BMW has been building drop-tops virtually since day one. And many of them, like the Z3, Z8, and last-generation Z4, each have their own unique, sporty characteristics. But the 2020 BMW Z4 might be the brand's best driver’s convertible to date.
Its taut suspension, sharp steering, and turbocharged four-cylinder place it firmly in the current sports car ranks. It’s as confident puttering around town with quiet refinement as it is taking on a twisty mountain road with its punchy engine and quick transmission. Not to mention it’s loaded with all of BMW’s latest tech.
The internet has battered BMW for attaching oversized kidney grilles on the X7 SUV and 7 Series. But the Z4 gotten as much negative press; the big kidneys actually look okay here, offset by a large, sculpted lower vent (included with the $2,950 M Sport package) and two big flanking vents at each corner. The headlights could be sharper, but fall in line the Z4's outrageous facial features otherwise.
As a whole, the Z4 looks sharp with the top down – especially in the optional Misano Blue metallic paint ($550) and 19-inch M Sport wheels ($600). Though, it suffers from a similar fate to many soft-top convertibles with the roof up; it looks frumpy. Otherwise, the piano-black vertical vents behind the front wheels give the Z4 a distinctive profile, and the sharp, slim taillights, sculpted diffuser, and LED taillights look exceptional in the rear.
The Z4's cabin is conventionally attractive, featuring all the same upscale cues from its BMW siblings. SensaTec faux black leather covers the dash and a $1,700 Ivory White Vernasca leather coats the seats and door panels (black faux leather comes standard). There are some plastic pieces on the center console and door, but the quality is adequate for the class.
As pretty as the Z4's Ivory White Vernasca leather looks, it doesn't provide any additional support to the seats. The buckets are firm, harsh, and difficult to configure to your ideal seating position. The M Sport package (a $2,950 option) adds lumbar support and the Premium package (a $1,600 option) adds heating functionality, at least, but neither feature alleviates the unrelenting stiffness you feel from the driver or passenger seat. And with the top up, the cabin is pretty compact.
But the Z4 has some redeeming qualities in the comfort department. For one, it's quiet. Where other soft-top convertibles suffer from too much wind noise, vibration, and harshness, the Z4 feels well-insulated and solid. Communicating with the passenger doesn't require screaming. The Z4 has a relatively spacious trunk, too. Though the Chevrolet Corvette's boot (10.0 cubic feet) is a bit bigger, the Z4's 9.9-cubic-foot hold ist enough for a large carry-on suitcase and a small backpack at the same time. The best-in-segment 51-inch depth allows for larger luggage.
Ignore any preconceived notions you might have about the Z4 and its Toyota Supra ties – taking the BMW at face value, it drives exceptionally well. The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, producing 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, provides plenty of power off the line with no turbo lag and gobs of low-end power. Paired to a ZF eight-speed automatic, the duo renders a modest, manufacturer-estimated 60 time of 5.2 seconds. The Z4 feels genuinely quick given the context.
The Z4’s eight-speed automatic isn't exactly crisp when left to its own devices, it mostly ticks through gears seamlessly without notice. Play with the paddle shifters, though (and press the Sport+ button, more importantly), and it returns more speed and decisiveness. This eight-speed is nearly reminiscent of a dual-clutch in its most aggressive setting.
With the optional Adaptive M suspension (a $700 option) and a perfect 50/50 weight distribution out of the box, the Z4 feels balanced. It’s flat, tight, and agile in the turns, keeping it competitive with its closest classmates. We appreciate its lightness, too; the four-cylinder Z4 tips the scales at 3,287 pounds, where the six-cylinder-only Supra weighs in at 3,397 pounds.
But the Z4's steering, while quick and direct, isn't hefty enough even in its most aggressive Sport+ setting, and there's a damning lack of on-center feel that yields confusing feedback at times. And for the Z4 to even rival the Supra's cornering abilities, it requires the Track Handling package, which includes M Sport brakes and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential as a $2,450 option.
We've praised BMW's wireless Apple CarPlay in the past for its seamless connection and ease of use. It's worth it, even with an $80 annual premium. But the Z4's setup struggled to keep a connection, oftentimes booting the connected phone off Bluetooth without warning and other times struggling to connect a phone at all. It could be connected to recent issues with the system, but we’re not entirely sure.
Overlooking our wireless CarPlay woes, BMW's updated iDrive 7.0 system is still one of our favorites. The 10.3-inch central touchscreen, with its crystal-clear graphics and clean layout, reacts instantly to inputs. The iDrive rotary controller makes navigating the large screen even easier while driving. And additional input options like the handwriting board atop the iDrive controller and “Hey, BMW” voice control system both work flawlessly with the roof up. It takes more emphasizing with the roof down – but it isn’t totally unusable. The 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster isn't any less impressive. Navigation, radio, and vehicle readouts are available (and configurable) right at the driver's fingertips.
A lot of the options mentioned (even wireless CarPlay, though it costs annually) are standard fare. If you want a head-up display, wireless charging, and a Wi-Fi hotspot, though, it will cost an extra $1,600 as part of the Premium package. And the Harmon Kardon audio system is only available with the Executive package (a $2,500 option).
The Z4 offers all of BMW's latest passive and active safety equipment. Forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and rollover protection are available out of the box. But assuming you want additional equipment, prepare to dish.
The Driving Assistance package costs $500 and includes things like blind-spot detection, pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign detection, and lane departure warning. But park distance control is a $200 option on top of that, and active cruise control is another $1,200 still. If you want the entire Active Driving Assistant suite, which includes all of this kit as one nifty option, it's available with the M Sport package, a $2,950 extra.
Having all of these systems equipped on our tester gives us peace of mind. But we regularly turn off all of the active safety equipment entirely due to its overbearing nature. Get too near a yellow lane marker, and the active lane assist shoves the vehicle back to the center of the lane. Get too close to a tall curb or bush, meanwhile, and the parking sensors sound off.
The BMW Z4’s turbocharged 2.0-liter returns an impressive 25 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway, and 28 combined. Of all the luxury-badged roadsters on sale today, the four-cylinder BMW Z4 is the second most efficient. Only the oft-forgotten Alfa Romeo 4C Spider with its tiny turbocharged, 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine is better (24/34/29).
The next best after the Z4 – the Audi TT Roadster and Jaguar F-Type convertible – get 23 city, 30 highway, and 26 combined with a four-cylinder. The Porsche Boxster, meanwhile, gets 21 city, 28 highway, and 34 combined, and the V8-powered Corvette (while not a direct competitor) gets 16 city, 25 highway, and 20 combined in its best setup.
The four-cylinder Z4 gets a reasonable $49,700 starting price. Standard equipment includes tech like BMW's Live Cockpit with navigation and Apple CarPlay connectivity, safety features like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and upscale exterior cues like LED headlights. Only the Audi TT Roadster ($48,400) is more affordable of BMW's direct competitors.
But at $63,545 as tested, our well-equipped Z4 tester sees a 21-percent increase over BMW's base model. We understand spending $550 on the Misano Blue Metallic paint job, or $600 on M Sport wheels – those design upgrades do the Z4 justice. But adding the $1,600 Premium package, the $2,450 Track Handling package, and $2,500 Executive package add $6,550 onto the asking price of your Z4. We’re not sure all of them are entirely worth the additional cost. And some elements of the Executive package in particular (like automatic high beams) should come standard.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated in December 2019 and the ratings changed to reflect Motor1.com’s revised vehicle rating system. Changes to this vehicle’s scores were made primarily to the Safety, Fuel Economy, and Pricing ratings. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
Gallery: 2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i: Review
2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i