All about the experience. The redesigned 2019 BMW Z4 is far from a practical vehicle. It seats just two, and the trunk won’t fit more than a bag or two. It’s also not meant for the track (yet) – the missing roof takes away some stiffness and adds weight, and the setup is sporty but not quite hardcore.
Instead, the Z4 offers an experience. An aggressive but winning exterior matches a welcoming interior, and the drive is confident and engaging. The soft top will raise or lower at speeds up to 30 mph, and dropping it turns the Z4 into a joy on a summer backroad.
This is the automotive equivalent of those huge candy-store lollipops – it’s not exactly sensible, but on a warm day it puts a smile on your face.
Even in this narrow niche, the Z4 faces some stiff competition. The updated Mazda MX-5 Miata is polished and likable but much cheaper, while the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman offer a more premium experience for a little more dough.
Zip and zest. The Z4 is only offered in one trim: the rear-wheel-drive sDrive30i. The heart of the Z4 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (the same one as the 3-Series) producing 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Those aren’t world-conquering numbers, but they’re healthy enough to send the Z4 from zero-to-60 mph in just over five seconds. This slots the Z4 neatly in between the 191-hp Miata and the 265-hp Boxster. The engine is well matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be controlled by wheel-mounted shift paddles.
One major highlight is the available adaptive dampers, which turn the Z4’s capable suspension into an entertaining and resilient ride. Even the 19-inch rims on choppy pavement can’t spoil the fun.
The Z4 is an engaging drive, more than willing to flick in and out of corners, but it doesn’t like to be pushed to the limit. This is likely because BMW is saving a few tricks for the upcoming 2020 Z4 M40i.
The only real sour spot is steering that feels vague. It’s nicely weighted, but it fails to deliver much information from the wheels.
Built for touring. The comfort-oriented steering set up is likely to preserve the Z4’s (or at least the sDrive30i’s) position as more of a grand tourer than an apex-clipper. Tellingly, there’s no option for a manual transmission – the automatic is all you get.
This generation of Z4 is slightly larger than the last, which makes for a more comfortable cockpit. The seats are 14-way power adjustable and supportive enough for all-day drives, thanks to standard lumbar adjustment.
The trunk is just big enough to be useful, but it’s helped by a pass-through to stick larger objects through into the cabin. Interior design is striking without being distracting, with a large central touchscreen and neat trims like mesh aluminum.
The only ergonomic downside is the wide center tunnel. It makes room for a wide and attractive center stack, but it pushes the driver’s legs a few degrees to the left. This makes the driving position feel oddly offset.
More performance on the way. While the sDrive30i is the Z4’s only trim for 2019, the M40i is coming later this year as a 2020 model. BMW promises a 382-hp turbocharged six-cylinder engine, plus the adaptive dampers, M-sport brakes, and an M-sport torque vectoring differential. It'll likely be even more fun, although it'll certainly be more expensive.
The M40i isn’t the only new vehicle coming out on the Z4’s platform. The BMW shares its bones with the upcoming rejuvenated Toyota Supra, which comes in a coupe body for about the same price. The Supra will get its own tuning and likely be a slightly more focused sports car, but it'll come with similar engine options.
All of this is good news for sports car fans. The Porsche 718 has long reigned supreme as the best experience in its price range, but this new Z4 (and its upcoming siblings) ought to make it a real fight.
Final thoughts. For drivers who like to enjoy the journey, the new 2019 BMW Z4 is a win. It puts BMW back on the map for sports roadsters, and it’s a capable platform with which to take on the likes of Porsche.
We’re most excited for the upcoming M40i, which will dial the Z4’s fun factor up a notch or two, but even in base form, this Z4 is a delight. The top-down experience remains something that few cars on the road can match.