Driven: 2009 BMW Z4 sDrive 30i

There’s little doubt the current economic crisis has everyone carefully studying their financial situation.

There’s little doubt the current economic crisis has everyone carefully studying their financial situation. U.S. consumers, known for their profligate spending, are cutting their debt like crazy—down 13.4% so far this year—while savings rates are jumping to unprecedented levels (hovering around 4.2% from zero a year ago). Does this indicate that Americans are actually becoming more practical? That the days of impulse buying are over?

I sure hope not, because if they are then a lot of people will be missing out on a perfectly impractical car that’s a heck of a lot of fun—the 2009 BMW Z4. Yes, it doesn’t have a back seat, and there’s not enough room for a set of golf clubs in the trunk, but who cares? When you put the hardtop down and push the accelerator to the floor, cutting the wheel into a tight curve, you realize why it’s important to be impractical sometimes.

Whereas the previous generation Z4 took BMW’s design ethos of mixing convex and concave surfaces to the extreme, this latest generation Z4 looks more muscular and aggressive. There’s even a bit of heritage tucked into the sheet metal as you can see some cues from the historic 507 roadster from the 1950s. The crisp cut lines that flow from the tail lamps over the rear wheel and from the tip of the headlight to the end of the door create a sense of strength, while the front fascia is more upright and the furrowed brow headlamps give the car a cheeky character. The best part of the exterior, however, is the folding hardtop, which is now standard on every Z4. The previous roadster model’s soft top looked somewhat chincy and disrupted the overall flow of the design. Now the car looks cohesive.

Inside the car remains typical BMW, which is not a good thing in my book. The audio system looks like it’s been in existence for at least a decade and ergonomics were a complete afterthought—the buttons are small, the display unreadable. The window switches felt cheap and the climate control system seemed to suffer from the Goldilocks syndrome: too cold or too hot, never just right.

When it came to handling, the Z4 surpassed all expectations. This car loves to be played with and occasionally teases its driver begging to be pushed. Handling is reminiscent of the first-generation MINI, which behaved like a slot car on the open road. Turn the Z4 and it follows with ease, especially on tight corners—although I would have liked a little more feedback through the steering wheel. On the power band, the base 3-liter inline 6’s 255 hp proved to be more than up to the task of keeping the thrills coming—yes, sometimes the bigger engine isn’t necessarily better.

BMW has managed to make the Z4 even more fun and irresponsible than its predecessor. And in a world where we need to stop worrying and start living, it’s needed.

2009 BMW Z4 sDrive30i

Engine:  3-liter dual overhead cam inline 6-cyl.

Horsepower:  255 @ 6,600 rpm

Torque:  220 lb-ft @ 2,600 rpm

Length:   166.9 in.

Wheelbase:   98.3 in.

Width:   70.5 in.

Height:   50.8 in.

Curb weight: 3,241 lb.

Price as Driven: $49,375

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[Photo source: BMW]