by Gabe Beita Kiser
Last year, the BMW Z4 finally returned to the premium convertible sports car segment with a complete redesign not dissimilar to the concept they teased us with. Cars like the Mercedes SLC, Porsche 718 Boxster and Audi TT had it easier with the sDrive30i model first introduced, as that produces 254 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter turbo four-banger. With the newly available sDrive M40i's turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six generating 382 hp and 368 lb-ft, the tide turns in favor of the Bimmer. With the hope that more power can make up for slightly numb steering and no manual gearbox availability in the U.S, the Z4 is instead fitted with an excellent ZF eight-speed automatic. Of course, the extra power from the B58 unit shared with a certain iconic Japanese nameplate means the Z4 now has another rival: the fifth-generation Toyota Supra.
The 2020 model's update is the introduction of the long-anticipated 3.0-liter turbo that was available in Europe for some time now. Shared with the new Toyota Supra, as well as the M240i and numerous other BMWs, the B58 is an evolution of the excellent N55 motor that did duty in countless models before. The bigger engine adds a few pounds to the Z4's curb weight, but power jumps up by 128 hp, while torque gets an increase of 74 lb-ft. Styling is also updated on the M40i version to help differentiate the model, with an aerodynamic body kit and Shadowline exterior trim as part of the standard M Sport package.
The Z4's design strays from tradition slightly, avoiding a quad pattern for the headlights. Perhaps unintentional, the wide kidney-grilles and rounded headlights evoke an image of the breathtakingly gorgeous BMW Z8 from the early 2000s. M Sport 30i models and the M40i get more svelte lines and more aerodynamic side fins along with darkened exterior trim, while the back of the Z4 reveals a paired of mirrored L-shape taillights, a design hallmark of new BMWs. Wheels come standard in an 18-inch flavor on both trims, with 19s optional.
A compactly packaged roadster, the Z4 sDrive30i measures 170.7 inches long, 73.4 inches wide and 51.4 inches tall. The M40i has almost identical measurements but rides 0.1 inches lower thanks to its M Sport adaptive suspension. The wheelbase is 97.2 inches, and base curb weight is 3,287 lbs for the 30i and 3,457 for the M40i model. This places it in lightweight company, much lighter than the likes of the Jaguar F-Type Convertible.
As is often the case with BMW, Alpine White is a free color, while you pay extra for metallic options, $550 in the case of the Z4. The 30i model gets six of these: Black Sapphire, Glacier Silver, Mineral White, Mediterranean Blue, San Francisco Red, and Misano Blue, a stunning color we saw in the metal when we test drove the 2019 model and it remains our favorite of the bunch. It does require you to add the $2,950 M Sport Package, however. The M40i variant of the Z4 loses out on Mineral White and Mediterranean Blue but gains Frozen Grey II Metallic, a $3,600 matte finish. The soft-top is finished in black fabric as standard, but for an extra $250 you can have your folding roof in Moonlight Black, although most won't be able to tell the difference.
We drove the 2019 Z4 30i model (254 hp and 294 lb-ft/0-60mph: 5.2 seconds) and were impressed by the smooth acceleration and spritely nature of the engine. With the addition of the M40i model and much more power being sent to the rear wheels through an M Sport differential, the smiles generated are more frequently occuring and even broader. The rev-happy 3.0-liter straight-six turbo produces 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque and is more than happy to oblige if you intend to get yourself locked up for speeding. The 0-60mph dash is dispensed of in just 3.9 seconds, which is mindblowing when you consider that such figures were almost exclusively the reserve of Italian exotica just a decade ago. The Z4 tops out at 155 mph in either guise and will get there smoothly, efficiently, and quickly, thanks to its eight-speed automatic gearbox. That M Sport rear differential will also allow some hooliganism and sideways tomfoolery if you so desire, making the Z4 even more fun to play with. It can do precision too, though. The Z4 lapped the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7:55.41, a scarcely believable 2.2 seconds quicker than the M2 managed back in 2015.
The base sDrive30i is equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that does duty in many other models in BMW's product catalog. This four-banger is surprisingly decent to listen to as it climbs the rev range, sending 254 hp and 294 lb-ft to the rear wheels. On its way there, power is managed by the singular gearbox option in the range, a brilliant eight-speed automatic. Don't be fooled by the "entry-level" moniker though, the 30i is agile and fun, and does not struggle to pick up speed. The M40i model with 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque is even more efficient at pushing you back into your seat, and sacrifices very little in terms of fuel economy while doing so. For the ultimate fun factor, this model is the one to have, but despite the outstanding automatic, we can't help but rue the exclusion of a manual option here. Open-top motoring is about engaging with your surroundings, stimulating your senses, and taking in every opportunity to connect with the environment and the vehicle that's brought you there. A manual option in a car this exhilarating, particularly with the roof missing, ought to be standard issue.
The decision to revive the Z4 with a soft-top instead of a complicated and heavy, space-eating retractable hard-top has paid dividends in how the car behaves too. An almost perfect 50/50 distribution of weight means that the Z4 remains neutral and precise around corners when moderate throttle is applied, with more power giving you progressively more angle without forcing you to question whether your insurance is up to date. The steering is a little numb as with most electrically-assisted setups, but the car follows its inputs perfectly. Mid-corner bumps are well-managed and the brakes inspire more aggressive driving, remaining fade-free and sharp. The highest praise we can heap on the Z4 is that the 30i is agile and fun, and the addition of a heavier engine with more power takes nothing away from that feeling. You can feel that the M40i wants to accelerate, but it's never too much for the car to handle, never a hairy experience. Instead, you are encouraged to drive faster. However, sudden stabs at the accelerator can momentarily upset the car as it steps out of line ever so slightly, but not so aggressively that your instincts tell you to take a course in drifting just to be able to make it around the block. Again, we can't help but wonder how much more engagement we might feel if we were in charge of gear selection with the aid of three pedals, rather than two paddles.
The Z4 is surprisingly fuel-efficient regardless of which model you choose. The 30i returns figures of 24/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, but the M40i is very close behind, with 24/31/26 mpg on the same cycles. Both models are fitted with a 13.7 gallon gas tank and would realistically see between 356 and 369 miles respectively per fill-up at the pumps.
Typically German, the Z4 is solidly built and the controls are logically laid out and easy to understand, with most of the vehicle's features and processes accessed through the iDrive controller in the center console. Information is displayed on a 10.25-inch screen in the center of the dash, while a larger 12.3-inch screen behind the steering wheel relays vitals to the driver, an optional head-up display further consolidating critical info. Occupants are also treated to dual-zone climate control and optional heated seats, while the driver's hands can also be warmed through the wheel. 14-way power-adjustable seats add further comfort, with four-way lumbar support included.
The Z4 is strictly a two-seater, and those SensaTec-upholstered M Sport seats are both supple and supportive without being too firm. With multiple adjustments and lumbar support, it's easy to find the perfect driving position no matter your stature. With the top down, headroom is unlimited, something you won't find in regular coupes. Roof up, the adjustability in seating prevents claustrophobia even among taller occupants and there is plenty of legroom too.
Both models are trimmed as standard with BMW SensaTec black synthetic leather, which is draped across the dash, door cards and seats, but for $1,500, you can have Vernasca leather in black with Alcantara inserts and blue contrast stitching. However, all leather options require ambient lighting to be added for $250, escalating the price somewhat. Other leather trims include ivory white, plain black, a bright red, and a rich brown - each of which costs $1,700 before the prerequisite ambient lighting. In the center console, you have two aluminum options or gloss black. The steering wheel is wrapped in genuine leather as standard.
A huge gripe of the old Z4 was the way that its folding hardtop practically erased any trunk space, but this new soft top is surprisingly accommodating. The trunk holds 9.9 cubic feet of your stuff, fitting two medium suitcases with relative ease, and if you need a little more length, there is a center pass-through.
Inside the cabin, you'll find numerous pockets and small bins, as well as the obligatory glovebox. The center console's bin is ideally sized for a smartphone too. However, the two cupholders are awkwardly placed beneath the center armrest, making it more likely for an errant elbow to displace drinks than anything else. Maybe that's why there's no manual option. That said, the cupholders are deep enough and shouldn't be an issue for most.
The Z4 features a very smart-looking dash layout, with individual controls for the climate system. A rearview camera and power mirrors are also included, along with keyless entry, welcome lights, and push-to-start. Auto wipers and optional adaptive headlights are included along with adaptive LED taillights. Dynamic cruise control can also be had, as can blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and parking assist. Frontal collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection are also fitted. The folding hardtop is electrically stowed and can be brought back up in 10 seconds at speeds of up to 31 mph.
iDrive 7.0 manages infotainment readouts on the 10.25-inch screen, with a 12.3-inch screen displaying speed, the tachometer, fuel, and more. BMW's personal assistant can make adjustments, place calls, and so on, and is activated by uttering "Hey BMW" followed by your command. The standard iDrive system also controls all entertainment needs and features Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, two USB ports, HD Radio, and optional SiriusXM which is standard in the M40i. Visuals are displayed on the center screen and can be upgraded to include voice-activated navigation. 10 speakers are included as standard, with a Harmon Kardon 12-speaker sound system available. Android Auto is unavailable, but wireless charging can be specced in conjunction with a WiFi hotspot.
The BMW Z4 has been subject to one recall in late September 2019, where the rearview camera did not properly display images. J.D. Power has not yet rated its reliability, but warranty coverage is expansive, with a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty being included along with four years of roadside assistance. The car is also guaranteed to be rust-free for 12 years.
The Z4 has not yet been rated by either the NHTSA nor the IIHS but is equipped with numerous safety features that allowed it to score a full five stars in European NCAP ratings.
Dual front and side-impact airbags, as well as rollover protection and knee airbags for both occupants, are fitted alongside BMW's Active Protection System, which detects imminent crashes and pretensions the safety belts, closes the windows and activates post-crash braking. The impact sensors also disconnect the fuel pump, alternator, and starter, and the emergency and interior lights are activated. A call is then sent out by the car, alerting emergency services. To aid in preventing all that, adaptive cruise control, cornering brake control, and city collision mitigation with pedestrian detection as well as blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning are available.
The BMW Z4 is great to drive in its base form, but with the recently available 3.0-liter straight-six making its way into the lineup, the fun factor has been turned up considerably. Solidly built, and with more room than you'd expect, the Z4 satisfies the need for exhilaration and comfort while adding usable practicality. However, those looking for a drop-top Supra will be disappointed, as the character of each car is noticeably and fundamentally different, the Toyota aiming to be more hardcore while the Z4 is more of a relaxed drive. Toyota tuned the Supra themselves, so power delivery, steering, and more are very different from the Z4. The Z4's main competition though comes from the Merc SLC and the Audi TT, with the SLC being a bit long in the tooth and more laidback and the TT a bit boring. The Z4 is a great buy, and with its numerous standard features is unlikely to be difficult to live with on a daily basis.
The Z4's starting price is $49,700 before BMW's destination and handling charge. This gets you behind the wheel of the Z4 sDrive30i, which is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo four-pot that produces 254 hp and 294 lb-ft. The sDrive M40i gets the 382 hp B58 engine, a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that develops 368 lb-ft of torque. This model starts at $63,700 but fully loaded is about 10 grand more. All prices mentioned here exclude destination charges, taxes, and other fees.
The 2020 Z4 is available in two variants, both of which are rear-wheel-drive and fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox: the sDrive 30i and sDrive M40i.
The first model, the 30i, features a 2.0-liter turbo with 254 hp and is fitted with 18-inch wheels as standard, as well as automatic LED headlights, adaptive LED taillights, auto wipers, keyless ignition, power mirrors and cruise control. In the cabin, you'll find BMW's synthetic leather covering a pair of 14-way power-adjustable seats with lumbar support, dual-zone automatic climate control, BMW's voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, iDrive and a 10.25-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and navigation are also fitted. Frontal collision warning and mitigation are standard too.
The M40i model is vastly similar but includes upgrades like BMW's brilliant 382 hp 3.0-liter turbo engine, M Sport brakes and adaptive suspension, Shadowline exterior trim, aerodynamic body kit, an aluminum hood, and standard SiriusXM. A heated steering wheel also features. Vernasca leather, heated seats, and a parking assistant are optional extras.
The Z4 is available with numerous add-ons, one of the most popular of which will be the Driving Assistance package. This suite costs $500 and adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning. You also get speed limit info added to the navigation system. The $2,450 Track Handling package is standard on M40i models and features, M Sport brakes, adaptive suspension, and an M Sport rear differential. However, if you want this on the Z4 30i, this package requires you to tick the M Sport option - which consists of styling upgrades, an M Sport steering wheel, and M Sport suspension - for $2,950. Park sensors front and rear can be added for $200, while remote start and heated seats can be specced for $300 and $500 respectively. Ambient lighting is another standalone option at $250 and together with the $1,450 Convenience package unlocks access to leather upholstery.
Both Z4 models are great to drive, but with 382 hp, the M40i model is certainly even more exciting. Its fuel economy figures are very close to those achieved by the 2.0-liter-engined model, and it also features more standard equipment, with satellite radio and a number of performance upgrades. Without a doubt, this is worth spending the extra cash on, making a Merc and Audi beater that looks and goes brilliantly. We'd add the Premium and Executive packages for extra goodies like a head-up display, wireless charging, remote start, ambient lighting, and Harman Kardon's 12-speaker audio upgrade.
The BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra are mechanically identical, with very similar interiors too. Both share the B58 engine - at least when the Z4 is an M40i model - but in different states of tune that give each car a unique character. The Z4's interior, drive, and styling feel far more luxury-oriented with a performance bias, whereas the Supra feels slightly less premium and looks far more cartoonish. Many will bemoan the fact that the Supra costs $50k, but as standard with the M40i's motor - albeit with around 50 hp less - it's a performance bargain, as that kind of money only gets you a base Z4. The Supra is slightly less compliant and more of a racer, with the Z4 being easier to live with every day. Essentially, both appeal to different people, but for an all-rounder with money not being an object, the Z4 is better. As a surprisingly cost-effective modern-day icon, the Supra is also a great choice - it just depends on what you want from your sports car.
The Z4 was interestingly compared to the 718 Boxster in development, so did BMW go and make a budget Porsche? Well, no. The mid-engined handling characteristics and charisma of a Porsche are all but impossible to replicate, but the BMW is arguably better in most other aspects. The interior looks and feels more luxurious, while the brilliant automatic is standard and therefore doesn't cost you an arm and a leg like almost all of Porsche's options do. You even pay extra for Apple CarPlay in the Boxster. That said, the 718's brilliant handling and manual gearbox availability are intoxicatingly alluring for the enthusiast. The Z4 is far more car in standard guise and far more economically viable, but there's just something special about the driving experience in a Porsche. If possible, we'd spend the extra money on the Stuttgart sportster.