by Jared Rosenholtz
All around the world, automotive enthusiasts have been holding their breath, waiting for the arrival of the 2019 BMW Z4. Why? For the first time ever, the Z4 was co-developed with Toyota to be sold as a coupe with a Supra badge. This development has ruffled the feathers of a few Supra diehards but we didn't want to let it distract us from the question at hand - how good is this new Z4?
BMW flew us out to the Thermal Club - basically a racetrack with a built-in neighborhood - to test out an assortment of new cars from the BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce brands. The Z4 on hand was the entry-level four-cylinder sDrive30i model (because that's what will be available first in the US), so we weren't able to sample the six-cylinder M40i model. As you'll find out from this review, we didn't end up missing the six.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Why on Earth did BMW not decide to debut the Z4 in this stunning shade of Misano Blue? It's lovely. The car we drove was paired with a white interior but BMW also had a few examples in Frozen grey with a bright red leather interior for us to sample. With the top up or down, we think the Z4 exudes an elegant presence on the road and turns plenty of heads. We'll let you decide if BMW or Toyota designed the better-looking sports car but after seeing both cars in person, we don't think there is a loser between them.
Our Misano Blue car was fitted with optional 19-inch M Sport wheels, adding to the car's aggressive look. Aside from the wheels, everything you see on the exterior of the car, including the sharp character lines, Shadowline trim, integrated rear spoiler, diffuser, and imposing rear-end styling, comes standard. We highly suggest going to see the Z4 in person because it gives off a much more aggressive vibe than it does in photos.
The Z4 sDrive30i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developing 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft going out to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission (you'll have to go to Europe if you want a manual). 0-60 mph takes just 5.2 seconds, though we can honestly say the car felt quicker in real-world testing. Fuel economy for the four-cylinder is a rather acceptable 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined.
Stepping up to the M40i model bumps the cylinder count to six and the displacement to 3.0 liters. The B58 engine produces 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque in this application, lowering the 0-60 mph time to just 3.9 seconds - yep, it's quicker than an M2 Competition. Since the M40i is not yet available in the US, EPA fuel economy figures have not been posted as of this writing.
BMW has stepped up its interior game with its latest iteration of iDrive and the addition of virtual gauges to replace the tired analog needles. Cabin space is at a premium in a two-seat roadster but we felt comfortable in the Z4. If you struggle to fit in a Mazda Miata, this may be a nice alternative for you. We were happy to see BMW switch back to a fabric top instead of a folding metal roof and we didn't feel too much additional wind noise as a result. Our only complaint in the interior is poorly-placed cupholders, which live under a cover in the center armrest.
Switching to a fabric roof helped BMW improve on trunk space. The old hard-top Z4 only offered 8 cubic feet of storage space with the roof up and that space became practically erased when you put the top down. This new model offers 9.9 cubic feet and the trunk remains accessible even when the top is stowed. We wave good riddance to the old folding metal roof and we hope it never returns.
Our disappointment over not having the six-cylinder model quickly faded away once we hopped behind the wheel of the sDrive30i. This 2.0-liter four-banger is plenty powerful and even makes a compelling sound. Modern turbo-fours can often sound grating but this may be the most operatic four-banger we've had the pleasure to experience. Power is extremely responsive thanks to BMW's excellent tuning of the eight-speed automatic, which has us forgetting why there's such a fuss around not having a manual.
We've posted many complaints at BMW's electric steering for a lack of feel and precision but not with the Z4. The rack feels quick and responds to the most delicate of inputs with an appropriate change of direction. We still wish there was a bit more feedback through the wheel but this one-way communication was more than enough to make the Z4 enjoyable to drive. We look forward to driving the six-cylinder Z4 and the Toyota Supra to see how they got on with a bit more power. If this four-cylinder is any indication, those cars will be an absolute treat.
Before our day at Thermal ended, BMW decided to treat us to a ridealong in a 2015 E89 Z4 GTLM Racecar, driven by a professional racing driver. This dedicated racecar uses a 4.4-liter V8 producing 500 hp, which revs to an ear-shattering 9,000 rpm. On an interesting note, this Z4 racecar has an estimated 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, which is actually slower than the brand-new road car. Of course, once the sprint to 60 is over, this Z4 GTLM would leave the road car for dead with its massive aero and sticky tires.
Pricing for the base sDrive30i Z4 starts at $49,700, making it a tad less expensive than the six-cylinder Toyota Supra. The Z4 is more expensive because you're paying for the 'BMW' badge and the privilege of having a folding convertible roof. Our Misano Blue test car was fitted with a bundle of options, including the M Sport Package ($2,950), Premium Package ($1,600), Executive Package ($2,500), and various smaller options bringing the as-test price to $62,795.
This makes the Z4 excellent value compared to the pricier Porsche 718 Boxster and we're sure you can cut back on some of those options to save money. If you care more about power than options, the Z4 M40i starts at $64,695 (around $6,000 less than a 718 Boxster S).
Even without the six-cylinder engine, the Z4 emerged as one of our favorites in a day filled with M cars, John Cooper Works Mini Coopers, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Behind the wheel of the Z4, we felt a unique pulse we haven't felt from BMW for several years.
Even the mighty BMW M2, which has been universally praised as one of the best cars the M Division has produced in the last decade, may not fully match the fun factor of this new Z4. Even if you care more about speed than fun, on a lap around the Nurburgring the Z4 M40i proved to be faster than the M2. We didn't really miss the Z4 when it went out of production in 2016 but we are certainly glad to have it back and better than ever.