New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 BMW Z4 M40i

This brilliant roadster is in a class of one

SINTRA, Portugal – I blame social media for allowing humanity the opportunity to develop some of its worst traits into habits. One of those traits is the tendency to declare things we like to be the BEST EVAR and the things we don’t like as much to be THE WERK OF THE DEVIL. Unfortunately, that tweet-friendly sense of polarizing snark has no direct relationship to the gray scale world of matter and consequences we all share. Fortunately, all you have to do to escape this hell of our collective creation is put down your phone, grab the keys to something like the 2019 BMW Z4, and go for a drive.

While any car would do—I did ask you to put your phone down, right?—the newest BMW Z4 is an especially good choice for escaping not just social media but whatever it is that spikes your blood pressure. Why? Because it’s a comfortable, reasonably spacious, very quick, rewarding, and simply a fun car to drive. In short, it’s a real BMW for the first time since they changed the name from Z3 to Z4, and that means it’s fun in pretty much any situation. Two versions will be offered in America: the Z4 sDrive30i and the Z4 M40i. I drove the M40i on track at Estoril, and on the roads around Sintra and Lisbon.

It’s not so much about what’s gone into the new Z4 M40i, as the formula is, topologically, very similar to the last hot Z4: a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the top opens up—although this time, it’s a folding soft top rather than a retractable hard top. Instead, it’s more about what hasn’t gone into the new Z4, which is to say, it’s not replete with tuning and features designed to lure in the widest possible spectrum of buyers. Put another way, it’s not that they’ve spiced up the Z4; it’s that they’ve left out all the bland filler. The resulting flavor is much more concentrated.

The Z4’s dynamic chops are unmistakable from the first blip of the throttle and turn of the wheel. On a slippery, recently repaved Estoril road course, the Z4 crabbed and slipped its way into, through, and out of every corner at the limits of adhesion with something between eagerness and ease—neither the driver nor the car ever feel bored, but sometimes, if the driver isn’t fully on it, it almost feels like the car is judging you, ever so slightly. Like it’s taking affront at not being able to entertain you.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and it takes all kinds, but the Z4 should strike most retinas as somewhere between cute and handsome. It’s no awkward-but-endearing Clown Shoe, and neither is it the flame-surfaced blob of the intervening years. It’s its own thing, and a new thing, wearing a new take on the BMW face and doing it well. I like it, or at the least, I don’t loathe it.

Inside, the Z4 is decidedly unloathable. Materials are finally up to snuff for a smaller, less-expensive BMW—the hard plastics are mostly held at bay—and the layout of the seating, controls, and touch points is perhaps the best I’ve ever experienced in a roadster; everything falls to hand the way it should. Even when populated by 12-plus feet and 450-plus pounds of human, the Z4 feels, dare I say it, roomy—for a two-seat, open-top sports car, anyway. The trunk even has space for all of your stuff (9.9 cu. ft. to be precise).

By the numbers, the new Z4 M40i falls into a bit of a gap in the market: 0-60 mph takes 4.4 seconds, top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, and the 3.0-liter turbo six generates 382 hp (at 5,000-6,500 rpm) and 369 lb-ft of torque (from 1,600-4,500 rpm). Compare those figures to say a Porsche Boxster S, which knocks 0.4 seconds off the 0-60 mph time when equipped with the Sport Chrono package; or to a Chevy Corvette, nearly three-quarters of a second quicker to 60 and likely no heavier than the BMW (the Bavarians haven’t released the curb weight for the Z4 M40i, but the sDrive30i weighs in at 3,286 lb with the turbo four-cylinder engine; the Corvette Convertible 1LT weighs in at 3,362 lb per the manufacturer). And of course you have the Toyota Supra, built on the same internal hardware, but tuned with different software, and wearing different exterior sheet metal. (I’ve driven both the Supra and the Z4, by the way, and they’re unbelievably different in feel and behavior).

By the numbers, then, the social media jockeys would have you believe the Z4 is somehow underpowered, or not sharp enough, or unlikely to lap the hallowed Nordschleife quickly enough. The Boxster or the Corvette or even the Camaro or the Mustang will obliterate the BMW, they’ll tweet, smug in their Wikipedia-powered superiority.

But that’s why you don’t listen to a bunch of Manhattan millennials when it comes to cars—just like you don’t listen to vegans when you’re interested in a quality cut of beef, or take guitar lessons from a flute player. There’s nothing wrong with vegans or with Manhattan millennials (or with flute players), of course, but on these topics, they’re only going to have opinions. No real experience or knowledge, and certainly no taste or discrimination.

With over a decade of wheeling the industry’s best cars around thousands of laps on tracks on three continents and exactly six tweets since January, I can assure you, the Z4 M40i is neither too slow, nor too soft, nor underpowered at all. Sure, it lacks the standout spec-sheet the Tweetniks have told us we should demand (and go totally mental over) and it has less chance of setting a ‘Ring record than a fried onion. But it’s one of the most well-rounded, let’s-go-anywhere two-seaters I’ve ever driven, and a brilliant sports car, even if it excels at nothing in particular. I suppose the question you have to ask yourself is: Are you more Goldilocks, or more Gangnam Style?

If you answered Goldilocks, congratulations, this is your new car—or at least it could be. Maybe even should be. If you answered Gangnam Style, well, maybe you’ve seen those electric scooters lying around everywhere?

2019 BMW Z4 M40i Specifications

ON SALE Z4 sDrive30i: March 2019; Z4 M40i: Mid-2019
PRICE N/A
ENGINE 3.0L turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6/382 hp @ 5,000-6,500 rpm, 469 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 170.7 x 73.4 x 51.4 in
WHEELBASE 97.2 in
WEIGHT 3,286 (Z4 sDrive30i); TBD (Z4 M40i)
0-60 MPH 4.4 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph (limited)

 

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2019 BMW Z4

MSRP $0 Base Convertible