When the 2020 Toyota Supra was first revealed to the world, it was no secret that a lot of its heritage was shared with BMW. From parts to even the platform and engine itself, the strong connection to BMW was very evident. While the reborn Supra was not present during the annual MAMA Spring Rally event in Elkhart, Wisconsin, we opted for the next best thing, and spent some quality time with the source material that the absent Toyota riffs from, the 2019 BMW Z4. But can the Z4 reinvent itself in a niche segment where its predecessors have tried and failed to dethrone the benchmark Porsche 718 Boxster from its top sales spot? Or is the latest chapter of the Z4 still the outsider looking in at the higher reaches of the luxury sports car market?
Meaner Than Before, But Where’s The Aesthetic Balance?
When one looks at the exterior styling of the all new Z4, it will certainly be a very polarizing sight. This iteration of Z4 ditches the more elegant inspired suit of clothes that defined older Z4 offerings, and instead embraces the more athletic sector of the market that BMW is truly aiming for with this car. Like recent BMW offerings, the once tidy kidney grilles have eaten one too many helpings of French fries at Five Guys, and they look like awkward tacked on after thoughts. It’s a shame since the dual kidneys on the previous generation Z4 helped create a more unified appearance, and actually worked better with the front fascia styling. Thankfully, the headlights adopt a much sleeker motif, and they really help the front fascia recover some lost ground, along with the revamped lower bumper.
The side profile is arguably the Z4’s strongest asset, and we like the slick character line that runs along the upper portion of the doors and guides the eye to the rear of the roadster (more on that later.) It also helps draw observers to other compelling aspects of the design, including the lower portion of the door sills which kicks up towards the rear in a tasteful manner. On that note, the rear end takes a lot of its inspiration from the bigger 8-Series, but here, it looks very awkward, and a bit too bulky for our tastes. BMW designers recently switched from the heavier power operating hardtop, to a lighter soft top, and it did a good job keeping the cold weather out of the cabin of our tester. Fold it down, and it helps the Z4 look spirited and ready to soak in the sunshine. While the Z4 still has some ground to make up when it comes to besting the 718 Boxster in a battle of style, it is a notable improvement in a few areas over its predecessor, and we look forward to seeing what revisions BMW will have in store for its mid-cycle refresh.
Much Improved Interior Coddles And Encourages Fun Driving, But Comes With A Catch:
Wheras the exterior styling of the Z4 looks like its trying to find its inner self, the work that was done to reboot the interior has proven to be more successful. The cabin is awash in premium materials, with our tester featuring a stitched dashboard, sculpted leather sport seats, and a very attractive pattern that adorns the fore-mentioned thrones, as well as other areas of the interior. As expected from a two seat roadster, the space is somewhat cramped, and leg room can be a bit tight for taller occupants. Along with the ample amounts of wood and leather, the Z4 also comes loaded with technology, and includes an on-board WiFi hotspot, and corner illuminating lights.
The familiar I-Drive control knob is still present, and despite it being increasingly overwhelmed by the ever increasing complexity that BMW regularly puts into its infotainment layout, the controller still does a very good job of helping drivers easily access various features. The system also now benefits from redundant controls via the touchscreen itself, and this helps make the user experience more seamless, while also removing a glaring weakness that defined older iterations of the I-Drive system. Meanwhile, the seats do their best to accommodate a wide range of driver types, and come equipped with inflatable bolsters, adjustable seat pans, and four way lumbar adjustments. Look for these features to help maximize freeway comfort, and we really appreciated the way that it even made our street driving experience more enjoyable.
The Z4 also shames some of its rivals with the amount of storage spaces and nooks that are scattered throughout the cabin, including a cell phone tray, parcel shelf, and a trunk pass through that doubles as a second glovebox. That said, not everything is perfect in regards to the BMW’s finer points, with some buttons being a long reach for the driver, and the sheer button overload that exists on the center stack. However, our biggest gripe centers around the way the company approaches Apple CarPlay. Unlike other cars in the broader marketplace (which offer it for free permanently in some cases,) BMW offers it for free for only one year. After that, customers still looking to use it have to pay $80 per annum to continue using their iPhone with their new roadster purchase. With Android equipped phones still being able to connect to the car either via the WiFi hotspot, or through the Bluetooth system, this absurd annual fee may force some Apple customers to switch their phone brand, and this cash grab also makes BMW a bit of a black sheep in a luxury car segment where even some of its rivals don’t charge an annual fee for access to either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability.
Downsized Performance Makes Us Miss The Supra:
Along with its platform, interior, and other key items. The 2019 BMW Z4 also shares a lot of its performance hardware with the 2020 Toyota Supra. However, unlike the soon to be released M40i variant, which uses the same 3.0 liter turbocharged inline six that also sees duty in its Japanese twin, our tester broke rank, and was powered by the base 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four cylinder which is good for a modest 255 horsepower, and is mated to a slick shifting eight speed automatic. While it is not the veiled Supra that we were initially expecting to see when we arrived in Wisconsin, bad early morning track conditions at Road America gave us the rare opportunity to take it out on the street, and see how the Z4 measured up as a daily commuter. The Z4 is capable of hitting 60 mph in 5.1 seconds which is good until you consider that some mainstream entries such as the Honda Accord Touring 2.0T can practically match this figure for much less money when properly equipped.
Our tester’s 3,407 lb curb weight also made its presence felt in some of the sweeping corners that dotted our road circuit, with the BMW demanding more effort from the driver than a similarly equipped Porsche 718 Boxter. The body bobs and pitches with reckless abandon, and the chunky steering wheel is paired to an electrically operated variable assist ratio rack that is too quick, lacks cohesion in sweepers, and is crying out for more feedback. The last item is also yet another powerful reminder of just how perfectly tuned BMW’s older and heavier hydraulic based systems were with the spot on road feel and perfectly tuned steering wheel weight making you feel like you were truly at one with the car, versus being isolated from the road like an outsider looking in. Furthermore, the Z4 prefers not to be rushed, and wheras the 718 Boxster can do its job like a skilled surgeon, the Z4 prefers to soak in the scenery and take a bit more time when it comes to go through the motions. We hope that the M40i will bring more vigor to the Z4, and help alleviate some of the driving quirks that define the four cylinder Z4 to boot.
That said, it’s not all bad news for the “base” model, with the sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires and the additional inches in front and rear track helping the car grip the road fairly well, which is also another reason why having a well sorted steering rack is essential in this kind of car. Braking in our tester was also very strong, with the pedal offering good amounts of travel and bite, especially in panic stop situations.
Pricing for the 2019 BMW Z4 Sdrive35i reflects the niche segment that it competes in, with base models starting at $49,700. As expected, the tester BMW had on hand at Road America came equipped with a healthy suite of options, including the $2,950 M Sport package, $2,500 Executive Package, and the $2,450 Track Handling package. These key upgrades (among others) helped play a big role in raising the price, with our tester ringing in at a final total of $63,545. This base price is a relative bargain when compared to the pricier 718 Boxster, with the Porsche boasting a higher $59,000 base price, and equally loftier figures when equipped with a comparable suite of equipment. Another rival is of course, the Toyota Supra. Currently, the Supra is available with only the spicier 3.0 liter inline six, but rumors suggest that a four cylinder version will appear, which would give it a bit of a pricing advantage over the droptop Z4.
Another rival is the Infiniti Q60 coupe. While the Q60 lacks the ability to fully embrace the sunshine like the BMW, it is cheaper, has more power than the entire Z4 family, and the Red Sport offers even more muscle for those looking to have more oomph in their weekend drive. However, the Q60 is based on an older platform, and that means older electronics that cannot hang with the slicker and decidedly more modern I-Drive infotainment system, as well as a slightly inferior suspension system.
While the 2019 BMW Z4 brings plenty of new and welcome features to the brand’s smallest two seater, it’s obvious that there is still more work that needs to be done to make the four cylinder variant a more compelling purchase for buyers. We hope that BMW will address some of the flaws that exist with the steering and suspension system, as well as put the car on a diet to help it regain some of the lost luster that once defined its ancestors.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.