The battle of the BMW sports cars is a one-hit KO. And yet the two are surprisingly similar in price.
If you're looking for a two-door BMW sports car with a turbocharged inline-six engine for less than $70,000, there's more than one option, and we've recently driven both of them. The 2023 BMW M2 is all-new, now with the same twin-turbo S58 engine found in the larger M3 and M4. Also in the lineup is the facelifted BMW Z4 Roadster, still related to the Toyota Supra and powered by a single-turbo B58 that also displaces three liters.
These cars are surprisingly similar but somehow worlds apart. Since they are priced similarly, there could be a world where the M2 and Z4 M40i get cross-shopped. So if the matchup is BMW M2 vs. Z4, which one is worth spending your money on? We have an easy answer, and possibly a surprise third option.
The Z4 gets a subtle facelift for the 2023 model year, including a vibrant new Thundernight Metallic paint job that originally debuted on the 2 Series Coupe. Outlandish purple paint aside, the Z4 might be the most conventionally pretty BMW on sale right now. It features classic roadster proportions with a long hood and short rear deck lid. There's a large kidney grille, much like other BMW models that have received online vitriol, but since this one is positioned horizontally rather than vertically, it seems to get a pass from critics.
As for the M2, it's a much different story. While this author personally likes the styling, opinions seem split on this car, even within the CarBuzz office. It's macho and exciting, but some folks seem to take issue with BMW's decision to bundle round and square shapes together on the same car. Design is a personal preference, but we imagine the Z4 will be more universally accepted visually.
Despite being updated for 2023, the Z4 feels a generation behind in terms of technology. This car still uses BMW's seventh-generation iDrive infotainment system, which lives on a 10.25-inch touchscreen with a secondary display in the gauge cluster. This setup has nothing wrong since it still includes niceties like wireless Apple CarPlay. It still features one of our favorite BMW layouts, having eight programmable buttons for radio stations, menus, and navigation designations. These buttons, along with the physical climate controls, are gone on iDrive 8-based models. Black Sensatec seats are standard, but buyers can opt for Alcantara or Vernasca leather in black, Ivory White, Magma Red, or Cognac.
Being a true M model, the M2's cabin differs notably from the Z4. It gets an M steering wheel with programmable M1 and M2 buttons, an M-specific automatic or manual shifter, sportier seats with available carbon buckets, and the latest iDrive system using a larger 14.9-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital cluster. iDrive 8 is more advanced, but we miss the physical controls present in the Z4. On the plus side, the M2's cabin is roomier, there is now a Cognac interior color in addition to black, and both seats have better bolstering than the Z4.
BMW tried its best to make the Z4 practical, but the German automaker is fighting a losing battle. The trunk accommodates 9.9 cubic feet of storage, which is quite generous for a two-seat roadster. The Audi TT Roadster only has eight cubes, and the Jaguar F-Type has even fewer. Lowering the roof doesn't take up any valuable trunk space, meaning you can cruise to the golf course with the top down. There's even a passthrough into the cabin, meaning you can slide a driver in there if it doesn't fit in the trunk.
The Z4 tries hard to prove that roadsters can be practical, but it's no match for the M2. This two-door coupe has a back seat, meaning it can carry four passengers instead of two. The trunk contains 13.8 cubic feet of space, and you can fold the rear seats to get even more room.
If efficiency is more important than carrying capacity, the Z4 gains some ground. Its single-turbo engine achieves 23 mpg in the city and up to 31 mpg on the highway. The twin-turbo M2 gulps gas at 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Both cars have 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engines, but they are substantially different. The Z4 uses BMW's B58 engine, which produces a healthy 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. That power goes out to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, though a manual transmission is under consideration. If you want the twin-turbocharged S58 engine, you'll have to upgrade to the M2 because BMW has no plans for a Z4 M in this generation. Thanks to the extra turbocharger and other M-specific changes, the M2 produces 453 hp and 405 lb-ft through either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic.
Despite being down on power compared to the M2 ,the Z4 M40i isn't much slower. BMW quotes a 3.9-second 0-60 mph time, which matches the automatic M2 and bests the manual car by two-tenths of a second. Both engines deliver an exciting engine note and thrilling acceleration, but the edge still belongs to the more potent M2.
BMW considers the Z4 and M2 sports cars, but one is clearly more driver-focused than the other. The Z4 in M40i guise is regarded as an M Performance model, meaning it's quicker than the standard sDrive30i model but not quite on the level of a fully-fledged M car like the M2. The suspension is tuned on the softer side, though it's not what we'd call luxurious. As with most recent BMW cars, the steering is a bit numb, though it does offer sharp control over the front end. The Z4 leans more towards grand touring, but it's not as comfortable as we'd prefer to rack up tons of miles.
As for the M2, it's clearly built to attack a windy road and the occasional race track. The suspension is firm, but not much more punishing than the Z4. The M2 rides on wider tires and gets bigger brakes than the Z4, meaning it grips harder and stops more violently. Even though it weighs around 400 pounds more than the Z4, the M2 feels more agile and eager to thrill. The available six-speed manual transmission adds additional connection for the driver, which is why we'd prefer the M2 for a weekend trek through the canyons.
You can probably tell which way we are leaning already, and the prices make the choice even more obvious. The 2023 Z4 M40i starts at $65,300, meaning it's more expensive than the M2 despite having less power. At just $62,200, the M2 is the cheapest M car money can buy and easily the one we'd pick. Even if you check every available options box, both cars ring it at around $76,000, so we'd still give the advantage to the M2. Unless you absolutely must have a convertible roof, the M2 is the better buy. But there's a third option...
It's a tad more expensive, starting at $68,550, but if you must have a drop-top, the 2023 BMW 4 Series Convertible is a more compelling choice than the Z4. Sure, you have to get over the grille shape, but the M440i Convertible offers the same B58 engine, four seats, a bigger trunk, available xDrive, and a more comfortable ride. Would we buy the M440i over the M2? No. But if the battle were the Z4 vs. 4 Series, we'd pick the more practical 4 Series.
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