by Karl Furlong
The BMW Z4 delivers everything you'd expect of that famous roundel on its nose. As a luxury brand with a sporting bent, the Z4 admirably adheres to the BMW brief. It's posh enough inside to match rivals like the Audi TT and defunct Mercedes-Benz SLC, yet is sufficiently dynamically gifted so that a potential Porsche 718 Boxster customer might give it a second look. This doesn't make it a Jack of all trades and master of none, though - not when the range is topped by that exceptional 382-horsepower 3.0-liter turbo inline-six that can slingshot the M40i model to 60 mph in below four seconds. On the downside, it looks a bit polarizing, which is more of an issue in this corner of the market than most, and the Z4's steering feel falls far short of its Boxster rival. Still, the Z4 is a quick, lively, and upscale roadster that BMW fans will love, even if it hasn't revolutionized the segment.
Although mechanically unchanged, BMW has made numerous small changes to the BMW Z4's standard equipment and optional packages. For 2021, the BMW Z4 gets new standard equipment like SiriusXM with 360L and a one-year all-access subscription, along with Android Auto integration. Pricing on some packages has been changed, such as the Driving Assistance Package (+$200 relative to 2020, now including park distance control), the M Sport Package on the sDrive30i ($300 less), and the Executive Package ($300 less on the sDrive30i but $1,400 more on the M40i). Wireless charging and a Wi-Fi hotspot are among the additions to the Exec Pack. There are a few changes regarding standalone options, too, with adaptive M suspension removed for the base model, but parking assistant being a new addition for the M40i.
While not lacking in road presence, the latest Z4 Roadster's shape can take some time to get used to. The traditional kidney grille is unusually wide and conjures up images of the retro BMW Z8. It is more palatable than the severely elongated grille found on the latest 4 Series Coupe, that's for sure. The rear three-quarter view is perhaps the Z4's most attractive aspect, with a short rump and well-integrated taillights. The base model rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and features Satin Aluminum exterior trim, LED headlights, and LED daytime running lights. Both versions feature a black soft-top roof, but the M40i adds Shadowline exterior trim, an aerodynamic kit, and 18-inch M double-spoke wheels. Both models have dual-exhaust outlets, but these are more aggressively styled on the M40i along with the standard M Sport kit.
Official dimensions indicate that the BMW Z4 is shorter but wider than the Porsche 718 Boxster. The length works out to just 170.7 inches, concealing a 97.2-inch wheelbase. With the mirrors extended, the Z4 has a width of 79.7 inches, dropping to 73.4 inches, excluding the mirrors. The height of the little roadster is 51.4 inches. The M40i shares these dimensions but stands marginally shorter with a height of 51.3 inches. This version is the heaviest with a curb weight of 3,457 pounds, while the four-cylinder sDrive30i is a more lithe 3,287 lbs. That being said, the Z4 is quite a bit heavier than the Boxster.
The base Z4 is offered in a choice of seven colors, with only Alpine White being included without an extra charge. A range of six metallics each go for $550 and includes Black Sapphire, Glacier Silver, Mineral White, Mediterranean Blue, Misano Blue, and San Francisco Red. While we love the Misano Blue, it requires adding the M Sport package for an additional $2,650. The Z4 M40i offers a slightly different color palette, with Mineral White and Mediterranean Blue falling away, but it gets the additional choice of the awesome Frozen Grey II Metallic, although this will add $3,600 to your bill.
A classic roadster, the Z4 sports an engine mounted in front beneath a long hood, with power going to the rear axle exclusively. The sDrive30i's 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine has a surprisingly fruity exhaust note, considering it is lacking the optimum number of cylinders. With 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque on tap, it's far from lazy. It'll launch from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds before reaching a limited top speed of 155 mph. The sDrive M40i is a beast, though, with its 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six generating 382 hp and 368 lb-ft. It has the same limited top speed as the sDrive30i but takes just 3.9 seconds to hurtle to 60 mph. That's slightly better performance than the Boxster S, and, considering that the M40i comes in at a lower price than this four-cylinder Porsche, it offers a nicer engine for less money. However, there are no all-wheel drive or manual configurations available. If AWD propulsion is a necessity, consider the Audi TT Roadster.
As we found in our 2020 BMW Z4 review, both engine choices are up to the job of moving the compact drop-top's body around with vigor while each has a character of its own. The base sDrive30i's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque and, like both Z4 derivatives, employs an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and launch control. The sDrive M40i utilizes the bigger 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with a muscular 382 hp and 368 lb-ft. This version also ships with an M sport differential.
The base engine has lots of torque, so it pulls strongly from low down in the rev range, and it sounds better than the four-cylinder engines in cheaper versions of the Porsche Boxster. It pairs fantastically well with the eight-speed gearbox, which rifles through its ratios with a speed and smoothness that has made this transmission one of the industry's best. The M40i sounds even better, and passing power is exceptional. In Comfort mode, the Z4 can be enjoyed at more sedate speeds, too.
The previous-gen Z4 had gone a bit soft, but the latest version has far superior handling and body control. Quick steering endows the Z4 with sprightly reactions when changing direction, and there is loads of lateral grip. It helps that the Z4 has an ideal 50:50 weight distribution. Switch over to Sport Mode, and it is an absorbing roadster to drive quickly. It never quite approaches the delicacy of the Porsche Boxster, though, and not much is communicated through the steering wheel, which is more disappointing here than in a 5 Series. Despite that lighter soft-top roof, it feels a bit heavier than is ideal for a truly agile experience, but a less demanding test drive is unlikely to disappoint.
On the highway, the Z4 impresses with its reassuring straight-line stability. While the ride is taut, the suspension deals with road scars pretty well. It's surprisingly refined in the cabin, too, and that applies to whether the roof is up or down, which is saying a lot for a convertible. Braking power is top-notch even if smoothly bringing the Z4 to a stop at low speeds isn't always easy, with the system prone to grabbiness. Overall, the Z4 is easy to live with about town and enjoyable when the speeds rise and the road clears.
Considering its excellent acceleration, the Z4's engines won't make you regret your purchasing decision at the pumps. It measures up well with competitors in this area. The sDrive30i returns EPA estimates of 25/32/28 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, which is easily better than a base Porsche Boxster. Moving up to the M40i will see those numbers dip to a still-respectable 22/30/25 mpg, although this depends on how heavy your right foot is. With a 13.7-gallon gas tank, the base Z4 has a combined cruising range of approximately 383 miles, dropping to 342 miles for the six-cylinder version.
The BMW Z4 Roadster's cabin can come across as a bit demure when finished in darker colors, but otherwise, there is little to fault. Both the driver and passenger have enough space, the controls are logically arranged, and materials are excellent, such as the soft-touch SensaTec-trimmed dashboard. Both versions ship with a digital instrument cluster, power-adjustable sport seats with a driver's memory system, a wind deflector, and dual-zone automatic climate control. On the safety side of things, there is frontal collision warning, a fatigue/focus alert function, and automatic high beams. There are some tasteful options to brighten up the dark cabin, such as Vernasca leather in Magma Red or Cognac.
A dedicated two-seat roadster, the BMW Z4 features well-bolstered sport seats with a wide range of power-adjustability. The headroom is good, and even taller occupants will be impressed with how far back the seat can go. A low driving position is classic roadster and goes some way to making this feel like a car that begs to be driven hard. As it's low to the ground, getting out of the Z4 requires a bit more effort than in a normal sedan, but that's nothing unsurprising for the segment. It's quite some feat to design a cockpit that feels snug yet isn't short of space, and BMW has achieved exactly this with the Z4.
On the entry-level Z4, the seats and dashboard are covered in classy black SensaTec upholstery, and there are high-gloss black trim inlays. The sporty three-spoke steering wheel is leather-wrapped. Vernasca leather upholstery is optionally available in colors like Black, Magma Red, Ivory White, Black Alcantara Black with Blue contrast stitching, and Cognac. This upgrade will cost at least $2,850 as it's bundled together with the Convenience Package. The Black Alcantara Black upgrade adds a total of $4,150 to the price as it requires the M Sport Package, too. Aluminum Tetragon or a mesh-effect Aluminum are two additional trim options, but the former requires the M Sport Package.
Upgrading to Vernasca leather on the M40i costs between $1,500 and $1,700, while this derivative has Aluminum Tetragon inlays equipped by default.
At 9.9 cubic feet, the BMW Z4's trunk is decent, considering that this is a compact roadster, and cargo capacity isn't affected by whether the soft-top roof is up or down. One larger suitcase or a few smaller carry-ons will be able to fit in there.
In the cabin, the glovebox is on the small side, so not much more than two wallets and some other odds and ends can fit in there. The two cupholders are positioned beneath the center armrest, which makes accessing them on the move a bit awkward. Around these cupholders, there is a little more space for tiny items, and there are door bins, too.
On the sDrive30i at its most affordable base price, the Z4 is equipped with power-adjustable sport seats which include a memory system for the driver. Additional features include dual-zone automatic climate control, a power-operated soft-top roof, push-button ignition, power-folding and heated side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a rearview camera, a universal garage door opener, and safety features such as forward collision warning, dynamic cruise control, and tire-pressure monitoring. On the M40i, there are 14-way power-adjustable front seats with three-stage heating, along with a heated steering wheel. There are plenty of options, ranging from a head-up display to remote engine start, wireless charging, active blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, park distance control, and active cruise control.
Information is displayed between two 10.25 digital displays: one ahead of the driver, which forms part of BMW's Live Cockpit Professional, and a central touchscreen through which iDrive 7.0 software can be accessed. Although the digital dials aren't as configurable as those in an Audi, they certainly do modernize the Z4's cabin. iDrive requires a bit of a learning curve, but we do like that it can still be manipulated via hard keys and a console-mounted rotary dial. Standard connectivity and entertainment features include navigation, Bluetooth, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, real-time traffic information via BMW's Connected Package Professional, natural language recognition, HD Radio, and SiriusXM with 360L and a one-year all-access subscription. The sound system is a 205-watt, ten-speaker unit that includes dual bass speakers mounted behind the seats. Wireless charging, a Wi-Fi hotspot with a three-month/3GB trial, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system are available.
A J.D. Power rating of 77 out of 100 is acceptable rather than great, and the 2020 version of the Z4 has been recalled three times. The issues included a rearview camera that failed to display an image along with two problems relating to the headlights. In one instance, the headlights could increase glare and reduce visibility for other motorists, while a separate recall was for headlight control units that could fail. The 2019 Z4 was affected by four recalls, with problems including steering gear tie rods that could become damaged, a rearview camera image that fails to display, and potential engine damage as a result of a loosening counterbalance shaft.
As with other BMWs, the Z4 is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, four years of roadside assistance regardless of mileage covered, a 12-year rust perforation warranty, and three years or 36,000 miles of maintenance coverage. By comparison, Porsche offers just a year or 10,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance for the Boxster.
As mentioned in prior Z4 reviews, the two major USA crash-test authorities - the IIHS and the NHTSA - have both not yet evaluated the BMW. However, the roadster performed strongly in the European NCAP test, where the 2019 version achieved a five-star safety rating.
The BMW Z4 isn't quite as loaded with driver aids as the brand's luxury sedans, but most of the essentials are in place. That means all new Z4s come with ABS brakes, dynamic stability control, a rearview camera, tire-pressure monitoring, an airbag suite that includes dual-front, dual-side, and dual knee airbags, and LED headlights fitted as standard. Along with these features are automatic high beams, dynamic cruise control, frontal collision warning, automatic city collision mitigation and braking, accident preparation with post-crash braking, and fatigue/focus alert. Being a roadster, the Z4 is equipped with a rollover protection system. Optionally available safety kit includes lane departure warning, active blind-spot detection, active cruise control, and front/rear parking sensors.
The current Z4 is a worthy drop-top to carry on the proud legacy of BMW's Z roadsters. As is often the case with a BMW, the powertrains and driving experience stand out as particularly good; the Z4 is entertaining to drive fast but has a broad spread of talents that make it quite comfortable, too. The well-designed cabin means that even larger-framed individuals can enjoy the thrill of open-top motoring, and although BMW could be more generous with standard driver aids, the Z4 is reasonably specified in base form. If you require the security of an all-wheel-drive system or prefer to shift gears yourself, the Z4 won't cater to your needs as well as some of the competition, but there's nothing wrong with that slick auto 'box. Although the Porsche Boxster has an even sweeter chassis, the more affordable BMW is far from outclassed and is well worth a look as a fun and brilliantly engineered roadster.
The base model BMW Z4 has seen a small $200 price increase in the US for 2021, while the six-cylinder variant retains the same starting MSRP. That means that the BMW Z4 will cost $49,700 for the sDrive30i and $63,700 for the M40i. These prices exclude a destination charge of $995 and plenty of optional extras that can add thousands to the final price of the BMW Z4.
The 2021 BMW Z4 Roadster is available in two trims: sDrive30i and sDrive M40i. Both trims send power to the rear axle via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Turbocharging is employed for both engine options, but whereas the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the sDrive30i makes 255 hp, the M40i turns up the heat with its 382-hp 3.0-liter inline-six.
The range begins with the sDrive30i, which comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a power-operated soft-top roof, and automatic high beams. Inside, there are power-adjustable seats upholstered in SensaTec, along with dual 10.25-inch displays - one for the instrument cluster and one touchscreen display for the infotainment system. Dual-zone climate control, a ten-speaker sound system, dynamic cruise control, and forward collision warning are standard.
As the most powerful Z4, the sDrive M40i is distinguished by larger exhaust outlets, Shadowline exterior trim, an aerodynamic kit, and M double-spoke wheels. It is similarly equipped to the sDrive30i but ships with heated seats and a heated steering wheel, too. It also receives a standard adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers and an M Sport differential.
On the base derivative, the $1,150 Convenience Package adds BMW's active driving assistant with lane departure warning, comfort access keyless entry, and power lumbar support. The Premium Package includes all of these items plus a head-up display, heated front seats, and wireless charging for $2,750. At $5,250, the Executive Package adds luxuries such as a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, Vernasca leather upholstery, and adaptive full LED headlights. For access to the additional driver aids on their own, there is the $700 Driving Assistance Package. Individual options include a heated steering wheel ($190), active cruise control ($1,200), and heated front seats ($500). One of the more desirable options on the sDrive30i is the $2,650 M Sport Package that adds Shadowline exterior trim, 19-inch M wheels, an M steering wheel, and more.
The Z4 sDrive M40i offers many of the same upgrades but with a few price differences. For instance, its Executive Package goes for $3,900, but that's because the M40i is more generously equipped as standard.
Even though there is a price difference of over $13,000 between the two Z4s on offer, it's possible to bridge this gap with a fully loaded sDrive30i. So, would we rather have an sDrive30i with all the bells and whistles or an sDrive M40i with fewer gizmos but that glorious six-cylinder engine? It's a fairly easy decision - the M40i wins every time. That six-pot is so good that it elevates the driving experience to another level that's hard to resist. Of course, if you can't stretch to the M40i, the base model with a few extras that keep the price to under $55,000 is an attractive alternative. We'd spec ours with the Driving Assistance Package, the heated seats, and the wireless charging, making this a thoroughly enjoyable roadster, too.
Despite the objections from both BMW and Toyota fans that these two cars share their powertrains and platform, the end result is substantially different. The Supra is more of an all-out sports car, whereas the BMW has a premium veneer that caters to a more fashion-conscious crowd that won't necessarily be driving on the limit all the time. Of course, the Supra is a coupe, whereas the BMW can drop its roof at the touch of a button. The Toyota is much more affordable, with the base 3.0-liter inline-six barely costing more than the four-cylinder Z4, so it's easily the bang for buck victor between these two. A lighter weight contributes to the Supra being a more exciting car to fling through the corners. However, the BMW has the classier interior of the two and features a larger infotainment display. For the sheer joy of driving, we'd take the Supra, but the BMW has undeniable brand cachet, and, for many, this will be enough to side with the Z4.
The mid-engined Porsche 718 Boxster has been the dynamic benchmark for such a long time, it's hard to remember when anything ran it close in this aspect, and the Z4 can't change that. As good as the BMW is, the Boxster is lighter on its feet, more communicative, and feels more agile, plus it is available with a lovely manual gearbox. But it's the BMW that provides nicer engines for less money. The base Boxster has more power than the Z4 sDrive30i, though, with 300 hp to 255. When you aren't wringing these cars' necks, the BMW also offers the advantage of a quieter, plusher, and better-built cabin. It's better specified, too, as Porsche offers very few safety features as standard, and they're all seriously pricey options. This one is a tough call as the BMW comes across as the better all-rounder, but the Boxster is just so talented on the road that we'd happily forgive its few flaws.