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E36 /7 Z3 (1996-2002)
E36/7 Z3 roadster and coupe talk with our gurus here.

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  #1  
Old 06-23-2003, 07:45 AM
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Josh (PA) Josh (PA) is offline
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Thumbs up z4 3.0 smg review

I got my first chance to drive a z4 on Sunday. It was a 3.0 SMG model, not sure of the options it had (Susan Komen Car). Getting in, my first impression was of the increased roominess over the Z3. My wife and I looked at a z3 as an option before we bought our '99m3c last year, but as soon as she got into one with the top up, she felt clausterphobic and that was the end of that. The z4 is comfortable inside with plenty of head and leg room to not be a problem.

SMG:
Started it up, turned on the sport button, clicked it into first and headed out. The car has a great exhaust note, nice and throaty without being intrusive. Once we got out of the parking lot, I got to play with SMG for a while. The first thing I was surprised by is how Not smooth 1 - 2 and 2-3 upshifts are with your foot floored on the accelerator. It's a transmission you need to learn to drive smoothly, just like any other manual transmission I guess. When upshifting, you need to lift off the gas and feather it back in as the clutch is re-engaging to keep the shifts smooth. Using this method made the shift almost unnoticeable, but definitely slowed down the shifting speed as well. After 1/2 hour of driving I felt (perhaps incorrectly) I can upshift just as fast as SMG and a whole lot smoother in my m3.

Downshifts on the other hand are phenomenal. I found myself downshifting from 4 -3 or 3-2 whenever slow traffic was infront of me just for the pure fun of it. The revmatching throttle blip program is excellent. Score 1 for SMG over regular manuals here. No way could I downshift as quickly smoothly and repeatably as this thing, and I don't think I could have as much fun doing it with a regular manual either.

After the drive a friend of mine and I spent a while discussing whether or not we'd opt for a clutchless manual if the option was available. I'm still not sure, personally. I see the value of SMG both for pure track use (nailing downshifts everytime, and the protection of not screwing up and downshifting to the wrong gear blowing an engine) and as a commuter car (stuck in traffic, shove it to D (which worked pretty well actually) and forget about it), but I think I'd stick with a regular manual for my life. Most of the fun times in my car are on back roads pushing it to about 80% of it's limit where it's fun to row through the gears, but not imperative to do it flawlessly everytime. My commute is long but not usually pure stop and go, so again, I enjoy shifting back and forth from 3 -4 -5 and I'm not spending the whole time slipping the clutch inching along in 1st. If my life was different, SMG was good enough to make it a very viable option, but not for now.


Driving impressions:
Overall I was very impressed with the Z4. I enjoyed driving it more than the boxsters I've driven. I found the steering to be slightly lighter than the boxsters (but not too light by any means) and more communicative. The chassis is extremely rigid, I didn't notice any cowl shake, or other convertible quibbles. It handled precisely, was easy to line up in a corner and adjust with the throttle, and did a better job of letting you know how much more grip you had left than the boxster does. The ride was firm, and very well controlled without being harsh. All in all it was a blast.

Interior:
Big thumbs down here. This is the first BMW interior I've been in that screams form over function and it really bothered me thinking that this is the direction BMW is going. Things that would have never made it into older BMWs abound here. Example: The radio display is angled up (towards the sky) which causes it to COMPLETELY wash out and be illegible with the top down. It was useless. and really frustrating. In order to change stations, you had to cup your hand over the display to shield the sun, lean over to see it and then manipulate the buttons. I guess long gone are the days of the e36 interior with everything a fingers reach away from the steering wheel. The hazzard button was in the parking brake recess causing you to turn it on everytime you grabbed the parking brake. The glove box was down by the passengers shins ( I assume to not break up the consistency of the flat panel dash). When opened the edge caught me in the shins leaving a nice little bruise.

The seats were comfortable, but the steering wheel wasn't too well formed for my hands, and the SMG buttons were too small. If you shuffle steer and you wanted to shift coming out of a corner, there's a good chance you wouldn't be able to find the button. On the bright side, the Z4 has the best convertible top I've ever seen. Push the button and you can put it up or down at a stop sign without pissing off any other drivers. It stows very cleanly (without a cover) and has a heated glass rear window. Very well designed!

The interior issues really bothered me, I think because BMW is getting back to building some car platforms that are phenomenal drivers for their market (z4, e65, 330zhp, supposedly the e60), but they're letting style dictate the interior and exterior of the car over function, which in their cars of old was always a big no-no. That was one of my favorite things about my first e36, how well laid out the controls were for the driver, everything was such an easy reach away and so intuitive. That seems to be gone now and it's a shame

Last edited by Josh (PA); 06-23-2003 at 07:51 AM.
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  #2  
Old 06-23-2003, 08:31 AM
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Nice review Josh.
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  #3  
Old 06-23-2003, 11:45 AM
GScott GScott is offline
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Overall a nice review but there are some things I disagree with. I've had my Z4 3.0/SMG since Friday and have driven it about 200 miles since then.

The radio. I drove all my miles this weekend in full sun with the top down and had no problem reading the radio. Was it as bright as the computer display? No, but to call it completely unreadable contradicts my experience so far.

Parking brake layout. I have engaged my parking brake several dozen times and haven't come close to the hazards button. Perhaps I'm doing it differently but for me it hasn't been a problem.

I think the glovebox is useless but the central storage compartment is large enough that I will never use the glovebox for anything. Incidentally, the reason the glovebox is so small and placed in that location is because of the knee airbag/restraint system that was placed there.

Overall I like the interior. I like the "clean" look of the console. My only complaint on the interior is the lack of Natural Brown as an option. I would also like BMW to fix the central storage locking problem.

Here are some quick thoughts from this weekend's driving. Keep in mind my previous car was a 2000 328ci/5spd.

The Z4 is much more fun to drive than the 328. I love being able to thrown it into a corner like a go cart. I also like the engine/exhaust noise. It adds to the sportiness of the car.

SMG Impressions
I was a little nervous about getting the SMG because I didn't have the chance to test drive it. All I can say is WOW! It is so much fun to drive. I have driven manual cars since I was 16 and the SMG is just plain fun to drive. While I do miss the clutch/shift of a manual the downshifts in the SMG more than make up for it. Anyone who test drives a SMG car make sure you do it in Sport mode. There is a significant difference in the way the SMG behaves. It shifts much slower in the non-sport mode. It also seems to be learning my driving style. Initially it seemed to be slow downshifting when I was coming to a stop. I compensated by downshifting myself and now it seems the SMG downshifts quicker on its own. I haven't gotten smooth shifts from 1-2 yet but I'm confident it is just a matter of learning the SMG. Shifts into all other gear are as smooth as the 5spd in my 328.

I do have a few minor gripes on the SMG that I hope BMW can address with a software update. First of all, the annoying lag when shifting from R to 1st. There is about a 1-2 second lag before 1st gear enages. I have seen many people complain about this so hopefully BMW can do something. My only other gripe is a slight hesitation when starting the car. There seems to be a split second hesitation when starting as the SMG makes sure it is in N.

Overall I am enjoying the SMG. I did notice when driving my fiance's 325ci Saturday night that I miss the normal manual tranny. Do I miss it enough to drop the SMG on my next BMW?
Right now it is too early to tell.

At the risk of being flamed, I never really cared for the Z3 and was originally looking at a 3 series convertible. The Z4 seems to have more room than the Z3 and I prefer the new style. For all those who criticize the Z4 you owe it to yourselves to see it in person. The 2D pictures don't do it justice. If you still don't like the style that's okay. I think it is unfair to judge its appearance based solely on web or magazine photos.

One thing I also like about the Z4 is the availability of the "luxury" options. Things like power seat memory (don't remember if this was available on the Z3), automatic climate control (important to me since this is my daily driver), and the rain sensing wipers.

Overall I'm really impressed with the Z4. It is a blast to drive and brings a smile to my face everytime I drive it.
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  #4  
Old 06-23-2003, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by GScott
Overall a nice review but there are some things I disagree with. I've had my Z4 3.0/SMG since Friday and have driven it about 200 miles since then.

The radio. I drove all my miles this weekend in full sun with the top down and had no problem reading the radio. Was it as bright as the computer display? No, but to call it completely unreadable contradicts my experience so far.

Parking brake layout. I have engaged my parking brake several dozen times and haven't come close to the hazards button. Perhaps I'm doing it differently but for me it hasn't been a problem.

I think the glovebox is useless but the central storage compartment is large enough that I will never use the glovebox for anything. Incidentally, the reason the glovebox is so small and placed in that location is because of the knee airbag/restraint system that was placed there.

Overall I like the interior. I like the "clean" look of the console. My only complaint on the interior is the lack of Natural Brown as an option. I would also like BMW to fix the central storage locking problem.

Here are some quick thoughts from this weekend's driving. Keep in mind my previous car was a 2000 328ci/5spd.

The Z4 is much more fun to drive than the 328. I love being able to thrown it into a corner like a go cart. I also like the engine/exhaust noise. It adds to the sportiness of the car.

SMG Impressions
I was a little nervous about getting the SMG because I didn't have the chance to test drive it. All I can say is WOW! It is so much fun to drive. I have driven manual cars since I was 16 and the SMG is just plain fun to drive. While I do miss the clutch/shift of a manual the downshifts in the SMG more than make up for it. Anyone who test drives a SMG car make sure you do it in Sport mode. There is a significant difference in the way the SMG behaves. It shifts much slower in the non-sport mode. It also seems to be learning my driving style. Initially it seemed to be slow downshifting when I was coming to a stop. I compensated by downshifting myself and now it seems the SMG downshifts quicker on its own. I haven't gotten smooth shifts from 1-2 yet but I'm confident it is just a matter of learning the SMG. Shifts into all other gear are as smooth as the 5spd in my 328.

I do have a few minor gripes on the SMG that I hope BMW can address with a software update. First of all, the annoying lag when shifting from R to 1st. There is about a 1-2 second lag before 1st gear enages. I have seen many people complain about this so hopefully BMW can do something. My only other gripe is a slight hesitation when starting the car. There seems to be a split second hesitation when starting as the SMG makes sure it is in N.

Overall I am enjoying the SMG. I did notice when driving my fiance's 325ci Saturday night that I miss the normal manual tranny. Do I miss it enough to drop the SMG on my next BMW?
Right now it is too early to tell.

At the risk of being flamed, I never really cared for the Z3 and was originally looking at a 3 series convertible. The Z4 seems to have more room than the Z3 and I prefer the new style. For all those who criticize the Z4 you owe it to yourselves to see it in person. The 2D pictures don't do it justice. If you still don't like the style that's okay. I think it is unfair to judge its appearance based solely on web or magazine photos.

One thing I also like about the Z4 is the availability of the "luxury" options. Things like power seat memory (don't remember if this was available on the Z3), automatic climate control (important to me since this is my daily driver), and the rain sensing wipers.

Overall I'm really impressed with the Z4. It is a blast to drive and brings a smile to my face everytime I drive it.
Lucky bastard. I can't wait.
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  #5  
Old 06-23-2003, 12:18 PM
LeucX3 LeucX3 is offline
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Originally posted by Mr. Sparkle
Lucky bastard. I can't wait.
What's the ETA on your Z4?
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Old 06-23-2003, 01:10 PM
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Originally posted by Leuc330Ci
What's the ETA on your Z4?
I should be picking it up this Saturday.
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  #7  
Old 06-23-2003, 02:38 PM
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Josh (PA) Josh (PA) is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by GScott
Overall a nice review but there are some things I disagree with. I've had my Z4 3.0/SMG since Friday and have driven it about 200 miles since then.

The radio. I drove all my miles this weekend in full sun with the top down and had no problem reading the radio. Was it as bright as the computer display? No, but to call it completely unreadable contradicts my experience so far.
*SNIP*
Perhaps there was a problem with the one I drove (and I had the lights on but that shouldn't matter), but I couldn't read it at all with the top down. It was marginally better with the top up
Quote:

I do have a few minor gripes on the SMG that I hope BMW can address with a software update. First of all, the annoying lag when shifting from R to 1st. There is about a 1-2 second lag before 1st gear enages. I have seen many people complain about this so hopefully BMW can do something. My only other gripe is a slight hesitation when starting the car. There seems to be a split second hesitation when starting as the SMG makes sure it is in N.

*SNIP*
I noticed this too. It took long enough that I shoved it toward drive a second time thinking maybe I did something wrong the first time.

Quote:

At the risk of being flamed, I never really cared for the Z3 and was originally looking at a 3 series convertible. The Z4 seems to have more room than the Z3 and I prefer the new style. For all those who criticize the Z4 you owe it to yourselves to see it in person. The 2D pictures don't do it justice. If you still don't like the style that's okay. I think it is unfair to judge its appearance based solely on web or magazine photos.

*SNIP*
I agree that the z4 looks better in person and good in certain colors in my opinion. I will also say that I have never been in a car that got as many gawking stairs, points followers, and questions as this car. It DEFINITELY is attention getting.
Quote:

Overall I'm really impressed with the Z4. It is a blast to drive and brings a smile to my face everytime I drive it.
I agree, it was a lot more fun than the z3 or the 330cic, and put a bunch of smiles on my face as well. It impressed me more than I expected, and on my way in this morning, I caught myself pushing my steering wheel hoping to blip the engine and perform a flawless downshift.
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Old 06-23-2003, 03:08 PM
LeucX3 LeucX3 is offline
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Originally posted by Mr. Sparkle
I should be picking it up this Saturday.
And since you live 5, maybe 10 minutes away, when do i get a ride?
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Old 06-23-2003, 03:14 PM
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Originally posted by Leuc330Ci
And since you live 5, maybe 10 minutes away, when do i get a ride?
I need to pick up the car first.
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Old 06-23-2003, 06:18 PM
GScott GScott is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Josh (PA)

I caught myself pushing my steering wheel hoping to blip the engine and perform a flawless downshift.
I know what you mean. I find myself downshifting more now. With my 328 I would simply put it in N while coming to a stop. Now I downshift on purpose just to hear it
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Old 06-23-2003, 11:13 PM
Stuka Stuka is offline
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SMG not smooth issue

Smooth shifting is NOT fast. The reason why SMG is VERY harsh on full throttle shifting is because the computer does the following:

1. Clutch out.
2. Cuts gas.
3. Clutch in.
4. Full throttle.

In 80ms in the M3. It is fast, and it is harsh. THe computer does the lift in much less time than a human can.

You are correct, if you lift during 2. It will length the time for 3 and 4, giving you the impression that the car is shifting smoothly.

Maybe the Z4 SMG is slower on the upshift than the M3. But there is no human being that can do 8000rpm full throttle up shift in 80ms. No way, no how.

Andy
02 M3 CB/Cloth SMG
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Old 04-01-2006, 07:34 PM
BayAreaBMWFan BayAreaBMWFan is offline
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Blast from the past.
But a very nice review. I have been driving a Z4 SMG 3.0 for about 19 months now and it is awesome. I hate to let it go due to baby issues.
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Old 04-24-2006, 07:58 AM
guenelin guenelin is offline
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"baby issues" great terminology!
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  #14  
Old 04-25-2006, 03:44 PM
jimsled jimsled is offline
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OK... so I was corrected by our buds in the E46 M3 category for mistakenly asking this question in reference to my SMG. Apparently they are using SMG II and I'm not in their league. LOL! Just kidding.

Has anyone ever experienced the SMG NOT going down to 1st when you've come to a stop? I'll be driving in stop and go traffic and come to a complete stop while the transmission stays in 2nd. I can get rolling again in 2nd when traffic moves but this seems wrong to me. Is it due to the program adapting to my driving style in the daily rush hour traffic?
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  #15  
Old 04-25-2006, 07:07 PM
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viper501 viper501 is offline
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I wouldn't be too concerned about the second gear starts, as long as you aren't under load, e.g. uphill or pulling something, you should be fine.

And the e46 guys are totally right. There is a *world* of difference between the Z4 SMG and the M3 SMG. Don't ever drive the M3 SMG or you'll realize how badly BMW did on the Z4 SMG programming. I found the e46 SMG to be a dream with great shifting and not one complaint from me. The Z4, on the other hand, convinced me not to even consider buying one.
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