The history of the BMW roadster dates back to the early beginning of the company. Some of the most remarkable models known by every BMW enthusiast are the BMW 328 or the BMW 507. Today, BMW’s classic roadster legacy lives on with the newest generation of the BMW Z4.
And that’s not necessarily so obvious. In recent years, sales numbers showed a tremendous difference between the open two-seater and a regular sedan or SUV. While BMW of North America was able to sell more than 70,000 units of the X3 by the end of December 2019, the sales numbers of the all-new Z4 didn’t even reach 3,000 units. To be precise, the Bavarians sold 2,941 cars of the new Z4 in the United States. Consequently, BMW decided to jointly develop the latest generation of the Z4 together with Toyota. This helps with development costs and makes it possible to bring the new Z4 onto the street.
A Road Trip To The Alps
In order to find out how the all-new generation of the BMW Z4 performs on the road, we took out the top version of the model range, the BMW Z4 M40i, for a spirited road trip in the Bavarian, Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps. The most powerful model of the Z4 lineup features M specific options, such as the M Sport brakes, the adaptive M Sport suspension and the electronically-controlled M Sport differential. In addition, model specific design elements of the Z4 M40i include the trapezoidal exhaust tailpipes and a Cerium Grey finish for the exterior mirror caps.
The interior of the Z4 is dominated by BMW’s latest design speech and continues to feature a driver-oriented dashboard. If you are familiar with the latest BMW design language, you will immediately feel at home and recognize a number of buttons and switches from other models, such as the BMW 3 Series. The differences start with the unique leather seats and the lower seating position. But that’s it.
A far more impressive change happened on the outside. The new Z4 owes its appearance to the Australian car designer Calvin Luk, who has also designed the current generation of the BMW X3. From a design perspective there are barely any similarities with the previous generation, if at all. Okay, to be fair, the new Z4 roadster still embodies traditional BMW roadster ingredients, such as a long engine hood and air breathers behind the front wheel arches.
The front is clearly dominated by huge air intakes and a broad kidney grille. For the first time ever, the headlight units are positioned on the outer edges above each other. The side line of the Z4 is defined by two character lines, which start at the side end of the hood and at the air intakes. Both lines end at the rear which is dominated by the side surrounds, the exhaust pipes, the L-shaped headlights and the boot lid’s harmoniously integrated spoiler.
My short term test car featured Frozen Grey II metallic paint as exterior color. In the beginning I was a bit skeptic about the frozen paint, but over the course of the week with the Z4 I started to like it more and more. It certainly looked great in combination with the Vernasca cognac leather of the interior. The Z4’s overall appearance was completed by the 19-inch double-spoke wheels painted in black and other blacked out design cues, thanks to the BMW Individual high-gloss shadow line. The optional high-gloss shadow line includes a black kidney frame, a black kidney grille in mesh design as well as covers for the side air intakes and roll bar in high-gloss black and tailpipe trims in black chrome.
The Marvelous B58 Six-Cylinder
The BMW Z4 M40i is powered by BMW’s B58, a turbocharged six-cylinder in-line petrol engine. It’s the second time that I am able to test drive a BMW with this masterpiece of engine technology. Earlier this year I had the pleasure to enjoy the capabilities of this engine with a BMW M340i xDrive Touring. Back then I was already thrilled by what it can do. But my time with the Z4 M40i was even taking this to another level. But let’s have a quick look at the numbers first.
The B58 engine produces a total power output of 340 HP (250 kW) between 5,500 to 6,500 rpm and offers a maximum torque of 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) which is already available as low as 1,600 rpm and up to 4,500 rpm. This massive and consistent delivery of pulling power allows the Z4 M40i to hit the 100 km/h (62 mph) mark already after 4.5 seconds. This is just 0.2 seconds slower than the outgoing BMW M3 F80! At the upper end of the speed range, the top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph) is electronically limited.
But next to impressive figures, the B58 features also state of the art engine technology, such as a water-cooled exhaust manifold which is integrated into the cylinder head and improved direct fuel injection. The latest generation of Piezo injectors is operating with an increased maximum pressure of 350 bar and injects very small amounts of fuel into the combustion chamber. This enables the Z4 M40i to achieve a fuel economy of 7.1 to 7.4 liter per 100 kilometer (31 to 33 mpg) in the WLTP test cycle.
Although the European version of the Z4 M40i is fitted with the mandatory Otto particulate filter, I was pleasantly surprised by the exhaust sound (back in March I was pretty disappointed by the sound of the M340i xDrive Touring). The Z4 M40i delivered exactly the sound note which you would expect from a roadster with a sporty character. Especially in SPORT and SPORT PLUS the exhaust system created a deep and growly sound.
Next to the Z4’s superior engine, the car also boosts all latest tech stuff which the Bavarians have available in their technology kit for their M Performance cars. A feature which comes standard and very handy at the same time is the electronically-controlled M Sport differential. Especially if you are out with the Z4 and hunt one curve after the other. When cornering, the wheel on the outside of the curve covers a longer distance and therefore turns faster than the wheel on the inside. In this particular moment, the M Sport differential creates a locking effect in order to equally distribute the drive torque and compensates for the difference in speed.
Driving the BMW Z4 M40i
My trip started in the surroundings of Munich where I enjoyed calm Friday morning on the road. The meadows and forests were still covered with the damp morning dew and there were hardly any other cars on the way south towards the Alps. Thanks to the electrically-operated soft top I was able to retract the roof within only 10 seconds and could immediately enjoy the first sunshine of the day.
Already on the first kilometers of the winding country roads the BMW Z4 M40i was eager to showcase all its qualities. It goes without saying that I mainly kept the Z4 M40i in SPORT or SPORT PLUS mode while driving. It was simply the best way to enjoy all these curvy roads.
Massive torque and pulling power made it easy to overtake slower cars in the blink of an eye while the B58 offered an excellent power delivery across the entire rpm range. If I hadn’t stopped pressing the accelerator pedal, the Z4 M40i would have constantly and ceaselessly accelerate up to the electronically limited top speed. It’s simply breathtaking how smooth, spontaneous and at the same time strong and consequent this engine delivers its power.
But all the power would be useless, if the B58 engine and the eight-speed sport automatic transmission wouldn’t work so harmoniously together. It kept the car always in the right gear and I never felt the need to use the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel in order to force the car to use a different gear. The M-specific tune of the straight six-cylinder and the automatic transmission was well noticeable.
Next to power and power distribution, the sharp, direct and precise steering played a great role to further enrich my driving experience. Especially if you drive one mountain pass after the other, like I did, you will immediately value such a great steering accuracy. While driving the mighty Passo Stelvio (Stilfserjoch) in Italy, it felt like I was able to maneuver the Z4 into the curve with centimeter precision.
Overall in terms of driving dynamics, the Z4 M40i is easily outplaying its predecessor. But the great engine in combination with the automatic transmission and direct and sharp steering are only half of the story. A well balanced and ideal weight distribution of 50:50, the use of lightweight construction components (such as the soft-top) and a low center of gravity are further contributing to a dynamic and sporty roadster feeling.
Aside from the pure driving experience, the Z4 M40i is also a true travel companion. The luggage compartment is able to swallow 50% more bags and travel cases compared to the old model, independently if the soft-top is open or closed. Another new feature I found very handy was the new storage space placed behind the seats with a retaining net. Among other things I could store my jacket and my water bottle there, which otherwise would probably only have flown around in the cabin.
In a nutshell, the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is a tribute to sheer driving pleasure. It combines the pulling power of a sports car with all advantages of a roadster. Never before have I experienced such a perfect symbiosis of agility, power and precise handling in one package. The Z4 M40i perfectly integrates the driver and makes you feel fully connected to the road. If you like to accelerate quickly, if you like to hunt curves on a sunny day with the top down and if you look for a car with precise handling, the Z4 M40i is your perfect companion.
Should I Buy One?
Yes, in theory every Bimmer enthusiast should get his hands on a Z4 M40i and enjoy the sheer driving pleasure this car stands for. It embodies all characteristics of the ultimate driving machine. But in real life, it won’t be everyone’s first choice. And that’s a pity. The 2020 BMW Z4 M40i starts in the United States at a price point of $63,700. My test car, which was basically fully loaded, sells for 78,090 EUR in Germany, which is around $92,860 converted with the today’s exchange rate. That’s certainly no small sum.
On the other hand you get a BMW roadster, which is truly living up to the genes of the company with the blue and white roundel. The sheer driving pleasure of the Z4 M40i is noticeable in every single moment. If you are a fan of spirited driving with the top down on curvy mountain roads or if you enjoy a road trip across the countryside, the Z4 M40i is a perfect fit and will surely not disappoint you.