All signs point to me adoring this car. As a former Miata owner and current Miata wanter, I have an affinity for compact, rear-drive sports cars with 93 million miles of headroom. This four-cylinder version of the new Z4 is the lowest, shortest, lightest car BMW sells right now—around 150 pounds lighter than the six-cylinder Z4 M40i—and it sends 255 turbocharged horses exclusively to the rear wheels.
On paper, then, the four-cylinder Z4 should offer the adjustability and sense of speed I crave in a car like this. It could be the only modern BMW that has a chance of illustrating that whole “Ultimate Driving Machine” shtick for me.
Here’s the thing, though: It doesn’t.
Not All Bad
I’ll start with what I like. Sitting in the driver’s seat with the roof folded back, cruising along the coast or meandering through town, the Z4 is at its best. Wind turbulence in the cabin is kept to a minimum even at highway speeds. It’s quiet enough that you’ll rarely find yourself asking passengers to raise their voices—unless you’re lucky enough to be sitting beside our soft-spoken testing director Kim Reynolds.
The first couple gears are tightly spaced, and BMW’s B48 single-turbo four-cylinder makes peak torque (295 lb-ft) just off idle at 1,500 rpm. Those mechanical characteristics translate to a car that’s eager to accelerate away from a stop. At low speeds, the little Bimmer feels a touch quicker than our test team’s 5.2-second 0–60 time suggests. The exhaust emits a reliable rra-pa-pop with every lift off the throttle; it feels synthetic but adds to the experience without feeling like overkill.
BMW’s version of adaptive cruise control is one of the better applications I’ve tested. I was particularly impressed by the way it recognized and responded to cars changing into the lane ahead of me. It applies the brakes a moment later than I would, but it generally adjusts the vehicle’s speed smoothly and appropriately based on whatever’s in front of you.
The retractable roof adds a noticeable sensation of speed and the boundless rear visibility only a convertible can provide. It’ll fold in 10 seconds (pretty quick for a powered top) at up to 31 mph, so I could put the top down with some spontaneity. I’ll note that trunk space is impressive for a roadster and uncompromised with the roof folded, unlike the last hardtop convertible Z4. As a result, the smaller Z4 has significantly more cargo capacity than a 4 Series ’vert with the top down.
So far, so good, right? But as I spent more time with this car and looked a little closer, the Z4 began to fall apart.
My first quibble: wireless Apple CarPlay. There’s not a single infotainment system in this industry that works better than the applications on your phone; BMW’s iDrive is no exception. Apple CarPlay is your savior here—it allows drivers to display their iPhone’s navigation apps and music players on a car’s infotainment screen. It future-proofs your setup and simplifies the process for the better. That is, until BMW tries to make it wireless.
Wireless CarPlay is great when it works, but a lot of the time (at least in our tester) it doesn’t. I experienced issues connecting, randomly disconnecting mid-song, and not being able to reconnect. There were no consistent causes or reliable fixes, and the issues popped up every time I drove the car. That BMW is the only automaker that charges a yearly fee to use CarPlay is only insult to injury.
I have other issues with the interior. The spokes of this steering wheel are needlessly bulky, and the airbag cover is an odd, not-quite-round shape. We know BMW can make great steering wheels—just look at the handsome three-spoke unit in the M2—and our test car even had the M Sport wheel, so why not give it the good one? Plastic, buttonlike paddle shifters don’t help.
With the top up, there’s a blind spot over the driver’s left shoulder that could hide a BMW X7. Oh, and any drink in the cupholder monopolizes the armrest between the seats for both driver and passenger. You can use cupholders or the armrest, not both.
While we’re inside, allow me to talk about the seats for a moment. Our tester was equipped with Ivory White buckets with deviated stitching. They look sporty and sculpted in the car, plus they have adjustable side bolsters to hold you in place during hard cornering. Not all drivers are the same width—adjustable bolsters are the best bolsters.
But the Z4 calls for ventilated seats like no car I’ve ever driven. That they’re not included at this car’s $63,545 as-tested price and not offered in any Z4 is a massive oversight. With the top down, air flows all around the driver and passenger, except where your back and rear end meet the seat. A spirited, sunny drive on Angeles Crest Highway left the back of my shirt sweaty and the butt of my shorts damp—and not because the drive was too exciting to maintain control over my bladder.
I wish the four-cylinder Z4 was better to drive. It’s held back by three defining characteristics: gearing, engine, and tires.
The limits of this car are high, mostly because of the tire choice. Our test car is equipped with optional 19-inch M Sport wheels wrapped in 255-section front and 275-section rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. That’s some very wide and sticky rubber for a car like this, especially considering a similar Miata wears 205s all around. The Z4 pulled 1.03 g on the skidpad.
I tagged along with the test team to our facilities out in Fontana and took the Z4 for a few laps ’round our figure-eight course. The figure eight illustrated that the car exhibits some corner entry rotation under braking, but never in the same way twice. It mostly understeers mid-corner, and due to an overly tall third gear, there isn’t really enough torque to break the tail loose on corner exit.
The Z4’s high limits and lack of predictability are bigger problems on the road than they are on the track. Because this car’s behavior at the limit is so hard to predict, it’s not something I sought to explore on the street. And despite the indicated redline at 6,500 rpm, there’s no incentive to rev the engine past its diesel-like 5,000-rpm power peak.
The Z4 is a car that’s stable and grippy but not adjustable, not rewarding, not exciting in the way a two-seat open-top sports car should be. I have no desire to drive it hard because of its lack of predictability, nor do I really want to drive around town in its flawed interior.
Perhaps I’d feel different if this car had the narrower 18-inch wheels. I might see the Z4 in a different light if our test car didn’t sticker well above $60K. But as it sits, the four-cylinder Z4, the car I should adore, is the last thing a convertible sports car should be: It’s forgettable.
|2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$63,545|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||2.0L/255-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,372 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||170.7 x 73.4 x 51.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.8 sec @ 99.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||100 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.03 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.5 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||25/32/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||135/105 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|
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Source: WORLD NEWS