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 US, 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 competitor: 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 base 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 carries an MSRP of $63,700 but fully loaded is about 10 grand more. All prices mentioned here exclude destination charges, taxes, and other fees.
See trim levels and configurations:
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.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
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.
Both 2020 BMW Z4 models are great to drive, but with 382 hp, the M40i model is certainly even more exciting. Its gas mileage 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.
The most popular competitors of 2020 BMW Z4 Roadster: