BMW Z4 Buyer's Guide (2003-2008 E85 & E86)

BMW Z4 Buyer's Guide (2003-2008 E85 & E86)

2003-2008 BMW Z4 Buyer's Guide (E85 and E86 Generation)

This guide will cover all the different models and major options available in the US from this generation, the "facelift" in 2006, some of the common problems to look out for, and a section with our top picks at the end. 

Thinking about buying a Z4 or just interested in learning more? 

Continue reading to make sure you are equipped with the knowledge to make the best possible purchase decision. 

The Z4 is the successor to the popular Z3 that BMW produced for the 1996-2002 model years. It was a rear wheel drive sports car, with a variety of inline 6 cylinder engines ranging from 184hp all the way up to 330hp. E85 is the chassis designation from BMW for the convertible Z4 (2003-2008) and the M-Roadster (2006-2008). E86 is the chassis designation for the Z4 Coupe and M-Coupe, both only available from 2006-2008. Below is a list of the different submodels available during this generation:



Engine: 2.5L inline 6 cylinder with 184HP. M54B25 engine code

Transmission: 5 speed manual or 5 speed Steptronic automatic (can be manually shifted via the shift lever)

Wheels: 16" wheels standard, 17" wheels with optional Sport package


Engine: 3.0L inline 6 cylinder with 225HP. M54B30 engine code

Transmission: 6 speed Manual , 5 speed Steptronic Automatic, or 6 speed SMG (sequential manual gearbox)

Wheels: 17" wheels standard, 18" wheels with optional Sport package



Engine: 3.0L inline 6 cylinder with 215HP, N52B30 engine code

Transmission: 6 speed manual or 6 speed Steptronic automatic (can be manually shifted with steering wheel mounted paddles) 

Wheels: 17" wheels standard, with a couple other 17" styles available

3.0si -  Available in both Roadster and Coupe form:

Engine: 3.0L inline 6 cylinder with 255HP, same N52B30 engine code as the 3.0i, but with a substantial bump in power due to 3 stage intake manifold and revised ECU tuning. 

Transmission: 6 speed manual or 6 speed Steptronic automatic (can be manually shifted with steering wheel mounted paddles) 

Wheels: 17" wheels standard, 18" two-piece Style 108 wheels optional

M Roadster and M Coupe:

Engine: 3.2L inline 6 cylinder with 330HP, S54 engine with individual throttle bodies borrowed from the E46 M3

Transmission: 6 speed manual only

Wheels: 18x8.0 Front and 18x9.0 rear M Double Spoke wheels (style 224M)

But wait, there's more...

In case the choices between body styles, engines and transmissions weren't enough, BMW also made plenty of room for more options. A lot of these were grouped into popular packages like the Sport Package and Premium Package, but the majority were available on their own. A wide assortment of exterior colors were available throughout the years, along with "M" only colors available exclusively on the 2006-2008 M Coupe and M Roadster. For a list and picture reference of colors, we have a link at the bottom of this guide. 

Here are the more popular options and packages that may sway your decision to buy that one particular car over another:

Manual Soft Top / Power Operated Soft Top: There aren't many manual soft top Z4's in the US, but they were available. Cons are more effort, but pros are a significant reduction of possible electronic / hydraulic issues arising. 

Removable Hardtop: Available as a dealer option was a factory removable hardtop for convertible models. These hardtops allow you to retain the convertible top in place, so you can leave your hardtop at home on a sunny day, but still have a functioning top for weather or security purposes. 

Headlights: Halogen and Xenon headlights were available throughout all years. Earlier cars also had the option of amber or clear marker lights in the headlight lenses. 

Stereo: AM/FM/CD standard, options included a Carver upgrade with more power, upgraded speaker and 2 subwoofers. Also optional was a dash-mounted Navigation system. 

Seats: Z4's started out with 6 way manually adjustable sport seats, with available upgrades to 8 way power seats, 3 way memory functions, heated seat elements, and our favorite: heavily bolstered M-Sport seats (standard on M Coupe and M Roadster). 

Also optional on the seats were the upholstery and colors, they ranged from standard "leatherette", to "Active Sport" cloth and leather, "High Performance" leather, and "Extended High Performance" leather. Popular upholstery colors included Black, Montego Blue/Black, Beige and Dream Red. 

*for more information on specific year / package / upholstery / color availability see the link to factory Z4 brochures at the bottom of the page. 

Interior Trim: Popular interior trim options included "Graphite Finish", "Brushed Light Aluminum", "Light Poplar Grain Wood" and "Dark Poplar Grain Wood"

Sport Package: Available on all non-M models, it consisted of:

  • Sport Button (Dynamic Driving Control). Sharpens throttle response, decreases steering assist, higher RPM gear shifts with automatic transmission.
  • Upgraded wheels 
  • Sport Suspension 

Premium Package: Consisted of:

  • Power Softtop
  • 8 way power seats with 3 way driver's seat memory
  • Auto dimming exterior and rearview mirrors
  • Automatic climate control
  • On-board computer, 4 function
  • Elastic nets on passenger side center tunnel and backs of both seats

So what exactly changed in with the "facelift" in 2006?

Typical of just about every model of car in the modern era, there was a mid-cycle refresh for the 2006 model year Z4. The most significant changes were the availability of the Coupe body style, and the addition of the "M" models.

Other changes included:

  • Base model was upgraded from the "2.5i" designation to the "3.0i"
  • Mid-level model was now the 3.0si, available in both Roadster and Coupe form
  • 3.0i and 3.0si got the new "N52" 3.0 liter engine
  • All Manual and Auto transmissions were upgraded to 6 forward gears
  • Headlights, taillights, front bumper, foglights and side marker lights

What should I look for when looking at a used Z4?

When buying a used BMW we definitely recommend getting a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) at your local BMW dealer or a reputable independent repair shop that specializes in BMW's. The cost of these inspections can range from $200-500 depending on the location, specific shop and thoroughness of inspection. While it may seem a bit steep in relation to the value of the car, it can save you thousands in short term repairs and / or leverage in negotiations. Before you get to the step of paying money to inspect a car that you haven't yet purchased, we recommend you start with checking these common areas of failure:

  • Automatic transmission: The automatic transmissions in 2003-2005 Z4's were prone to failure, even at relatively low mileage. If the transmission feels very lazy to shift, shifts hard, or feels like its slipping, walk away from that particular Z4. 
  • Cooling system: As with any used BMW, take a close look at the engine cooling system. It is comprised of many plastic parts from the factory, which are prone to fail. Make sure you drive the car for an extended period of time to verify that it does not overheat. If the car doesn't overheat but hasn't had a cooling system overhaul in the past, it's not a deal breaker, but budget some money for future preventative maintenance in this area. If the car you're test driving is overheating or shows signs of previous overheating, walk away.
  • Convertible top components: This is where many "low price" Z4's can turn into a much more expensive Z4. In addition to the physical condition of the soft top, there are many more hidden components that, if defective, can get expensive to fix. These include the main hydraulic pump / motor, the lifting cylinders (hydraulic hinges), top locking motor, cables and latches. Used replacement parts can be used to remedy top issues, but labor is still expensive at a shop. Issues here are not a total deal breaker, but a hefty drop in price may be necessary.
  • Electric power steering motor: On non-M models, there is an electric power steering motor mounted on the steering column that can go bad, causing uneven steering effort, or a "sticking" feeling. There is much speculation as to which year a revised one was introduced, but 2006+ models are usually a safe bet. 
  • Bent wheels: The 18" wheels offered on Z4's came with low profile tires, and in most cases, stiff run-flat tires, leaving the wheels vulnerable to bends due to large potholes or curb impacts. If you feel vibrations coming from the wheels, have these checked to be on the safe side. 

These are the most common issues we've found over the years with this generation of Z4, which we feel are critical when looking at a used example. Aside than those items, we'd consider these cars a pretty solid value at their current used prices. Buying a well maintained example and keeping up with regular and preventative maintenance will ensure many years of driving pleasure. 

So, which one should I buy? 

Ultimate Value: 2003-2005 with a manual transmission. There are still many well kept examples with low miles out there, so a good comprehensive search should yield some good, well priced candidates. A 3.0i model would be preferred for additional power and standard features. 

Have to have an Automatic: 2006-2008 Z4. The 2006 refresh brought with it an improved 6 speed Steptronic Automatic transmission that has proven to be more reliable.

Most fun on a reasonable budget: 2006-2008 3.0si Roadster. Optional 18" two piece "Style 108" wheels and the available M-Sport seats would be high on our list of options to look for in one of these. 

Most underrated: 2006-2008 3.0si Coupe. Overshadowed by its M Coupe sibling, the 3.0si is still a very fun and capable Z4, at a much more reasonable price point than an equivalent M version.

Most likely to go up in value: 2006-2008 M Coupe. Just like the previous generation Z3 based M Coupe, we see these appreciating in value over the long term. Is it a sure thing? No, but would you really be losing either way? ;)

Quick Links: 

E85 / E86 BMW Z4 Factory Brochures

Our selection of quality used Z4 Parts

We hope you've found some value in this Buyer's Guide, that helps with your purchasing process with your BMW Z4. Feel free to share this article via the quick links provided below, or via the URL. 

Nov 23rd 2018 Esteban R

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