Roadsters are dead. Gone. Finished. Gone are the days when customers yearned for the wind in their hair and the sound of burbling exhaust filling their ears. Instead, the modern car buyer wants something sensible, efficient, high-tech and kind to the environment. In this new world of efficiency and sensibility, a two-seat, drop-top sports car just doesn’t make much sense. Which is a damn shame because this latest generation of sporty roadsters is actually quite fantastic and the BMW Z4 M40i is among the best, leading their final charge.
What is a Roadster Supposed to Be?
There’s really only only one purpose for a roadster. Though sizes and shapes may vary — prices and luxuries may too — the only constant should be fun. And a fun roadster can be had in many different forms.
You have ultra expensive muscle car versions, like the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster. There are mid-engine, scalpel-sharp versions, like the Porsche Boxster. You even have simple, inexpensive and honest roadsters, like the Mazda MX-5. So roadsters come in all different flavors; varying in size, shape and price. But the essence of a proper roadster is the thrill it gives the driver. And the new BMW Z4 M40i is a surprising thrill.
Of all the different kinds of roadster on the market, the Z4 M40i is a bit of a mix, a greatest hits of sorts. It’s relatively small but still quite premium. It’s also traditionally front-engine but packs a surprisingly big engine, making it a bit of a hot-rod. And while it’s high-tech under the skin, it’s a relatively simple car to drive. And, honestly, that interesting combination makes it the most fun BMW in a very, very long time.
Powering the BMW Z4 M40i is a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six engine making 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque and I can honestly think of no better engine for it. In a car as small and light as the Z4, the B58 engine turns it into a muscle car. While it might look like a delicate sports car, something with proper European manners, it’s actually more of a brute than anything else and it’s absolutely hilarious because of it.
All of its torque comes in like a sledgehammer, from low in the rev range all the way until its peak horsepower kicks in at the top half of the tach. From there, it keeps pulling and the BMW Z4 M40i can get from 0-60 mph in a claimed 3.9 seconds. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually shaved a couple of tenths off of that in reality. While it might not be quite as fast as something like an M2 Competition in the real world, because of its size and lack of roof, it feels more explosive.
Not only is it so explosive but it’s also wonderful to use. It’s so smooth you’d think it was running on clouds made from evaporated whipped cream. There’s an old adage for a smooth, yet powerful engine — an iron fist in a velvet glove — and it couldn’t be more accurate in describing the Z4’s B58.
But what makes Bavaria’s hot-rod engine even more special in the BMW Z4 M40i than in, say, an M340i, is the noise. More specifically, the fact that you can hear the noise without the nuisance of a roof interfering with it. With the top down, you can hear the engine’s full song and it sounds incredible. In my humble, and likely unwanted, opinion, the Z4 M40i is the best sounding BMW on sale. It’s deep and burbly at idle but it builds into a raspy, metallic crescendo near redline and all of it can be heard sans roof. It’s just wonderful.
Most importantly, it sounds good all of the time. You don’t have to be in a certain mode, you don’t need to be near redline and you don’t have to be traveling at lose-your-license speed to enjoy it. It sounds great in all manners of driving and it makes even the most mundane of trips that much more interesting and exciting. Sure, sportier drive modes increase the noise, while also adding pops and burbles, but it even sounds great in its quiet, Comfort mode. Every opportunity to drive the BMW Z4 M40i is an event, something to look forward to. It will make you find excuses just to drive it.
While you won’t be disappointed when threading the Z4 M40i through some twisty roads, it’s not the sharpest tool in the segment’s shed. A Porsche Boxster is going to be the superior driver’s car and I’d even argue the Mazda MX-5 is, too. However, it’s just as fun in its own way.
It steers with real precision, thanks to extremely aggressive front-end grip and a quick steering rack. But because the chassis is also well balanced and the back end likes to play, it will change directions very quickly, almost too quickly. It’s not hard to get its tail to step out but, thankfully, it’s easy to control and even to hold. If you want to try and be Chris Harris, the BMW Z4 M40i will make it relatively easy.
However, it’s not the most engaging car to drive quickly. The BMW Z4 M40i is not a momentum car, where you want to carry a ton of speed through corners and it’s not going to flow beautifully down a canyon road like a Porsche Boxster will. While it might have the mechanical grip to do so, its punchy engine always wants to get its back end loose. It’s just not the sort of car for precision driving. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, though.
Chuck it into a corner, get on the power early, get the back end a bit sideways, listen to its incredible engine and, once it straightens out, unleash all of its power. That way, the Z4 M40i becomes a riot. It’s far more of a brash hooligan than a tidy sports car. If the Boxster is a scalpel, the BMW Z4 M40i is a machete. It might not be as precise but it’s just as fun.
Fun Over Practicality
I could talk to you about all of the practical bits of the Z4, such as the roof that can open and close in eleven seconds (or something similar, I never bothered to check) or how much its trunk can hold. However, none of that really matters.
One reason for that is because the fabric soft-top is basically just an emergency rain cover, in case it starts to pour while already on the road. In any other weather, the top must be down. Even in the cold. There are few things in life as fun as driving a fast, sporty roadster with the top down, in the cold, bundled in a good jacket with the heated seats and steering wheel on. Excellent.
The other reason is that practicality is irrelevant in the BMW Z4 M40i. It’s far too fun, far too exciting a car to care about how practical it is. Plus, the Z4 is a toy. It’s something to take out on the weekends to play with. It’s not a car that needs to be practical in any way, shape or form. So just sit back and enjoy the silliness.
And silly it is. I recently wrote about how BMW doesn’t make anything stupid and fun anymore. I was intentionally excluding this car because I was still writing this review. However, it’s finally the stupid hooligan I was asking for, that BMW needed for a long time. It seems like a car that was designed simply because it’s fun and absurd, without any regard for sales figures, market research or profit. BMW just made a fun car for the sake of making a fun car and that’s something to celebrate in itself.
Of course, the BMW Z4 M40i isn’t perfect and there are probably better roadsters on the market. But the Z4 M40i is a hilariously fun car that’s faster than it should be, more exciting than you might expect and is completely and utterly unnecessary. It’s going to sell poorly because roadsters are dead and it’s probably not going to get a successor, as BMW will likely kill the Z4 model altogether after this generation. But it’s fun for the sake of being fun and for no other reason.
More than that, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a BMW in ages. More so than even than the BMW M2 Competition, a car that’s supposed to be the best driver’s car in the Bavarian lineup. The BMW Z4 M40i, with its brilliant engine, raucous exhaust note, drop-top drama and oddball looks all combine to make it the most fun BMW currently on sale, even if it doesn’t make any sense.