When it comes to the BMW Z4, the version everyone wants to know about is the Z4 M40i. It’s the first M Performance variant of the Z4 and it’s the one that famously shares its engine with the Toyota Supra. That engine is BMW’s excellent B58 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 engine and it makes a whopping 382 hp in North America. However, the version of the Z4 that seems to take a backseat, one that’s often forgotten by enthusiasts, is the new BMW Z4 sDrive30i. I’m here to tell you, though, that it shouldn’t be forgotten.
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We recently attended BMW’s Test Fest in Palm Springs, California, at the wonderful Thermal Club. If you’ve never been to Thermal, you need to check it out. It’s basically a country club for rich car enthusiasts and it’s awesome.
While there, we were able to test several new BMWs, on both road and track, and one of them was the new BMW Z4 sDrive30i. While we were only able to sample it on the road, and surrounding construction limited our fun during the route, we drove it enough to understand that it’s a great little sports car that shouldn’t live in the shadow of its six-cylinder sibling.
Let’s start with what the Z4 ’30i is. Under the skin, it’s essentially the same car as the M40i version, only it packs a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder under its hood. That little turbo four-pot might be small but it delivers a hefty 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which being available between 1,550-4,400 rpm. So it has some serious punch, especially when you consider it only weighs about 3,200 lbs. So 0-60 mph is claimed to take 5.2 seconds. We wouldn’t be surprised if it actually cracked the high four-second range in real world testing, though.
Out of corners and when pulling away from a stop, the Z4 ’30i packs plenty of punch, more than enough to spin its wheels and make a bit of a scene. It doesn’t sound great but it’s not bad, either. It’s more of a generic angry turbo-four noise. It’s enough to make things exciting, though. It makes up for that with character, though. It pulls smoothly throughout its rev range and the eight-speed auto makes easy work of swapping cogs. So its acceleration and performance are more than enough to be fun.
Not Just a Pretty Face
Though, you don’t buy the four-cylinder BMW Z4 for straight-line performance. You buy it because you can live without the performance of the six-cylinder but still want a fun little roadster. And it is indeed a fun little roadster, don’t let its funny looks fool you.
On the move, the Z4’s steering is heavier than expected (though, it’s still relatively light) and very sharp. Even small steering inputs make the Z4 respond in kind and it feels lively. It’s far sharper than I had anticipated and it makes the front end feel very connected, very accurate. While there’s little in the way of actual steering feel, the front end responds exactly to its steering inputs and that allows you to lean on it, feel confident in it. So even without much actual feel, it’s a very accurate, very responsive little car.
Then there’s the chassis, which is very playful and incredibly rigid for a two-door roadster. To be honest, I didn’t sample it with the top up (why would anyone drive a Z4 with the top up in Palm Springs, honestly?), and I completely forgot it was a roadster. During my drive, the chassis felt so stiff and rigid that I never once noticed a single shimmy or shake. It’s that good.
I was also really impressed by its suspension setup. The car I was testing had adaptive dampers and even in its Sport mode, it never felt harsh or uncomfortable. When you consider that the roads around Thermal are horrific — filled with rough pavement and deep potholes — and that it lacks a fixed roof, the fact that the Z4 is actually comfortable even in Sport mode is seriously impressive. Despite being comfortable, it’s never soft or squishy, like the previous Z4. It’s a proper sports car and both its suspension and chassis feel firm and composed. So it’s impressively damped; full of composure but never harshness.
Prettier in Person
Personally, I think it looks great as well. While I didn’t love it in photos, seeing it in person makes a big difference. The car I drove was wearing Frozen Grey II Metallic paint with Magma Red interior and 19-inch jet black wheels. It looked like a proper sports car, both inside and out, and while sitting in it, it felt special. Though, the best color option is Misano Blue. There was only one available at Test Fest in that blue and it looked fantastic. If it were my money, that’d be my color.
While the inside isn’t much different than that of a 3 Series, it feels a bit more special. The seats adjust nice and low, so you can sit low enough to feel like you’re sitting on the ground and that’s what you want in a sports car. Despite sitting low, there’s still enough visibility over the scuttle (and I’m only 5’9″ on a good day), so it’s easy to see out of and place on the road. The seats are also very comfortable and supportive while looking great, as well.
Complaints? There are a few. While the digital gauges are the same as on all new BMWs, the actual screen is much smaller on the Z4 than it is on, say, the 3 Series. Because of that, they can be a bit tough to read while driving quickly. Thankfully, the brilliant head-up display can provide you with all the info you need. Also, some of the materials felt a bit less than stellar on the inside for a car that costs closer to $60,000 than $40,000. And for a pure, bespoke sports car, it should have a better sounding exhaust.
No Six-Cylinder, No Problem
Though, these are minor quibbles. The new BMW Z4 sDrive30i is a great little sports car and is already one of the best sporty roadsters on the market. We didn’t get much time in it but I can already say that it’s better to drive than any roadster in its price range that doesn’t wear a “Boxster” badge on it. And even still, I think the Z4 can properly challenge it. Do you smell a comparison test coming?