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.
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?
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.