact here is their take on the Z4 M, think Mr. Jordan and Mr. Brauer should talk to each other about if the Z4 ranked a a sport car.

    http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drives/FirstDrives/articleId=115741#4

    “the M Coupe offers the kind of instant response and at-the-limit confidence normally associated with track-ready models like the Lotus Exige.”

    I have checked out the Nissan, only have one problem. Still looks like a Japanese car and with the thrust from Japan lately to bury performance behind walls of technology really leave me cold.

  • cct1

    Eliot, I’m not letting other people make up my mind for me. No one has had a chance to get in the car yet, obviously all of this is conjecture. Are you saying we shouldn’t bother talking about the Z4 until its available? I thought that was what these boards were for…

    I do agree you have to wait to get in the car and drive it for any final analysis, but the bottom line is the previous generation Z4 was a HUGE disappointment for BMW. The M version may have been a better on the track than the Cayman S, but the base versions never struck a chord with the public. So, at least on the face of it, it looks like BMW may have made a more luxurious, less performance oriented Z4, to carve out its own niche rather than compete with the Cayman S directly. Luxurious the Cayman S is not…We’ll have to see how the Z4 performs, but just as you say that Mr. Jordan is too pessimistic, I would counter that Micheal may be just a bit too optimistic. And BMW will need to hit a home run with the Z4; a single, or even a double, won’t do–not after the disappointment of the previous Z4, and not with all the buzz of the 370 Z (originally built to compete with the Cayman, but appearing to be capable of competing with the Cayman S and half the price, can’t wait to see wait Nismo does with it), and the popularity of the Cayman S.

    As for the original weight question, I wonder how much weight would have been saved with a simple permanent aluminum roof, rather than a fold down. I would suspect substantially lighter (and probably more rigid); if BMW was going for a balls out performance M version, that’s what I’d want–not the compromise of a heavy, retractible roof.

    A fully specced M Z4 may get into GT-R territory with regard to pricing (at least MSRP pricing, which for the time being is impossible to get anywhere near); we’ll see….

  • I am a firm believer in driving a car is how you make judgments on performance and the overall car. My reasoning for writing this piece was to show that one can not make a decision on the overall car without driving it.

    If you were to ask people their opinion of the Z8 it would be one of a great car in all aspects.

    This new Z4 has gotten a lot of flack for its weight and luxurious appeal, though it is not overly different than that Z8.

    That was my reasoning along with drumming up some good commentary and opinions. This Z has a lot going for it and also against it.

    BMW needs this car to be a success in many ways but at the same time it will not be a great sales generator; it is more of a way to show that they can make performance cars that are not designed for carrying the family around.

  • JonPD

    I still believe that cutting weight would do nothing but good for any car. I think part of the issue however is its much cheaper to get better performance by adding horsepower while adding lightness tends to be very expensive.

    I think up scaling the Z4 is actually called for, this should allow them a market segment for possibly producing the Z2.

    Still think the new e89 is the car I will pursue but only after seeing what ///M does with it. Best case scenario would be ///M including the new light weight V8 from the M3, add a fixed roof option perferably in carbon, would die to see an option for a carbon boot-lid and hood. Guess what I am dieing to see is a Z4 M CSL. `

  • Nick

    why even compare the Z4 with the Z8? Everyone knows the stylish Z8 was fast in a straight line and but had absolutely horrible handling. If anything, comparing the 2nd gen Z4 with the Z8 just shows how much a sports car the z4 is not.

  • Rainbow135iCVchgo

    Gosh…and I just bought the 135i convertible for my b’day present in Nov…(and taking advantage of the 0.9 percent financing)…

    Now I wonder whether if I should have waited for the ultra goodlooking new Z4 instead…sob sob…perhaps the next B’day next year….

  • Nick: why even compare the Z4 with the Z8? Everyone knows the stylish Z8 was fast in a straight line and but had absolutely horrible handling. If anything, comparing the 2nd gen Z4 with the Z8 just shows how much a sports car the z4 is not.

    Nick,

    I am not sure where you have heard this but for the time period it was built the Z8 was agile and handled very well. The DSC was a bit over protective and caused under-steer but with it off the car was easily balanced. It was the first BMW V8 with a rack and pinion setup and used components from the ///M5 adjusted for the different geometry in the suspension. It was not just a straight line car by any means. BMW would not have allowed it, and did not.

    If you could point me to another view of this cars handling I would love to see it; I have never had the chance to drive it so it intrigues me!

  • Chaz

    The photos sure give the feel of going upmarket. It looks beautiful. Still, my miata weighs 2100 lbs, so 3200-3400 is alot. Maybe we will get something similarly small and tossable when they bring out the Z1 – or whatever they call the roadster based on the 1 series.

  • Joe N

    We have a Z8. I’ve never heard about it’s “absolutely horrible handling”, but it seems to work fine for me.

    And keeping an eye on the weather really isn’t an issue…the car does have a soft top, in addition to the hard top.

  • JonPD

    The Z2 (if it hits production) will be based on the 1 series. Still betting even the Z2 will weigh in on the top side of 3k.

    cct1 just was checking out the 370Z and still have to say its 3250lbs isn’t what I would call a feather weight.

  • Thanks Joe N. for the insight! I have updated the info about the soft top. It must be something special to own one of these beauties. I saw one the other day driving here in NY on my way to work and I followed it for some time before I had to get going…. it is something special even today.

  • cct1

    No, the Z isn’t a featherweight, but the Nismo version will (hopefully) shed some weight, will definitely have an even better suspension and brakes, and definitely be stiffer–and it may be available fairly soon after the 370 Z is available. It isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely intriguing…

  • JonPD

    Having just spent some extended time babysitting a friends Lotus Exige S 240 can say that I would like to stick BMW engineers and managers behind the wheel of this alluring car to start to understand the merits of lightweight performance cars.

    Don’t get me wrong cct1 the 370Z will likely be decent, still think its well behind the new e89. On pure looks both with the interior and exterior the e89 really is rocking my opinion on this car.

  • I’d own a Lotus if a dealer was close by. It’s not an easy car to work on, too many things I’d be hesitant to DIY on, so it’s out. But a supercharged Elise would be nice…Exige would be overkill for me though.

    The M version of the e89 will outperform the 370Z IMHO, but not by a huge amount, and as for bang for the buck…But I think it will take an M version to seriously outperform the Z. Time will tell.

    Please, please BMW, bring us the Z2!!!!

  • Tim

    Considering the majority of the drivers will be everyday people who care little for track days and midnight drag races, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with this car. Its weight reflects the luxurious amenities, and yet its performance belies the weight. Its another success, considering what it will most often be used for, and what will most commonly be expected of it. Not to mention its stunningly beautiful. I’m sure its a thrill to drive.