Lacey Elliott: As Canadians, purchasing any kind of convertible is driven by emotion instead of logic. Our prime months for top-down driving are so short, and really, the enjoyment is very limited.
Owning a roadster, is even more illogical. Compared to a traditional convertible, a roadster only seats two. Most people who own one of these small cars also have a second, more practical vehicle at home. Being behind the wheel of a two-seater car is truly all about the joy of driving and the freedom of the open road. This purchase is therefore influenced by the feeling that comes over us. And often, that feeling has no logical underpinnings.
I am elated to say that after a 10-year absence, the BMW Z4 Roadster is back for its sixth generation. Using the same platform as the Supra, the all-new 2019 Z4 is a co-production with Toyota. This roadster gets a new sport chassis with a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, improved soft top for reduced weight and greatly increased cargo space throughout.
Dan Heyman: I would actually go farther than that; I’d say that car buyers in general buy convertibles based on emotion instead of logic, and that it’s not a habit restricted to Canadians. Granted; in Canada, we have all the airborne nuisance of snow and rain. In Arizona, though, they have 40-plus degree temps and blinding sun, and who wants that beating down on their bald spot? So even there, you’re buying a convertible to be seen, and to occasionally have the wind in your hair, when the weather’s just right. To be seen, and because there’s an undeniable rush of endorphins you get when you drop that top and hit that throttle.
For me, though, it’s never been quite enough to make me select a convertible over a hardtop choice of the same car. Hardtops-cum-convertibles are inherently heavier, and can be a little more flexible, a little softer because when you chop the top, as it were, you’re losing a pretty important structural piece.
Things are a little different, however, with vehicles like the Z4. That’s because vehicles like the Z4 are built from the ground-up as drop tops and so get all the necessary bits baked in from the get-go, so as to keep the car’s balance. Think Mazda MX-5, or Porsche Boxster (but not the latest Toyota Supra – and that’s the last I’m going to mention of the car with which this latest Z4 shares a platform, because there’s really no more to explore past that and frankly, I’m kind of tired of hearing about it) for other examples of this.
It was with that in mind that I set off to test this latest BMW Z-car.
LE: The exquisite exterior styling has character traits reminiscent of classical sports cars. I think this car is best viewed from behind. A sculpted rear end with a wide and powerful stance is accented by trapezoidal exhaust tailpipes. Thin, horizontally arranged light assemblies, in the brand’s customary L-shape, help to create a road-hugging appearance. I love how the trunk lid’s integrated spoiler creates clean lines and helps to give this BMW a polished look.
Of course, this Z4 looks great from the front as well. The broad BMW kidney grille with headlights positioned at the outer edges shows off the new design direction for BMW. LED headlights are standard and adaptive LED headlights are available as an option.
No matter what the angle, this little car looks impressive.
The design elicits a feeling of movement. It looks like this car wants to be on the road. More athletic-looking than the Porsche Boxster or Mercedes SLC, it was love at first sight for me. Those other roadsters are sleek, but this BMW’s chiseled angles gets top marks.
Space is always an issue when you only have seats for two people. BMW has done a great job of increasing cargo capacity throughout the entire roadster. The cubbies on both doors are deep and I can easily fit my wallet. The mesh compartment behind the seats is big enough to secure a large purse or even a briefcase. Keep in mind that it is an open area, so you wouldn’t leave things there when parked with the top down. It is, however, a convenient location to put your things while you drive.
The designers have delivered a beautiful balance between luxurious elegance and a driver-focused cockpit. The engine Start/Stop button, iDrive Controller, and the switch to operate the soft-top roof are conveniently located in the centre console. This design allows the driver to focus on driving.
Not so convenient, however, is the location of the cupholders. They are positioned in the centre console directly under my elbow. A very awkward spot if you want to enjoy a coffee while you commute. However, if you are focus and enjoy the drive as much as I do; you will forget about your coffee altogether.
The trunk has 50% more space than the old Z4 and will easily hold 2 suitcases with room to spare. I am not a golfer; so I’m unsure if clubs would fit inside. Maybe Dan will have to take a trip to the course to test this out.
DH: I want to go back to Lacey’s “more athletic-looking than a Porsche Boxster or Mercedes SLC” line not because I agree with it – which I do – but because that’s a big win for BMW’s roadster, which has hitherto always been the awkward outsider, ever since its Z3 M Coupé days. Now, though, while it can be lauded for its stance and whatnot, what really stopped me in my tracks most every time I spotted it lurking across the parkade or what have you is the sheer quality of the design, and its presence. Thanks to smart vent design, wheel choice and aero work, this latest Z4 looks much more the purpose-built sports car than its predecessor, even though it’s both larger and lighter. It looks much closer to its gorgeous 8 Series cab sibling than the Z4 ever did to the 6 Series with which it shared a gestation period, and that’s a very good thing. Of course, you lose a little bit of that with the soft top in place, but not all that much.
Inside, there’s a whole heck of a lot to like, starting with that gorgeous brown interior – yes, brown is a la mode these days, but it can look cheap upon closer inspection. Not here, though; this is some top-quality gingerbread stuff here, and it’s likely the way I’d spec my Z4. That beauty can also be found in the sliver detailing, as well as the gauge cluster which is of the digital variety as standard. The question is, of course, whether a glare-inducing TFT gauge cluster makes sense in a drop-top, but it’s angled well and has obviously been given some form of anti-reflective treatment because aside from taking photos, I took no issue with it. I’m also a fan of BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment system, which gets a tiled setup and whose content can be modified to your liking.
Ahh, the cupholders Lacey mentions. Always an issue in small cars like this. Thing is, after a while I kind of got used to it after placing my beverage in the rearmost slot, as it stayed out of my way there. You also may wonder where they are, because you can’t see them in the pics; in an effort to make the most out of the space they had, BMW hid them underneath the centre console doors. What you can see from the pics, however, is that one side of the door is larger than the other; that allows at least the driver to keep some form of a centre armrest, and still be able to store their coffee. I’m also a big fan of the lockable storage bin mounted between the two seats, as it’s well-sized for your most important items such as wallets and glasses cases, and – just like in a MX-5 – makes up for the lack of a central storage bin.
ON THE ROAD
LE: The new sDrive 30i was introduced to the 2019 model year with a new, more powerful 2.0 litre four-cylinder TwinPower turbocharged motor. It features an increase of 15 hp and 35 lb-ft of torque over its predecessor.
As much as that would be an enjoyable vehicle to drive, I am more intrigued to be behind the wheel of the 2020 Z4 M40i. With a 3.0 litre in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, it’s a notable increase of 47 horses over the previous model.
To the disappointment of some consumers, no manual transmission is offered. However, you can still shift yourself with the gear selector or paddle shifters behind the wheel. I am not disappointed at all. In fact, I only shifted myself for a short drive. The gearbox in this car is capable and nimble and takes no effort on my part. It automatically finds the perfect shift point, no matter what your drive style is. This means you can drive with heels and still get the engine to deliver as desired.
The Z4 is pure BMW, with a heavy, yet tight and exceptionally balanced, feel on all road conditions. If you are buying a car like this, you are paying for the brand recognition and the experience of having a car with racing heritage, as well as the coveted ‘M’ status.
With standard Adaptive M-Sport suspension, M-Sport brakes and M-Sport differential, handling is extraordinary. Because of these chassis systems, when the driver switches from Comfort to Sport, the change is obvious. You can enjoy a balanced easy ride and then with the touch of a button put it into Sport mode, tighten up the steering, shorten the gears and enjoy a much more aggressive feel. Putting your foot down moves this gorgeous convertible from 0-100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds. The rear exhaust crackles and snaps as it decelerates and belts out a delicious roar under acceleration. Sport mode is perfect after a long day at the office, letting the animal off its leash to run free.
Comfort mode is enjoyable and delivers the most simple and balanced ride feel. This is how I would drive to work every day. The ride is relaxed, yet still keeps the roadster a bit tight. If you needed to push it a bit, this mode still gives you what you need to pass with ease.
Eco seems like a moot point in this car. Anyone who can afford the price tag cannot be concerned about the money they are spending on premium fuel. This selection sacrifices a lot of the performance expected from owning a car like this. I didn’t drive it this way for long.
Only a soft top is available for the new Z4. This helps to reduce the weight of the car, however, it still feels a bit on the heavy side. The advantage of this heaviness is that you feel planted and solid at all times on the road. A lighter, more nimble car doesn’t feel as substantial.
Even with the top down, conversations can still be held, as surprisingly little wind noise gets into the cabin. Wind still blows my hair into a knotted mess by the end of a drive, but girl talk is attainable. When the top is up, it cuts out some of the annoying elements, but still lets the growl of the engine be heard.
DH: Many will call the Z4 M40i – and the rest of the “M-lite” line-up that uses its 3.0L turbo inline-6 – a knock on the “purity” of the more traditional M cars (M4, M5, etc.) but I’m fairly certain that once they go out for a blat in the Z4, they will change their tone.
Or they should, because you wouldn’t want that brand cynicism to affect your time with the Z4, because you risk shortchanging yourself a fantastic drive if you do.
Being a rear-wheel drive car – the only BMW left in which you can’t even spec xDrive AWD this side of the M3/4,the i3 and i8 – you get a rear-biased feel that’s a perfect fit for a fun roadster like this. As Lacey mentions: the balance is right on, the power starting at the rear and pushing the tail ‘round as the weight transfers and swings you through another turn. It’s an addictive feeling that you want to experience again and again, which is why I took it on a slightly longer drive than I usually do for these types of vehicles, in search of more apexes to clip.
Eventually, I found it and was rewarded with a driving day like few others one would experience in a given year. Turn after turn of smooth tarmac that may as well have been called “BMW Z4 Test Track” because it was such a great showcase of what the Z4 had to offer.
Usually, you’d start a drive report – of a sports car, especially – with a discussion of its powertrain as it’s something you experience as soon as you push the starter button and set off, but when a car makes such a fantastic return on investment through the turns as the Z4 M40i does, you kind of have to start there. Plus, there are way less sexy, but more powerful (and less expensive) cars out there that are much more about the straight and narrow.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Z4’s powertrain isn’t impressive – far from it. It makes the right amount of power and does so with a surprising amount of vocalization through those trapezoid tailpipes, especially in either the Sport or Sport+ drive modes. There, the exhaust baffles are opened and there’s a satisfying brrraaaaap almost everytime you upshift or lift off the throttle. In fact, it actually caught me off guard the first few times it happened; I’d expect that from the likes of the Abarth 500 or Ford Focus RS, but less so from a more luxury-oriented vehicle like the Z4. It’s here, though, and once you allow it all to become part of the soundtrack, it just adds another tantalizing layer to the Z4 M40i experience. Which, it has to be said, is nice to have because being a turbocharged ‘plant, it’s not the most vocal on start-up and I don’t mind a little extra drama to go with my open-top experience.
Speaking of the open top stuff: in addition to chassis fidelity, one of my – and many of my colleagues and friends – bugaboos when it comes to these is the roof operation. How fast is it? How quiet does it keep the interior when up? Does it cost me trunk space when stowed?
Well, briefly: About 12 seconds, plenty quiet, and no, it does not.
The speed thing was the biggest plus for me, as it made me much more inclined to drop the top on what you can see from the photos was a pretty grey day at times. Plus, since it operates while moving, I never had to wait for it to open as I pulled away, or stow as I parked for the night. With a backup camera as good as this, it matters less that your blind spots are in a state of flux due to an active top as you park.
TECHNOLOGY & SAFETY
LE: I am more concerned for my safety when I drive smaller vehicles. Knowing that technological advances are available to keep me safe have a huge impact on how I feel behind the wheel. The Z4 comes standard with Forward Collision Warning, Daytime Pedestrian Detection with City Braking function and the Lane Departure Warning System.
I am happy to say that the latest generation of iDrive is much simpler to use. The large 12.3 inch centre console display is crystal clear. Hardware updates include a tablet-like touch interface and haptic controls for iDrive. This update is intuitive and functions more like our current smart phones.
Once you store your personal information, the BMW Cloud will follow you to other BMW vehicles. If you have two Bimmers in your family or are just upgrading to a newer model over the years, this notable personalization is another thing that makes owning a BMW a prestigious experience.
Starting at just over $62,000 for the s30i and just over $76,000 for this impressive M40i, neither of these cars are affordable to the masses, making the purchase that much more exclusive.
DH: I spoke briefly about the digital gauge cluster earlier, so it’s the contents on the central display screen that I’m more concerned about here. Namely, I speak of the Z4’s Apple CarPlay (not Android Auto, mind, because it’s not supported) integration, as it’s unlike any other car I’ve driven in that in can only be done via Bluetooth – no wires required.
Now, on the surface, this is fine; wires are unsightly and easily forgotten at home, and they can break. This eliminates those issues. However: I’ve tried CarPlay many times, and it’s far from an exact science, often requiring one to unplug and reconnect their device to get it to work. That can’t be done in the Z4, which means you have to navigate through the iDrive system in order to “forget” the device, and then re-pair it again. Not the most elegant of solutions. Not to mention that if your phone doesn’t support wireless charging, you‘d have to plug it in anyway.
LE: This new 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is remarkable. Compare it to the Porsche Boxster or Mercedes SLC, and on paper, any of these three could be seen as “better” than the other. But when it comes to Canadians making a seasonal car purchase, our emotions guide the decision. When I approach this Z4 in my driveway, the muscular stance and angled lines bring a smile to my face. When I put the top down, push the ignition, and hear that incredible growl, it makes my soul smile.
DH: Exactly, Lacey. Cars like this are supposed to give you the “fizz”; that intangible feeling as you approach it, and are in the presence of it, that there’s something special awaiting you once you fire the engine. With the Z4, the looks play a big part in achieving this but luckily for it, it has the performance chops to back it up and to make sure that all that anticipation you get as you approach stays with you once you start it up, and start down the road again and again throughout ownership.