If you are a car enthusiast – and you probably are if you’re reading this review about a sports car – you’ve no doubt heard about the partnership that birthed the BMW Z4 roadster and the 2020 Toyota Supra coupe.
While the Supra has received a lot of hype, much of which is fueled by nostalgia from the last-generation car, we must not forget that without BMW’s engineering prowess and components, the Supra wouldn’t exist. Nor would the Z4.
This latest generation BMW Z4 marks the end of a four year hiatus. As expected it’s better than ever. Note that this time around, the Z4 is only offered as a convertible. Incidentally, it’s BMW’s least expensive two-seater. The previous generation car’s heavy and complex retractable hard top has been shed for a more traditional power folding soft top.
It doesn’t give up much as far as an increase in NVH thanks to multiple layers and its tight interior seals. There’s a load more trunk space too now that there is no metal roof to eat up precious cargo space.
Despite the common rootstock, both the Supra and Z4 legitimately appeal to different audiences. The Supra is tuned and set-up differently from the Z4 and plays to a different, JDM-infused vibe.
My test vehicle was the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i, tuned by BMW’s legendary high-performance M division. Powered by an inline six-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine, the M40i packs a lot of grunt thanks to 382 horsepower funneled through the only gearbox option, an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission.
For the first time ever, the Z4 isn’t available with a clutch pedal. You won’t really miss it though, as the eight-speed is one of the best around. Even on a tight and twisty track, the autobox rewards with snappy shifts, sharp responses, and smooth operation. It matches the smooth and refined power delivery from the engine, and the combo is good for a 0-100 km/hr time of just 3.9 seconds.
In case you’re keeping score, that’s quicker than the latest 350 horsepower Porsche Boxster S.
If you don’t need the power, a tamer sDrive30i Z4 is also available with the brand’s excellent turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 255 horsepower. The 30i is no slouch either, sprinting from 0-100 km/hr in around 5.2 seconds.
M Sport bits and bobs
Every M40i gets fitted with an M sport suspension for better handling. This also includes larger 19-inch wheels and tires, and an optional Track Handling package sporting an M Sport e-differential and larger M Sport brakes.
If you want the short story, despite its sporty aspirations, the Z4 settles nicely into long-haul “work” or the daily commute. Nonetheless, BMW has billed the Z4 as having been engineered with a focus on maximum agility, dynamism, and steering precision.
So here’s the long story. With its adaptive dampers tuned as well as they are, recreational track driving isn’t only the Z4’s pièce de résistance. In comfort mode, where I spent most of my time with the car, broken surfaces are filtered out nicely although this is still a relatively short wheelbase sports car. Toggle into Sport mode and you’ll get much sharper turn-in and a much firmer (but not uncomfortable) ride.
I particularly liked the Sport Individual mode which allowed me to configure my own a la carte menu of steering effort, transmission and engine responsiveness, as well as suppleness of the ride.
Particularly in Sport mode and on a race track, you can feel the e-differential working in the rear half of the Z4 as you hold onto the edge of traction past the apex of a bend. The steering is mega precise, but doesn’t offer as much sensation as what you might find from the Porsche Boxster.
Nonetheless, there is enormous grip and the high geared steering acts so intuitively that you can aim the car with missile-lock-like accuracy to thread tight bends.
Sport mode also enables the M40i’s crackling, burbling exhaust system, loosening the Comfort mode’s shackles. You can really get to hear and see how visceral of a package the vehicle is. It’s seriously fun.
On the inside
The interior of the Z4 is a great place to spend some time. These days, all BMWs have such fantastic interiors that the Z4 doesn’t feel particularly more sporty than its brethren.
As the vehicle is based on a shortened version of the CLAR chassis, which also underpins the BMW 5-Series, the cabin is a technological tour de force.
BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional brings the latest digital gauges to the instrument binnacle and you’ll also find all the prerequisite active safety bits and bobs such as pre-collision mitigation braking and blind-spot warning.
The brand’s latest active cruise control system, complete with a semi-autonomous driving function, can also be fitted to the Z4. BMW’s adaptive cruise control that operates all the way down to a stop goes by the name “Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go”. One step beyond that, “Active Lane Keeping Assist” with Side Collision Avoidance constitutes hands-on, lane-centering steering that can work down to a stop in certain traffic conditions.
At speeds below 60 km/hr, Extended Traffic Jam Assistant enables hands-free driving at low speeds on divided highways as long as you’re paying attention, something the car intuits with an optical/infrared driver-facing camera fitted to the instrument cluster. It makes BMW one of a handful of brands to offer provisional hands-free driving.
As this is 2019/20, the Z4 is also a fully internet connected car. In addition to being able to deliver and integrate the live traffic data into the GPS navigation system, the iDrive infotainment system also features a WiFi hotspot.
Apple CarPlay compatibility is there, as is BMW’s own voice assistant which can be activated by saying, “Hey BMW”. Over-the-air map and infotainment system updates can also be pushed from BMW’s HQ.
The ConnectedDrive mobile phone app allows you to control or access certain functions remotely such as remote start, lock/unlock, or activation of the horn and lights. It might not be anywhere close to as instantaneous as using the keyfob, but via the app, you can even have the climate control activate at a set time every day to “pre-condition” the vehicle.
The app itself is rather comprehensive as well and offers up the owner’s manual, a section for recalls and diagnostics, roadside assistance, and even allows you to send a destination from your mobile phone to the in-car navigation map. Cool beans.
Having seen sales of the Z4 drop by almost 30 per cent since its birth in 2002, BMW wants a piece of the Boxster’s action. The only way to achieve this, it reckons, is to build a sports car that’s at least as compelling to drive as a Boxster, hence the far more thrusting dynamics of the new Z4.
The Z4 is not only more aggressive than its predecessor to look at, but also to drive to, listen to, and in everything it does. With much more of a driver-orientated focus this time round, the car is a lot more rewarding to drive generally.