- Dart-like shape
- An inviting cockpit
- Zippy turbo-4 power
- Engaging handling
- More safety features than ever
- Steering lacks feedback
- Minimal cargo space
- Slightly offset driving position
The 2019 BMW Z4 serves notice that in a crossover-coupe era, the top-down sports-car driving experience still is second to none.
With the darty new 2019 Z4, BMW dives back into a sports-car slipstream. The latest two-seat roadster spins its turbo-4 like a DJ’s steel wheels and dubs over it with sweet handling.
The mix may all not be enough to distract Porsche 718 drivers—but it’s enough to spawn a new Toyota Supra from the same running gear in a year’s time.
We think it’s worth a 6.8 here, with strong scores in styling and performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
For now, the Z4 lineup consists of exactly one model: the sDrive30i Roadster. It taps the same 2.0-liter turbo-4 as the 3-Series; in the roadster it reels out 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, good for a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds, BMW says. Until the 382-hp, turbo-6 M40i model shows up, the lighter-output Z4 has all the charm it needs to elbow aside Mini Cooper Convertibles and Nissan 370Z Roadsters from the must-drive list.
It’s endowed with that rorty turbo-4, of course, but it also gets an independent suspension with available adaptive dampers that render even the dullest, most broken roads into pavement worth exploring. Shod with 19-inch tires and the adaptive shocks, its default mode hones down the road while variable-assist electric power steering threads it gently through tight esses and wide sweepers with equal grace. It’s a good point of entry, and happiest in 7/10ths-mode; the tauter tuning and the four-second acceleration times promised by the turbo-6 M40i can’t come too soon.
With the new Z4, BMW tosses in a welter of styling themes and knits it into an exciting shape. The Z4’s wide twin-slot grille sits on a platform built up of air intakes, while the sideview compiles from an array of creases and slits into something like a Crossfire/Cayman mashup. The cockpit hits luscious top notes when it’s upholstered in colorful leather and a fantastic watchband-style textured aluminum. BMW’s finally figured out how to integrated a wide, high-resolution touchscreen into tight spaces, and how to make it all hang together, too. The Z4’s some 3.3 inches longer and almost three inches wider than before, and interior space befits bigger passengers, though the driving position may strike some as weirdly offset.
Every Z4 gets automatic emergency braking, but touches such as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors cost extra. Along with standard LED headlights and a power-folding top, the $50,695 Z4 can be ratcheted up in price with leather upholstery, M Sport brakes and wheels, wireless smartphone charging, and a head-up display.
2019 BMW Z4
Busy but sexy, the Z4’s body pairs well with its focused cockpit.
The latest Z4 presents a welter of BMW’s recent design themes. Somehow, it all hangs together, and wraps around a sleekly laid-out cabin.
We give it an 8 for styling, with two extra points for the interior and one for the bod. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Z4 hasn’t met a character line it doesn’t like, from its wide-nostriled front end to the bands of taillights and cutlines at its rear end. At the front, the twin grilles no longer bear any relationship to any kidney that we know. They’re dressed in a rectangular mesh, and sit above a a trio of air intakes that seem to set the front end high on a pedestal, while LED headlights strake into the tops of the fenders.
From the side, the Z4 mashes up Boxster into Crossfire, with deep stamped lines that arrow in toward the front wheels, while a shallow line curves up into the rear wheels. It all pulls in tightly at the rear, where the bumper rises above mock air diffusers, where a protruding spoiler compresses substantial badgework into a narrow strip between LED taillights.
Special trim packages buff the exterior. The Z4 we drove wore an M Sport package with a three-piece front air intake and deep side skirts.
The Z4 cockpit does without most of that clutter. It’s the latest evolution of BMW’s wave-surface look and it’s one of its best. Form the driver seat, the wrap of controls on a wide center stack presents all the essentials at the proper height. It also embeds a wide touchscreen deeply into the dash itself. Optioned-up models get stitched synthetic leather on the dash, ambient lighting, fabulous mesh grilles on their premium sound systems. Best of all, an available dimensional-mesh aluminum trim perfectly mimics a ‘60s watchband as it lays on the center console and surrounds the shift lever. It’s a beautiful texture, one that’s sure to need special attention with a Shop-Vac.
2019 BMW Z4
The Z4 keeps some in reserve for the inevitable M version.
A true sports car, the 2019 BMW Z4 has rorty power on tap and well-balanced handling, though it lacks the hallmark sports-car virtue signal—a manual transmission.
We think the 2019 Z4 merits a 7 for performance, thanks to an on-point turbo-4 power, pert handling, and a chassis that’s eager to take on bigger challenges. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
On the way, BMW has up its sleeve a 382-hp turbocharged inline-6 with 369 lb-ft of torque in the 2020 Z4 M40i Roadster, good for 0-to-60-mph sprints in the four-second range.
Until then, we’ll have to settle for the marvelous Z4 30i. Its power comes from a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with a twin-scroll turbocharger that delivers early-onset torque and great high-end response. It’s rated at 255 hp from 5,000 rpm to about 6,500 rpm, and delivers peak torque of 295 lb-ft from 1,550 rpm to 4,400 rpm. With launch control engaged, BMW times this Z4 at 5.2 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. The turbo-4 may not have the classic windup of BMW’s inline-6, and its omnipresent 4-cylinder whir fills the cabin, but it launches into action through the 8-speed automatic’s lower gears with verve. Paddle shift controls and sport drive modes trigger the transmission to shift even more quickly; if the Z4 has to live without a manual shifter, this is the transmission that can make up for it.
The 2019 Z4 weighs from 3,287 to 3,443 pounds, in case you’re wondering. That’s about the same as a Hyundai Tucson.
BMW Z4 ride and handling
The Z4’s sports-car body makes for a subtle mask. It can slice apexes if it must, but this base car’s set up more properly for sweeping bends in the road than red-and-white curbing.
The Z4 has grand-touring steering, with some on-center play and without a huge amount of information on center. BMW’s variable-assist system promises light low-speed moves and higher-speed precision; on the stretch of Ortega Highway south of Palm Springs, it needled fluidly through curves.
On upgraded 19-inch wheels and 255/35 tires in front, 275/35 tires in back, the Z4 was able to hone down some of the high ridges that rippled in the pavement thanks to heavy rains and road repairs. More credit goes to the $700 set of adaptive dampers, which augment the Z4’s double-joint front strut and five-link suspension at the rear, as well as user-selectable drive modes (the usual Comfort, Sport, and Sport+). The suspension incorporates lots of aluminum to cut weight and help the Z4 generate a more lively feel, and with the slightly lower ride height (0.4 inches) delivered by the adaptive-damper setup, when it’s spun into one of the sport modes, the Z4 succeeds at entertaining.
For a short-wheelbase car, the Z4 does an admirable job of walking the line between taut and jittery. Tires, dampers, and steering all work in concert to nudge the driver past 3,500 rpm, where the turbo-4’s bratty exhaust turns into a siren song and where its dampers do their best work, even when the road resembles something more like colliding tectonic plates. The Z4’s brakes do their part as well, with programming that clamps an inside wheel to tighten cornering lines. It’s a nimble car that puts equal effort into strong acceleration and a reasonably absorbent ride.
All bets may be off with the upcoming Z4 M40i, which gets the 382-hp turbo-6 and also gets the adaptive dampers as well as strong M Sport brakes and a torque-vectoring M Sport differential.
BMW promises even more eager responses and sharper handling; we’ll let you know once we’ve driven one.
2019 BMW Z4
Comfort & Quality
The two-seat Z4 pays lavish attention to passengers; cargo gets side-eyed.
The BMW Z4 cabin wears natty duds and connects its driver to the controls with style but mostly with proximity.
It’s a 6 for comfort: excellent front seats have sort of weird placement, and the trunk’s a skosh below what we’d call adequate. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
At 170.7 inches long, on a 97.2-inch wheelbase, the latest Z4 hasn’t grown into a new size class like some other sports cars we could name. It’s low-slung and sporty, which is why its snug cockpit doesn’t bother us at all. It’s actually bigger than the previous Z4, but that means less here than it does for handling.
Slip into the passenger nacelle and the Z4 offers up a warm embrace, so long as you ordered the heated front seats and remembered to flick them on. The sport seats have excellent side bolsters and 14 ways of adjustment; M Sport Z4s get lumbar support that completes an all-day driving comfort package.
That said, the Z4’s driver seat points knees about 20 degrees to the left, while the gauges cant down on the left and the center touchscreen droops at the right. The fault lies with the wide drive tunnel, which creates a wide center console that presses against the driver’s right leg, too. It’s all just slightly off in different directions, but it resolves to a good view of the road ahead above a very thick steering wheel.
A rubberized smartphone charging pad sits ahead of the shifter, which means the twin cupholders sit under the armrest, where they’re less convenient to reach.
There’s no rear seat, of course, but a pass-through lets skis slide in from the trunk. That storage bin can hold 9.9 cubic feet, close enough to the minimum for what we consider to be useful (10 cubic feet). With soft-sided bags it’s no issue, but the trunk’s wide and shallow, and some bigger bags may crunch under the decklid.
The soft top fitted to the Z4 lowers or raises at speeds of up to 30 mph, and it’s sound-insulated for quiet from most angles. Open the top and put up the windows, and a gentle flutter of breeze rustles along your scalp. An exhaust resonance fills the cabin under strong acceleration, but it’s the kind of noise we like to hear.
2019 BMW Z4
We don’t expect crash-test data for the new BMW Z4.
Given its low-volume sales niche, the BMW Z4 hasn’t been crash-tested and likely never will be. We don’t assign a rating until we have data to back it up, so there’s a blank here where you’d otherwise see a numeric score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All Z4 convertibles come with low-speed automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warnings. On the options list: Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and a backup assistant, which can remember and retrace the last 150 feet the car moved, so it can steer itself out of tight spaces while the driver works the pedals.
2019 BMW Z4
The 2019 Z4 skips some essential content, but gives good infotainment and service the nod.
The 2019 Z4 has swell warranty coverage and an infotainment system that works well, but there’s an asterisk.
We think it’s a 7 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The new Z4 costs at least $50,695. That’s a long way from the Z4’s ancestor, the South Carolina-built, Miata-battling Z3.
The 2019 Z4 sDrive30i comes with many of the customary touches. Along with its turbo-4 and 8-speed automatic, the rear-drive Z4 gets LED headlights, power features, synthetic leather seats, a power-operated soft top, 14-way power sport seats with memory, an AM/FM/CD player with USB and Bluetooth and HD radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a wind deflector, and automatic headlights.
The latest rendition of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system weaves together a 10.3-inch touchscreen, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, voice commands, and Apple CarPlay compatibility. This latest version of iDrive includes touchscreen commands, voice recognition, cloud-connected services that allow BMW drivers to take their settings from one BMW to another, and in-car wi-fi. It’s made vast leaps and bounds versus early iDrive versions.
The asterisk? CarPlay comes free, but BMW charges $80 a year thereafter. Wait, don’t I...own this car already? It’s the opposite of Tesla’s over-the-air upgrades; it’s an over-the-air upcharge.
We’ll give credit where it’s due for BMW’s warranty. It’s a 4-year, 50,000-mile plan with free maintenance through 3 years or 36,000 miles.
Our test car came well-optioned with a $2,950 M Sport package that includes lumbar support, satellite radio, parking assist, and keyless ignition. A $1,600 Premium package adds heated seats, a head-up display, and wireless smartphone charging; a $2,500 Executive package adds adaptive LED headlights, automatic high beams, Harman Kardon surround sound, and ambient lighting. A $500 package adds blind-spot monitors and lane-departure warnings.
BMW also sells a $2,450 track handling package, which adds an M Sport rear differential and M Sport brakes.
Other options include remote start, 19-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, and adaptive cruise control.
Features for the M40i version haven’t been confirmed; we’ll add more here when we know.
2019 BMW Z4
The 2019 BMW Z4 saves some gas for the rest of us.
Who’d expect a sports car to get better fuel economy than some compact crossovers? Not us, but we’d gladly cut loose a passenger or two and commute in the thrifty (well, when it comes to gas) 2019 Z4.
We give it a 5 for economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The EPA rates the Z4 s30i at 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined. It hasn’t published any ratings yet for the Z4 M40i, which gets power from a turbo-6.
The Z4’s initial numbers compare well with the Porsche 718’s best figure of 25 mpg combined.
We’ll update this page when those M40i ratings are published.