The Ultimate Driving Machine. It’s a marketing slogan, sure. To BMW, though, it was an ethos. As the brand progressed and started making fun-to-drive coupes and sedans, it cemented a reputation. In 1972, BMW’s M motorsports division was founded. No longer was the brand just making fun cars; they were winning races.

The Legacy of BMW’s M Cars

This legacy and its ties to the letter “M” were more than just about setting a quick pace on a race track or a backroad. There was a way these cars made you feel that drew you to the brand. The recipe of a lightweight, small, agile coupe or sedan with an inline six and a manual transmission. This formula came with a heavy emphasis on great chassis tuning, and superb feedback that led to a world-class driving experience. BMW joined the club of a few automakers that enthusiasts chose when looking for a car that didn’t just get them to their destination; the drive was the reason why.

Introducing the 2025 BMW Z4 “Handschalter”

In a world where sports cars are coming ever closer to extinction, BMW gave us a tremendous gift: the 2025 BMW Z4 “Handschalter.” This translates to ‘hand shift.’ As the name implies, the manual transmission is alive and well in the Z4. This announcement comes about a year after the Toyota Supra unveiled their manual transmission option. This isn’t just a copy-and-paste effort, though; BMW engineers took the time to tune the transmission, making adjustments to the shift linkage to give the car its own distinct shift feel.

Engineering the Unique Feel of the Z4 Manual

The level of detail BMW engineers are taking to develop a particular “feeling” to the car gives us an idea as to what the purpose of this car is. The Z4 manual wasn’t just an opportunity to provide a third pedal for those who are true enthusiasts. But the changes don’t end there. BMW engineers gave the Handschalter package (that comes with the manual transmission) the M rear differential, M sport brakes, and M adaptive dampers with special tuning to help make aggressive driving more… fun.

In an automotive landscape where EVs become more prevalent, and the focus on performance figures trumps experience, manuals have been dying. But there is a glimmer of hope as enthusiasts try to buy up the last of these cars that provide an unparalleled experience that can’t be replicated. In the US, manual transmission sales increased from 2021 to 2023, moving up from 0.9% of cars sold to 1.7% of market share.

The Z4 “Handschalter”: A Nod to Enthusiasts

From what we know as of February 2024, the Z4 “Handschalter” will be the last non-full M car to be given a manual. Some of the greatest driver’s cars that BMW became legendary for came with a manual gearbox. The E30 M3, E39 M5, E46 M3, and E92 M3… all of these cars offered a third pedal, and in most cases, this was the preferred transmission (Don’t ever ask an E46 M3 SMG owner how they like it).

A manual gearbox can transform a driving experience. Suddenly all four of your limbs are now involved in the driving experience. It’s no longer just about finding the racing line; as a driver, you have to pay close attention to the power band and how the character of the engine allows it to rev out when approaching braking zones and corners. Suddenly the decision of when to downshift and executing it correctly with your heel & toe to match the revs and ensure you don’t upset the balance of the car.

Driving Experience Enhanced by Manual Gearbox

There is a lot more to process and manage with a manual when driving. This level of involvement and complexity that comes with the addition of a manual to a car helps the owner build a stronger relationship with the car. The act of driving a manual isn’t better simply because you row your own gears. You are choosing more involvement and to develop a deeper understanding of the car rather than just chase performance figures. Let’s not forget, some of the Bond cars from the 1990s and 2000s were BMW roadsters. Remember the Z3 from Goldeneye and the Z8 that was unfortunately cut in half in “The World is Not Enough”? BMW roadsters are iconic.

The Z4 Manual: A Future BMW Classic

This is why the Z4 manual will be a future classic for BMW. The engineers built a true driver’s sports car. This isn’t supposed to be for fast lap times, even though, I have no doubt it will do just fine on a circuit. This car is purely built to be the embodiment of a BMW driving experience.

This is a love letter to the gasoline age and the BMWs we love that gave the brand the reputation it holds today. Through every gear change, every rev-matched downshift, and every corner, the Z4 with a manual will become the next great BMW revered by generations. While other brands lose their driving feel, BMW built us one last reminder of what it means to fall in love with the ultimate driving machine.