I recently had the chance to drive the all-new 2019 BMW Z4, which is just coming out. This is the fourth generation of BMW’s “Z” sports car, following up on the original Z3 and two generations of the Z4. This segment is slowing down — Mercedes-Benz recently announced the cancellation of its entrant, the SLC-Class — but BMW is steaming ahead with a new model, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Here’s the basic idea: the new Z4 is offered in two versions. There’s a base model, which is inexplicably dubbed the Z4 sDrive30i, which uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 255 horsepower — that’s the one I drove. Coming soon will be a sportier version called the Z4 M40i, which will use a 382-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder. That one is obviously more exciting, but I suspect I won’t bother driving it, since I will instead choose to check out its mechanical platform-mate, the Toyota Supra.
Yes, you can’t possibly have a BMW Z4 review go up without discussing the Toyota Supra, so let’s talk about it now: the Z4 and the Supra were jointly developed, and they’re built together in Austria. The Z4 is a convertible with two engine options, while the Supra is a coupe with just one, the 6-cylinder, which is going to have 335 hp — a far cry from the Z4’s extra grunt. I’m not sure why that is, but it is, and I expect to review the Supra in about six weeks.
But back to the Z4. The same basic formula from prior Z4 models is still around, meaning that it’s a 2-seater roadster with rear-wheel drive — but it’s worth noting that the manual transmission is gone, replaced instead by an automatic across all models. As I mentioned, I drove the base model, which hasn’t always been particularly noteworthy in the world of the Z4. Typically, it’s a bit of a dog, and it’s considered the one to avoid if you want a real performance car. I didn’t find that to be the case this time.
Indeed, the “base level” Z4 with the 255-hp 4-cylinder actually performed admirably, offering impressive acceleration and a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds. That figure doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as I found the Z4 to be surprisingly potent across all engine speeds, which is especially good — even if you punch the throttle at 30, 40 or 50 mph, you’ll find that the Z4 offers strong pickup — without having to upgrade to the M40i version.
And that’s good news, because the Z4 is expensive enough as it is. The base price is around $51,000 with shipping, which is a lot of money for a small, 2-door car that will almost certainly have to be a companion to a second, more practical vehicle. Add options and you’re at $60,000 easily — again, for the base model, with the base engine. Which is why, like I said, it’s important that the base model performs well — and it does.
Of course, acceleration isn’t the only indicator of performance, and I was especially impressed with the Z4’s steering and handling, which felt sharp, nicely weighted and well-balanced — to the point where it feels like the precise, well-crafted sports car BMW says it is. The car feels stabled and planted on the highway, but also offers flat, predictable cornering — and it doesn’t have the overassessed steering feel some BMW models suffer from. In all, it’s a well-balanced sports car that drives nicely, in a world where not too many of those remain.
And, indeed, the Z4’s competitors are starting to disappear. The SLC is gone, and sales of other rivals — the Audi TT, even the Porsche Boxster — are down to a trickle. This segment isn’t what it once was, which is probably why BMW paired up with Toyota, as it wouldn’t have made sense to redesign the Z4 all on its own. But I’m glad BMW kept the Z4 around, at least for one more generation — and I’m pleasantly surprised by its impressive driving experience.