2020 BMW Z4: Resuming Where it Left Off

Strong points
  • Fantastic six-cylinder engine
  • Excellent handling
  • Well-trimmed cockpit
Weak points
  • No Android Auto integration
  • Not much interior storage space
  • No manual gearbox, if that’s what we prefer
Full report

The Z4 roadster is back, fully redesigned and ready for action. It’s more powerful than ever and its performance and handling have been enhanced, in addition to boasting a more luxurious cockpit and new technologies. Simply put, it’s better than ever, but is it too late?

See, just when the BMW Z4 is making its comeback after a three-year hiatus—a few units of the new generation were sold as 2019 models—some of its competitors are on their way out. The Mercedes-Benz SLC will be retired after the 2020 model year, the Audi TT’s future is unclear, and the Alfa Romeo 4C is about to end production as well. That leaves the Z4 with the Porsche 718 Boxster as its only direct competitor starting next year.

But let’s get back to the car itself. It’s available in two trim levels for now, including the sDrive30i equipped with a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 255 horsepower as well as 295 pound-feet of torque that peaks from 1,500 to 4,400 rpm. It’s connected to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearbox in sight.

The M40i variant, the one we tested this time around, boasts a turbo 3.0-litre inline-six that punches out 381 horsepower as well as 368 pound-feet from 1,850 to 4,500 rpm, also managed by the eight-speed autobox. Zero to 100 km/h is a done deal in 4.1 seconds, or 1.3 second quicker than the sDrive30i.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

It’s also 0.1 second faster than the 350-hp Porsche 718 Boxster S and 0.6 second speedier than the 385-hp Mercedes-AMG SLC 43. There is no high-performance variant of the Audi TT Roadster, but the 394-hp TT RS coupe shoots to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds, aided by the added traction of its all-wheel drivetrain.

We like the Jekyll and Hyde personality of the Z4’s powertrain, thanks to the various drive modes. The Comfort mode keeps things relatively quiet, but activating Sport and Sport+ modes makes the engine and transmission respond in a livelier fashion, while the exhaust system pops and burbles during upshifts and throttle lifts. It’s infantile, we know, but we can’t resist.

Not that it really matters, but the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is the most fuel-efficient of the bunch listed here, with a combined city/highway rating of 9.3 L/100 km. We averaged 8.5 L/100 km with a lot of highway driving.

With a near-perfect weight distribution and a newly developed suspension, the Z4 feels right at home on winding roads, confirming that it’s not just a grand touring roadster, but a true sports car in its own right. The M40i includes goodies like an adaptive M suspension, M Sport brakes and an M Sport differential, in addition to M Sport seats, all of which are part of an option package on the sDrive30i. Only the 718 Boxster handles better, barely.

In case we just came back from a two-year expedition in the Antarctic and haven’t heard the news, the BMW Z4 and the 2020 Toyota GR Supra share platform, powertrain and interior components, the Supra looking more like a restyled and rebadged BMW than the other way around. The association might seem strange, but if these two companies didn’t split development costs, we probably wouldn’t have gotten either one of these sports cars.

The 2020 BMW Z4’s design is resolutely modern and breaks away from the brand’s traditional styling cues, such as the dual-projector headlight clusters. Meanwhile, the long hood/short deck proportions of its predecessors have been toned down, as if the new Z4 isn’t trying to hard to pay homage to past models like the BMW 507 and the BMW Z3.

The Z4’s cockpit is a swell place to spend time in, and although space isn’t all that generous, it’s no more or no less confined than in the Boxster, the TT and the SLC. There’s a restrained amount of bright trim and switchgear, and the new design of the climate controls, which appears in all new BMW models, are simple to use despite not including temperature and fan speed rotary dials. However, there isn’t much storage space on the centre console or under the armrest.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

Thanks to clever packaging, the power-folding top doesn’t steal any trunk space when it’s lowered. Cargo capacity is rated at 281 litres, while the previous-generation Z4’s trunk volume varied from 180 to 310 litres. The top can be raised or folded in less than 10 seconds, even if the car is travelling at a speed of 50 km/h or less.

The iDrive infotainment system is still easy to use, due to the console-mounted multifunction knob and surrounding main menu buttons. The knob surface is also touch-sensitive, so we can doodle letters and numbers to set a destination in the navigation system. A 12.3-inch driving instrument panel is standard, as is a 10.25-inch touchscreen on the dashtop. Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto isn’t available.

Base price for the 2020 BMW Z4 sDrive30i is set at $64,050 before freight and delivery charges, which competes nicely with the base 718 Boxster, the SLC 300 and the TT Roadster. The Z4 M40i is listed at $76,100, smack in between the SLC 43 and the Boxster S. Our tester included almost $9K worth of options, including head-up display, a Harman/Kardon sound system, wireless phone charging, front and rear park sonar, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Vernasca leather upholstery as well as black-painted 19-inch alloys and a black grille—for a total of $84,895. Curiously, only five paint colours are offered, which limits our personalisation choices.

It’s a blast to drive, it looks stunning and it’s although it’s no bargain, it’s competitively priced. The new Z4 is a better roadster is almost every way than the previous generation, and a mighty foe to the Porsche 718.

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