- I sampled BMW’s revived roadster, a 2019 Z4 sDrive30i that has been outfitted with a bunch of M-Sport performance extras.
- The BMW Z4 has always been a very sporty two-door, and the new model is no exception.
- I did like the car in the 30i trim, with its 255-horsepower four-cylinder engine. But even that is a lot of oomph for a roadster.
- BMW builds the Z4 so well that you’re getting your money’s worth, but you could spend tens of thousands of dollars less and get an equally fun set of wheels.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The world needs roadsters. That’s my belief, anyway. And fortunately, there are several automakers who share my view.
BMW has been in the modern roadster game since the 1990s, but its lineup briefly lacked a two-seat drop-top since the 2016 model year. That gap was filled in 2018 when an all-new Z4 was revealed (it’s a collaboration with Toyota, which sells the car as a Supra).
I’m old enough to remember the arrival of the stylish Z3 back when Bill Clinton was president; that car was meant to rival the Mazda Miata by being a burlier, more sporty front-engine, rear-wheel drive two-seater with a ragtop. The Z3’s lineage lives on in the new Z4, which is yet again matching up against the Miata. And yet again bringing more horsepower to the open-air party.
I generally don’t like a whole lot of HPs in a roadster, which I think of as a car meant to zip around winding roads at 40mph. The Z4 is a helluva lot more car than that. It intends to eat winding roads for breakfast.
How did I feel about getting behind the wheel of that menacing proposition? I felt pretty good – BMW let me borrow a Z4 sDrive30i that had been outfitted with a whole mess of M-Sport high-performance extras. This was the roadster turned up to 11.
It was also – Gulp! – a $US64,000 car. That’s rich for a roadster.
Too rich? Read on to find out.
The 2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i arrived at our suburban New Jersey test center wearing a fetching “San Francisco Red Metallic” paint job. The as-tested price was $US64,000, with thousands of dollars in extras adding to the $US50,000 MSRP.
The Z-Series roadsters date to the late 1980s for the Bavarian automaker, but the model that really defined the two-seater for BMW was the original Z3 of 1996.
A major — and welcome — change for the sixth-generation Z-Series was the replacement of the retractable hardtop with a soft-top.
Yes, this eliminates the Z4’s chances to do double-duty as a coupé, but honestly I prefer a proper ragtop on a roadster.
Plus, I just think the soft top looks right.
It also retracts very quickly, activated by a switch between the seats. The top stows in about five seconds — and takes up essentially no space in the trunk.
There’s a removable windscreen between the protective roll bars.
The BMW Z4 is sharp and aggressive, a far cry from the retro Z3 of the mid-1990s, with its throwback, almost steampunk allure …
… see what I mean?
While I rather like the overall shape of the Z4, with that long hood and scrunched rear, the headlights are a bit much.
They’re larger and complicated.
And on my tester, they were LEDs. I can’t argue with them at night, but I’d prefer something more low-key.
The BMW kidney grille is a presence up front. but it’s blacked out and stretched, so it sort of loses its kidney-ness.
The Bavarian-flag badge hasn’t changed, however.
The side vents evoke that beloved Z3 of the Clinton years.
My Z4 came with a few BMW M-Sport high-performance goodies, including M-Sport brakes, part of a $US2,450 “Track Handling” package. The 19-inch wheels were an extra $US600.
The Z4’s rear is something of an optical illusion. In profile, it’s out-of-proportion with the front, even with the decklid spoiler adding a flourish. Viewed directly, it’s svelte, well-designed, and a credit to the car.
The tail lights, also LEDs, are better than the headlights.
But I don’t care for the scoop coming off the fender flanks.
Somehow, that simple black-blue-white propeller (it isn’t, but whatever, still looks like one) redeems everything.
The seat-back roll bars are a valuable safety feature, in the unlikely event that the Z4 encounters physics that overcome its low center of gravity.
Time to take a peek beneath the hood.
The 2.0-litre, twin-turbo four-cylinder in our sDrive30i trim level makes 255 horsepower and an impressive 295 pound-feet of torque. That grunt from the small motor had us fooled that we might be driving the 3.0-litre inline six that’s also in the lineup. It makes 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The 0-60 mph time in the sDrive30i is about five seconds, and that’s plenty quick for this type of car. Fuel economy is appealing: 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined.
If you’ve ever owned a roadster, you know that truck space is hard to come by.
But the Z4’s is surprisingly generous. Roughly 10 cubic feet.
Now let’s slip inside.
Two seats — good! The interior is black and “Ivory White Vernasca Leather.” I have to say, with the Frisco Red exterior and this creamy interior, we’re getting far afield of old-school roadster simplicity.
The seats are derived from competition designs and are an M-Sport special. They’re superb, but I wouldn’t call them forgiving.
Storage is extremely limited in the cabin.
But the back wall between the cabin and trunk is an ideal place to locate some speakers for the excellent Harman Kardon surround-sound system, part of a $US2,500 “Executive Package.”
If you’re the driver, you can set the heated seat nice and low and engage in some terrifically spirited motoring.
The instrument cluster is all digital and quasi-analogue. It evokes the familiar BMW cluster of yore, but updates them to display speed and tachometric data on opposing curves.
The leather-wrapped, multi-function wheel has one of the few M-Sport shout-outs.
The eight-speed transmission sends power to the rear wheels through an M-Sport differential. The joystick is standard-issue bimmer these days, but a bit more techno than what I’d like in a roadster (what I’d like is a six-speed stick). There are also paddles behind the steering wheel, for kinda sorta manual shifting. Buttons enable selection of the drive modes: three Sport modes, Comfort, Eco, and Adaptive. The last one learns your driving style and adjusts accordingly.
The 10.25-inch infotainment screen runs BMW’s much-improved iDrive system, with Apple CarPlay as a backup option. Navigation with this setup is excellent.
There’s a one-year SiriusXM satellite radio subscription. Bluetooth pairing is straightforward, as there are USB and AUX ports for device connection.
iDrive also includes a suite of apps.
So what’s the verdict?
The BMW z4 sDrive30i is a smashing set of wheels, especially with the addition of the various M-Sport features. Acceleration is gutsy, and the balance of the car, while not perfect, is pretty close. With robust horsepower and lots of torque on tap, you’ll be tempted to subdue corners rather than finesse them.
If you do, the taut suspension, grabby tires, wonderful brakes, and crisp steering, along with the quick-shifting eight-speed, should fill you with confidence. Straight-line velocity is also nothing to scoff at. This Z4 has a bit of the drag racer hiding under the hood, even with the four banger (the six-cylinder can make that run in a hair under four seconds).
The engine isn’t a burbling or backfiring menace, but it can get its soundtrack on, if it’s in Sport Plus and you’re pushing it in manual mode.
Ragtops have long been knocked by enthusiasts for inadequate stiffness (chopping the roof off with do that), but in my experience, the Z4 was plenty firm – at times too much so, according to my passengers. A retractable hardtop would appease the purists somewhat, but I preferred the quick-collapse soft-top.
That’s the good stuff. Now the bad. The Z4’s natural rivals have always been the Porsche Boxster and the Mazda Miata. With the Boxster, you can spend about what the Z4 costs – or much, much more. From my point of view, the driving dynamics are far different, as the Boxster is a mid-engine sports car, while the Z4 has its motor up front where it belongs.
The Miata, meanwhile, is a relative bargain at $US25-$US30,000, but its no-turbo four makes just 181 horsepower.
(And for what it’s worth, the BMW Z4 shares its underpinnings with the new Toyota Supra – the automakers partnered on development. The Supra is also priced in the Z4’s ballpark.)
Anyone who has followed my car reviewing knows that I’m a Miata nut – and a former Miata owner (I had a first-gen car). To me, a roadster should be a low-powered sports car that’s all about peppy top-down motoring, not ripping up asphalt.
In that sense, the Z4 is too much machine. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it; I did indeed. But it’s a muscle roadster, and all I sampled was the four-cylinder; the six is definitely a big boy and candidly I’d struggle to get into all the horsepower on public roads.
So if I were buying, and all the Miatas had already been bought, I’d take the Z4 30i. With 255 horsepower, this car is about at the limit of what I’m seeking in a snappy little ragtop. It’s also a very well-crafted set of wheels. BMW doesn’t disappoint with this package.
Obviously, not the most versatile car in the world, but there are times when versatility is the enemy. And for those times, the BMW Z4 is your chariot.
AND DON’T LEAVE JUST YET BECAUSE …
The BMW Z4 was the last car that departing Business Insider Transportation Correspondent Ben Zhang drove. (He liked it!)
Since 2014, Ben and I have worked together as closely as I ever have with anyone in journalism. Now he’s moving on, to try his hand at corporate communications in the auto industry.
The five years I drove hundred of cars with Ben have been among the most rewarding of my entire, three-decade career. We agreed and disagreed, discussed and debated, and along the way we created Business Insider’s annual Car of the Year Award, now headed into its sixth edition for 2019.
Ben knows more about cars (and aeroplanes) than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of people who know a lot about cars. He put his knowledge to good use, helping Business Insider to greatly expand its coverage of the transportation world.
He also got behind the wheel of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and a host of other posh and exotic machines. That kind of experience can warp minds, but Ben was always the model of a professional enthusiast. If you were on the lookout for an admirable example of the car-writer calling, Ben was (and is) most assuredly it.
Almost every Saturday or Sunday, we’d meet in my driveway to compare notes on our test car (and sometimes cars) for that week. I love few things more than to talk about cars in my driveway, so I came to look forward to these sessions, and over the years Ben became almost a member of my family.
I’m proud of the man, who took a risk when he came to Business Insider with the idea that he might have a few things to say about automobiles and aeroplanes. A good car guy is hard to find. But Ben is one on the best.
Good luck in the new gig, my friend! They might not yet know how lucky they are to have you.
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