Is the roadster dead?

BMW Z4 | June 20th, 2015 by 12
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Everyone seems to be losing their mind about the Mazda MX-5 lately. With good reason, though, as Mazda’s little roadster is one of the more …

Everyone seems to be losing their mind about the Mazda MX-5 lately. With good reason, though, as Mazda’s little roadster is one of the more fun cars on the road and can be had for less the $30,000. But in all honesty, it’s really the only roadster that people get excited for anymore. With the exception of the Porsche Boxster, which is far more expensive, the MX-5 is the only roadster making waves. So, is the two-seater roadster dead?

BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen all currently have roadsters on the market but nobody seems to care. Unfortunately, the BMW Z4 is falling into obscurity as it quickly starts to show its age.

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The Mercedes SLK Class is actually quite new, yet still, no one cares. I actually forgot Audi made a TT Roadster and I don’t think I’ve seen a newer model (or maybe I have and just haven’t noticed it because it’s that boring) and Volkswagen’s Eos is a constant victim of jokes. So what’s happening to the roadster?

I think the problem is how serious roadsters have gotten lately. For instance, Mercedes is more concerned about giving the SLK airscarf heaters for the back of the driver’s neck instead of making the car fun to drive. Both the Z4 and SLK have heavy metal folding hardtops, which add weight in all the wrong places, hurting driving dynamics and inflating the price. Porsche’s Boxster seems to be doing very well still, because it’s still more fun than serious and the same can be said for the MX-5, whose main goal is grin-induction.

Roadsters shouldn’t be serious cars, as they inherently don’t make much sense. Cutting the roof off of a car has no practical value whatsoever. The only purpose for top-down motoring is extra enjoyment. So roadsters need to get that mojo back, much like the MX-5 and Boxster. BMW’s Z4 is still a very good car to drive, but one look at a sales figure sheet would tell you otherwise. So how does BMW get back in the game?

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There are a few ways for BMW’s next roadster to be a real hit. Firstly, move back to the soft top. If it’s good enough for the 6 Series, it’s good enough for the Z4. Metal folding roofs just add too much weight and too many complications. The MX-5’s manually-operated roof is a thing of joy and can be operated with one hand in a matter of seconds. Something similar to that would work. Ditch all the motors and metal origami, save weight and space. This would also help in pricing, where BMW needs to do some work. The current Z4 is just too expensive for people to justify a two-seater roadster that isn’t that fast nor does it handle that well. Make it cheaper and more people will buy it. Simple.

Another interesting aspect is BMW’s eDrive. eDrive certainly wouldn’t help in the weight department, but with weight savings in the roof and in other areas, plus the fact that it could have a very small engine, would compensate for the additional weight. What it also would do, is add much needed oomph. The electric motors could help, say BMW’s 1.5 liter TwinPower three cylinder engine, power the rear wheels and that would be more than enough to make a small roadster fun. Plus it would give the car an economical side, which helps make the case for owning an otherwise very impractical roadster.

BMW’s continued work with Toyota could be very beneficial for the Z4 replacement. Toyota has a smash hit on its hands with the GT86/ScionFR-S/Subaru BRZ. Take the lessons learned from that car, add BMW’s latest weight saving technology, powertrains and suspensions and BMW would have a fantastic roadster on its hands. But the absolute key is simplicity, performance and fun. These things have been lacking in roadsters for a while now, the Z4 especially, but BMW has the means to get back in the game.

12 responses to “Is the roadster dead?”

  1. jason bourne says:

    You’re spot on: Lose the gadgetry, mechanical complexity, weight, and above all, reduce the price… The only reason the roadster is near-dead is that it’s priced out of most people’s budgets.

  2. Stephen Garrett says:

    It’s a simple concept. People buy roadsters for basic, pure, driving enjoyment. If your product is complicated, heavy, expensive, and not terribly fun to drive, then you’ve missed the point of a roadster in the first place. So it shouldn’t be hard to figure out why the sales of all the cars you mentioned suck. Like you said, Porsche has no trouble moving Coxsters.

  3. JRobUSC says:

    Porsche does fine with Boxsters, Jaguar sells plenty of F-Types and Mercedes sells plenty of SL’s, so the expensive roadster market isn’t dead. I don’t think BMW needs to lose the hardtop, and they don’t need to decontent the features either. The current Z4 is beautiful, especially with the top up. What they need to do is make it lighter, and make the lower models less expensive. A 240hp 4-cyl Z4 28i shouldn’t cost more than a Corvette. If they could make an M Roadster with the new M3/M4 engine and get the weight down to the 3000lb range, with a set of sticky (and non-ride destroying) Pilot Super Sports, they’d have a phenomenal drivers car, and one that would be worth the money.

  4. CDspeed says:

    The last roadster I test drove was the current Boxster S when it first came out. I used to like Porsche’s Tiptronic automatic, it was very smooth, you could put it in drive, and cruise the beaches. But I got in the new Boxter with the PDK transmission, and almost immediately hated it, I don’t know if I had it set wrong but the first red light I came up to I could feel the car rock down every gear. Up until then I could get in a Boxster, and just enjoy it, but the new one isn’t simple enough. And the same goes for the Z4, but the Z4 for some reason just doesn’t grab my attention. I think our favorite German roadsters have lost their way, I think the problem is they’ve become too much like regular cars. The Z4 almost seems like a 3-Series roadster, rather then an attractive sports car. It feels like it was made out of left overs, and BMW doesn’t care about it anymore.

  5. Mike Vella says:

    I got nothing to add, but I took this shot of a z4 at my dealer when I got my car serviced a week or so ago.

  6. Eaton Zhou says:

    I have a 2015 Z4 and if it had a soft top I would not have gotten it. Soft tops are ugly plain and simple and they wear out quicker than hard tops. My the top carbon fiber and keep it hard. The writer of this article fails to take into account that there are people who use the roadster as the primary car, such as myself, who appreciate the bells and whistles that a Z4 has over a Miata.

    • JRobUSC says:

      I loved my Z4 35is. It was stunningly gorgeous, literally got compliments and thumbs ups from strangers everywhere I went. Only car I’ve ever missed. Might actually get another one at the end of the year, but BMW dropped Deep Sea Blue, which looked amazing on that car.

  7. TheBingoBalls says:

    The roadster is dead for two reasons (my thoughts/opinion):

    1. People don’t have the disposable income like the past. Everyone is a lot more careful with the spending in today’s tough economy. Before when roadsters were hot, people would buy one as a toy and not even thing twice about it. Today, everyone is trying to get the most for their buck which is why roadsters don’t sell, they don’t do anything practical.

    2. Technology. Cars do so much today. In the past, cars were pretty much one trick ponies – you pick the car that best fit your needs. Do you need comfort? Do you need room? You want a more sporty drive? You can find cars today that do all of that. Yeah you’ll never get that roadster feel in a cabriolet but you get just enough that you don’t have to spend money on a dedicated roadster.

    Yes, the Porsche Boxster is the runaway favourite today but that’s for people who are financially sound so the roadster isn’t dead to them, but for the majority of the world’s population, the roadster is a memory.

    • rpasea says:

      I don’t think BMW targets people with disposable income issues. There are plenty of people who can drop money for a Z4 without sweating it if the car is a compelling buy.

  8. trollsbwild says:

    Just bought a 2014 Z4 3.5i with 6,600 miles on it. Got an extended warranty up to 75K. One-third off sticker price.

    I believe it’s a good value as pre-owned.

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