• BMW’s Z4 roadster gets an all-new platform and fresh sheet metal
  • The diminutive ragtop shares architecture with the upcoming Toyota Supra
  • Z4’s sportier setup sits wider and longer, swapping the folding hardtop for a traditional soft top mechanism
  • A turbocharged 4-cylinder Z4 sDrive30i hits U.S. showrooms in March 2019 -- expect the more aggressive Z4 M40i to follow as a 2020 model

 

21st-century crossover SUV mania has left a trail of vehicular victims, not the least of which are pint-sized roadsters. Planting a firm stake in this dwindling genre is the all-new 2019 BMW Z4 2-seater, which has undergone a series of significant modifications to appeal to a broader, sun-seeking audience.

BMW deserves props for diverting resources into this underdog segment. However, a good chunk of that credit also goes to Toyota, who co-developed the platform and will pull the wraps off their BMW-powered Supra at the Detroit auto show in January, 2019.

Balance and brawn

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, there are two key points you should know about the 2019 BMW Z4’s underpinnings. First, its weight distribution sits at an even 50/50 front-to-back. That ideal balance provides a foundation for stable, predictable handling. Second, BMW drops the old model’s folding hardtop mechanism for a more conventional fabric soft-top. The benefits of a ragtop are numerous, including a lower center of gravity for better cornering, more cargo capacity, and lighter overall weight.

While the 255-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder sDrive30i Z4 should offer ample power for daily use, the brawnier M40i model we tested (coming next year as a 2020 model) is motivated by a beastlier turbocharged inline-6 that produces a considerable 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. U.S.-bound cars benefit from 50 more horsepower than their European counterparts because they’re not required to have a gasoline particulate filter, and the torque is available across a broad swath of the powerband, peaking between 1,600 rpm and 4,500 rpm.

An electronically adaptive suspension is standard on the M40i and optional on the sDrive30i, and switches damping between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive modes. Comfort seekers note: Though the electronic suspension offers instant adjustability, it sits 10mm lower than the fixed setup.

Going topless

The new BMW Z4 is distinguished from its Japanese sister by the fact that it’s an open-air model. The Toyota Supra is a sports coupe with a fixed roof. That said, the new platform is setup for more the kind of practicality that makes it a better daily driver. Compared to the folding hardtop model it replaces, the Z4 has over 50 percent more cargo capacity (9.9 cubic feet). The roof can be lowered via the key fob, and an available pass-through setup enables long objects to be loaded through the trunk and into the passenger compartment. It takes 10 seconds to lower the top, and that can be done at speeds up to 31 mph.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

Going digital

Though the 2019 Z4’s soft-top configuration embraces a more conventional roadster layout, the all-new interior takes on a modernist bent. Gone are the physical gauges, replaced by a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The layout places the speedometer and tachometer on either side of the display, with driving directions and other info in the center. Though the image quality is clearly legible, the layout is not customizable, something we would have liked to see. Such a customizable display is executed rather well in competitors like Audi, which uses the Virtual Cockpit setup to incorporate an available full-screen Google Maps display.

Centrally positioned on the dashboard is a 10.25-inch touch screen that manages the multimedia settings through a customizable menu setting. The screen works well on its own and can be navigated via a new 7th-generation iDrive dial on the center console that uses haptic feedback and is surrounded by key menu buttons. Our tester was finished with textured aluminum trim that lent the cabin a modern, upscale feeling. Key to the driving experience is a rocker switch that allows you to adjust your driving mode between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+.

Real-world demands

As fate would have it, our street drive started off with quite a bit of commuter traffic, which delivered a real-world experience of what it might be like to live with the Z4. Thankfully, BMW’s small roadster incorporates a well-insulated soft top that manages to block a good amount of exterior sounds. Driving next to noisy tractor trailers didn’t allow much racket into the cabin, though the Z4’s relatively low profile demanded a bit of attention to keep out of the path of larger vehicles. Once we made it to Portugal’s winding coastal roads, the 2019 BMW Z4 M40i’s core personality came out: With its torquey engine, smooth shifting automatic transmission, and low center of gravity, the Z4 is capable of attacking challenging switchbacks effortlessly. The steering feels direct, but not overly heavy, and the body responds with a feeling of athletic ease. In its most aggressive setting, the suspension goes from controlled but comfortable to firm and responsive.

While there’s plenty of power on tap, the roadster's smooth-revving inline-6 engine barely feels like it’s breaking a sweat. There’s little perceptible vibration through the steering wheel or seat, and that might be interpreted by some as a feeling of numbness or isolation. Purists might also fault the fact that engine sounds are amplified through the speakers, a tactic that seeks to counteract the quieting effects of the turbocharger. Driven in anger with the top down and the removable wind baffle in place, the cabin remains calm and relatively quiet, emphasizing civility over sound and fury.

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Track time... and beyond

Although the Z4’s native habitat is unlikely to include racetracks, BMW arranged track time at Portugal’s Estoril circuit where the 2-seater delivered surprisingly agile and capable performance. The Z4’s generous power and ability to change directions easily made it feel like a pint-sized hot rod. Furthering its cause was the fact that our testers were European models with 50 fewer horsepower than the cars we’ll be getting stateside. The U.S.-bound Z4s should be able to accelerate to 60 mph in only 4.4 seconds, putting them on par with more focused sports cars.

U.S. dealerships should be seeing 2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i models showing up in March of 2019, followed shortly thereafter by the 2020 M40i. Though the BMW Z4 might be pigeonholed as a fair weather roadster for coastal dwellers, its impressive performance and practicality gains should open it up to a bigger audience that can appreciate its track-worthy capabilities and alfresco ambiance.

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