Winter is just around the corner. That may not seem the best time to drive a convertible, but if you're in a BMW Z4 roadster with a retractable hard-top roof, then any time is the right time.
The Z4 comes in two trims -sDrive30i and sDrive35i. The "s" refers to rear-wheel-drive just like "x" in xDrive refers to BMW's all-wheel-drive.
While both models look similar on the outside, they differ in power and price. The base model starts at $54,200; the top trim is $62,200. Be wary of options though - they can push the price up fast. A premium package ($2,900) includes a heated steering wheel, a wind deflector to control unruly locks, a compass mirror and sound system.
The Z4 is the first BMW roadster with a hard-top. And it's a mechanical masterpiece that's simple to use. Push a button on the centre console and the top drops and disappears seamlessly into the trunk. Another button raises the roof in only about 20 seconds. An automatic latching system means there are no latches, hooks or buttons to fiddle with to lock it in place.
Top up or down, the Z4's lines look equally sharp. With the roof closed it resembles a coupe; roof open, it's a sexy, stylish roadster. Designer Juliane Blasi - the first female to design the exterior of a BMW - created a stunning look with its elongated hood, short overhangs, powerful wheel arches and flowing creases. Even the two roll-over bars in ruthenium-look steel complement the exterior design. The only minor oddity is the long rear antenna on the driver's side - it's somewhat distracting.
Another women, Nadya Arnaout, designed the interior, which is smart yet sophisticated - a clean and uncluttered look.
The instruments are well-positioned and easy to find; large round HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) dials make it a cinch to adjust the temperature top up or down.
A push-button start lets you fire up the engine without a key - the key fob can be hidden deep in your purse; as long as it's nearby the car will start.
Thankfully, there's no iDrive system in my tester so it's easy to change the radio as well. But some buttons could be a little larger - wearing winter gloves might pose a problem when it comes to increasing the volume or changing the radio station.
A tiny electronic parking brake is located behind the gear shifter, which saves space, yet blends nicely into the decor. It's easy to use, but I have to admit that, at first, I was a little reluctant to believe it would do the trick. But it does - just press to activate and pull to release.
The seats are sporty, low to the ground and close to the rear axle so you feel every move on the road. They're comfortable and supportive. The colour of the seats in my tester - coral red extended Kansas leather - is a knockout, but it costs $1,700.
Behind the seats, there's some space for storage, but if you're taller, you'll want the seat pushed further back, which leaves less room for items like a purse or briefcase.
Cargo space is also tight. When the roof is down, trunk space is skimpy - there's only 180 litres, barely enough to squeeze in a few grocery bags. A set of golf clubs won't even fit.
The base sDrive 30i is powered by a 3.0-litre DOHC inline-six, which delivers 255 hp and 220 lb-of torque. The sDrive 35i model gets a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, DOHC, inline-six with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.
The six-speed manual transmission has nice short throws for quick, spirited gear changes. A hill holder also keeps the car from rolling back on steep inclines. A seven-speed double clutch is available for $1,950.
The ride and handling is superb on both models. But the 35i is quicker off the line - it does 0-100 km in only 5.3 seconds; the 30i can perform the same feat in 5.9 seconds.
This rear-wheel-drive roadster hugs the road with precision and accuracy. The steering is tight; the roadster agile, dynamic and fun to drive.
A button on the centre console lets you switch from normal to sport mode. It significantly changes the drive - the engine is more responsive and the steering tauter. Once you've selected it, you'll never go back to normal mode.
While the 35i is more powerful, it's also slightly thirstier than the 30i. The 35i averages 11.4 L/100 km city/7.7 highway; the 30i rates 11.2 city/7 highway. Both take premium fuel.
The Z4 is well-insulated from wind and road noise. When the roof is closed, the cabin is whisper quiet. But you can still hear the faint deep growl of the exhaust note, which is pleasing to the ears.
Standard features include dynamic stability control, head-thorax airbags, cruise control, heated front seats, a USB audio integration with iPod Y-cable and run-flat tires with reinforced sidewalls so you can drive up to 250 km with a puncture.
There's no spare tire, which reduces the weight and frees up trunk space. A tire-pressure indicator warns you of a drop in pressure.
Adaptive headlights follow the curves and bends in the road to give you a better view ahead.
Even though winter is around the corner, you can still enjoy the year-round drivability of a Z4. Just invest in a good set of snow tires to complete the ride.
2010 BMW Z4 sDRIVE35i
Type: Two-door, two-passenger roadster
Base Price: $62,200; as tested, $69,100
Engine: 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, inline-six
Horsepower/Torque: 300 hp/300 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/7.7 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Boxster, Audi TT, Cadillac XLR, Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class