The BMW Z4 is all new for 2019. The sports coupe retains its 2-door convertible body style, but eschews the previous-generation's retracting hard top for a traditional canvas convertible roof. The new model rides a wheelbase that's shortened by an inch but is nearly 4 inches longer overall than the model it replaces. It was engineered with input from Toyota and is built in Austria alongside the similar Toyota Supra. Competitors include the Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi TT, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-Type, Lexus RC and LC, Porsche 911 and 718 and Nissan GT-R.
Two models are offered, the sDrive30i and sDrive M40i. Both are rear-wheel drive only. The 30i comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 255 horsepower. The 40i gets a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine that pumps out 382 ponies. Both engines come standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Z4 sDrive30i lists for $49,700 and the sDrive M40i starts at $63,700. In addition to a more powerful engine the M40i adds upgraded suspension and brakes, larger tires, aerodynamic trim and heated seats and steering wheel. Three option packages are offered: Convenience, Premium and Executive. The Convenience includes park assist, 4-way power lumbar support, Sirius XM radio with 1-year subscription, keyless entry, forward-collision warning, cross-traffic alert and pedestrian detection. Premium adds head-up display heated seats, wireless charging and WiFi hotspot. Executive adds auto hi-beams, additional ambient lighting, LED lights, and 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Apple Car Play support is additional cost and Android Auto is not supported.
While the 6-cylinder engine might be the most appealing from a performance standpoint, most buyers will likely prefer the more "pedestrian" turbo four, which provides a good balance of acceleration and economy. It is rated at a robust 255 horsepower (remember the Z4 tips the scales at a svelte 3200 pounds) and, more importantly, 295 pound-feet of torque. From a stop, it will push the Z4 from 0 to 60 MPH in about 5.2 seconds, that's certainly fast enough for most buyers. But, back to the torque, the engine provides good thrust away from a stop and solid passing punch. It's smooth and works very well with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission. Sadly, no manual is offered in the US. Still, the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters provide quick shifts when the driver is so inclined.
As you would expect, rear-wheel grip can be problem on slippery surfaces. Thankfully, the traction and stability control are standard and work well to limit wheelspin. However, it should be noted that the Z4 really isn't designed to be driven on snow- or ice-covered pavement.
The Z4 offers several driving modes include ECO, Comfort and Sport. Comfort provides good throttle response and enough pep for most situations. ECO dulls off-the-line acceleration. Conversely, when in Sport, there's a noticeable difference in how the engine responds and sounds. It's almost as if you've unleashed another 50 horsepower as the engine's computer management system keeps the revs up even when coasting.
The Z4 is EPA rated at 25 MPG city and 32 MPG highway. Those numbers are fare well against the Z4's competitors. In fact, it's easy to match or exceed those numbers in routine suburban commuting. Conversely, diving heavy into the throttle greatly diminishes the Z4's thrift. Like most in the class, BMW recommends premium gasoline.
The Z4 has traditionally ben one of the best handling sports cars you can buy and this newest iteration builds on that legacy. There's a definite balance to the chassis that's immediately felt once you are behind the wheel. The perfectly weighted steering acts as an extension of your brain as the Z4 effortlessly rounds corners and bends. The brakes provide ample stopping power and the pedal provides ample feedback as you approach maximum braking force. The suspension magically keeps the wheels in constant contact with the road on even the bumpiest of surfaces. All told, the Z4 exudes a confidence that's matched only by the Porsche 918 on twisty roads.
That said, there's a penalty to for all of that track-ready goodness and that comes in the form of a firm ride. Though it's not harsh in the comfort setting, it is certainly busy -- active might be a better term. Toggle over to sport and the ride gets downright troublesome if the tarmac is anything but pool-table smooth. If you were expecting a boulevard cruiser, you'll be disappointed. If you want a great handling sports car with an engaging driving experience, you'll be very pleased.
Given it's drop-top nature, you might expect the Z4 to feel a little flexy over the rough stuff. That's far from the case. The chassis is rock solid and there's no hint of cowl shake or suspension shimmy when traversing railroad tracks. Noise levels are impressively low as well -- unless you push the engine hard, then it sounds terrific. Top down, there is little wind buffeting as the built-in rear wind blocker does an excellent job of limited tumble-back breezes.
The Z4's interior features an all-digital instrument cluster and a 10.2-inch infotainment screen in the center of the dash. Materials are class and price appropriate and the overall design is typical BMW serious with just enough brushed aluminum to keep it fresh.
BMW continues to push its iDrive infotainment system. It's certainly not the easiest to master and can make simple tasks like tuning the radio or setting a destination difficult. Voice and gesture controls have been added, but don't work consistently enough to provide a substitute for a better design. In addition, Apple Car Play is an extra-cost option and Android Auto is not supported. Thankfully, the rest of the switchgear is thoughtfully placed and important tasks quickly become second nature.
As is the case with most sports cars, the seating position is low. The seats themselves are firmly bolstered and have lots of lateral support. In addition, they have BMW's trademark extending seat bottom, which can provide additional support for long-legged adults. Thankfully, both head and leg room are quite good, easily accommodating all but the largest of frames. The windshield headliner is fairly high, so you don't have to peer around it to see stoplights, etc. Visibility to the rear is blocked by the large headrest/roll hoops and high decklid. Door openings are small, making it difficult to get in and out.
The power-operated top features a glass rear window and one-touch operation. It motors up and down in about 10 seconds and works at speeds up to about 30 MPH. Cargo capacity is 10 cubic feet -- pretty good for a tiny convertible. In addition, trunk capacity doesn't shrink when the top is down. Interior storage is minimal with just a few open and covered cubbies throughout. The map pockets, center-console bin and glove box are disappointingly small.
Bottom Line -- BMW has decided to get serious with a complete redesign that transforms the Z4 from a sports coupe to solid sports car. All told, the new Z4 eschews its luxurious trappings for a serious performance upgrade. It's as if BMW took the old car to an extreme fitness trainer and the 2019 Z4 emerged both more capable and more inspiring to drive. That said, it's not perfect. The ride is firm, bordering on harsh, and typical two-seater demons remain -- scant cargo room and high prices. Still, if you are a driving enthusiast, you can't be anything but pleased with what has emerged from this Toyota/BMW marriage. The new Z4 is the real deal.