Z4’s turbo-four shows hints of fun times
I’ve just climbed in the 2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i, and my clothes are soaking wet. Outside, record-breaking rain is drenching the BMW Performance Center south of Palm Springs, California. Great for the nearby Joshua trees but not so much for cruising in a rear-drive roadster.
We’ve already had seat time in the Z4 M40i with its more powerful turbocharged six-cylinder. This time around we’re sampling the Z4 sDrives30i four-cylinder, which is boosted by a twin-scroll turbocharger for a total output of 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This will be the volume engine, and most buyers should be more than happy with the turbo-four’s grunt, especially above 2,000 rpm—it can feel a tad lazy below that, but launch control is standard for quicker sprints off the line.
We’ll hopefully test the Z4’s launch system soon to see how close we get to BMW’s claimed 0–60 time of 5.2 seconds. That’s about 0.2 second quicker than the last-gen Z4 sDrive28i (with the turbo-four and eight-speed automatic). The quicker time is attributed to more power (increases of 15 hp and 40 lb-ft) and a revised gearbox with shorter ratios for first and second gears. Shifts are quick and smooth and get even snappier with the selectable drive mode set to Sport or Sport Plus. No manual transmission is available, which is a bummer for a two-seat roadster even as most automakers continue to gaslight us into accepting a world where vehicles no longer have a third pedal.
Attempts to find curvy roads south of Palm Springs were thwarted by flooding and road closures, restricting us to mostly straight streets. We’ll have to explore the Z4 sDrive30i’s athleticism another time (ideally on our figure-eight course), but a few flicks of the steering wheel revealed sharp and quick responses. BMW estimates curb weight at just under 3,300 pounds (1,497 kg), so it’ll likely feel more nimble than the M40i, which is about 200 pounds (90 kg) heavier. That’s also about 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter than the most recent previous-gen Z4 sDrive30i we tested back in 2009, when it was still powered by a naturally aspirated straight-six.
With a relatively short 97.2-inch wheelbase and our test car’s 19-inch wheels, I expected a jarring ride on the highway but got the complete opposite. The ride was surprisingly smooth and well damped (likely due to the optional active dampers), making the Z4 a comfy, road trip–worthy cruiser. And despite the messy conditions outside, BMW’s tiny roadster felt like a tank.
The muffled noise of rain hitting the roof reminded me that the Z4 has ditched the previous model’s hardtop roof in favor of a power-retractable soft top. Not only is it lighter, but it also allows more cargo space—9.9 cubic feet regardless of whether the top is up or down (versus the last Z4’s 6.4 cubic feet with the top down and 10.9 with it up). BMW has managed to blend the right amount of engine and exhaust noise depending on how you’re driving and what drive mode you’ve selected—loud in Sport and a slight hum while cruising in Comfort mode.
Interior materials are top notch, and all the switchgear is intuitive. Compared to the last-gen model, the iDrive infotainment screen is better integrated with the dashboard and is now operable by both a controller in the center console and the touchscreen. The new and gigantic 12.3-inch digital instrument panel looks sharp, though I do prefer the previous Z4’s round analog gauges, which have been replaced with angular-shaped speedometer and tachometer (with the latter swinging counterclockwise). There’s an impressive amount of tech, too. Our car had wireless phone charging, a head-up display, and active cruise control.
That said, we drove a well-optioned Z4 with an as-tested price of $62,795 USD. A more modest Z4 will get you closer to its starting price of $50,695 USD, making it a bit more expensive than the Audi TT and almost $10,000 USD less than the excellent Porsche 718 Boxster. The Z4 should roll into showrooms by spring. Sounds like the perfect (and hopefully sunny) time to get our second crack at the Z4 turbo-four and see how it stacks up against its German counterparts.