BMW Z4 vs. Porsche Boxster

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Automotive Editor

Seth Harrison is a journalism major at James Madison University and has been an automotive fanatic for as long as he can remember. He has interned for Autoweek.com, and has also worked on some of JMU’s student-produced magazines. He is eagerly awaiting the day that he has the space and means to purchase his ideal project car: something Volkswagen from the 1980s.

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, Automotive Editor - November 15, 2013

Since 1998, both BMW and Porsche have been in the business of building roadsters to which the owners of Mazda Miatas aspire. Porsche offers up the Boxster, with a choice of mid-engine flat-sixes; BMW, meanwhile, does battle with a Z4 that packs a turbocharged four-cylinder or traditional inline-sixes in a more conventional front-engine layout.

So, when the time does come to trade in the Miatas, which of these German roadsters is the most satisfying?

See a side-by-side comparison of the Z4 & Boxster >>

What the Porsche Boxster Does Right

Now that the Toyota MR2 is no longer sold, the Porsche Boxster is one of the least expensive mid-engine cars on the market today. The layout optimizes weight distribution and gives the car eager, responsive handling that rewards even a very demanding driver; a variety of options can further enhance handling characteristics. Buyers have a choice of transmissions: a six-speed manual, or Porsche's PDK automated manual. Both deliver a good amount of driver involvement, although in slightly different ways.

To get that open-air feeling, the Boxster's fabric softtop can be electrically lowered in a brisk nine seconds, the same amount of time that it takes the Boxster S to hit 60 mph -- twice.

What the BMW Z4 Does Right

The Z4 tries to strike the perfect balance of roadster and coupe with the use of a retractable hardtop. The result is good rigidity in the chassis, and better rear visibility than one might have with a fabric top. An array of electric motors fold the top gracefully into the trunk in 20 seconds.

The Z4 is roomy inside for a roadster, and the controls are well-placed. BMW’s seven-speed DCT automated manual is available on the more powerful Z4 variants -- it snaps through each gear with authority. To wring out maximum performance, the DCT also comes with launch control. For those who want less automation in their driving experience, a six-speed manual is offered on all Z4 models.

Which One Provides the Most Satisfaction?

Continual development since 1998 have taken these two roadsters in different directions. The BMW has embraced technology, with its complex robo-roof and DCT transmission. Porsche, meanwhile, has focused on refining the driving experience, and all the ways a driver interacts with the car. As a result, the Boxster’s manual transmission manages to feel more satisfying than BMW’s comparatively notchy unit, and its steering has a touch more precision than that in the Z4.

Our Verdict: Porsche Boxster

The Z4’s techno toys are fun, but we can’t minimize the appeal of a car that is totally focused on the driver.

Take a closer look at the BMW Z4 >>

Take a closer look at the Porsche Boxster >>

, Automotive Editor

Seth Harrison is a journalism major at James Madison University and has been an automotive fanatic for as long as he can remember. He has interned for Autoweek.com, and has also worked on some of JMU’s student-produced magazines. He is eagerly awaiting the day that he has the space and means to purchase his ideal project car: something Volkswagen from the 1980s.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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