2023 BMW Z4

  • June 5, 2023

A sports car without a manual transmission is kind of like a roadster without a soft top. 

Oddly enough, there are two such – each without the one thing the other one comes standard with (or at least, offers).

One’s a Toyota – called Supra. The other’s a BMW, the Z4. And they’re both the same thing, as well as very different.

What It Is  

The Z4 is a roadster made by BMW – and so is the Toyota Supra, which is basically a rebodied version of the Z4. Both have identical (BMW-made) engines, including a standard turbocharged four and an optional turbocharged inline six.

But the BMW comes standard with a power-folding soft-top. The Supra comes only as a hardtop.

On the other hand, the Supra can be purchased with a manual transmission – with the optional six cylinder engine – while the Z4’s six (and four) are paired with an automatic transmission only

The BMW – being a BMW – also costs more: $52,800 for the sDrive30i – which comes with the turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine and only with an automatic transmission and $65,300 for the M40i, which has the inline six and the automatic – vs. $44,040 for a Toyota-badged (and styled) Supra with the same 2.0 liter four and the same automatic and $53,000 for the Toyota-badged (and styled) Supra with the inline six and a six speed manual transmission.

Which one suits depends on which you prefer: The wind in your hair or something for your left foot (and right hand) to do.

What’s New for 2023

The previously optional M Sport performance/styling upgrades – including firmer suspension calibrations, aerodynamic body kit and M Sport steering wheel – are now standard. Both the base sDrive30i and the M40i also get a new grill. Purple metallic paint is available as well.

Unfortunately, the manual transmission that’s now available in the Z4’s Toyota-badged sibling will not, apparently, be available in the Z4.

What’s Good

Available in-line six makes all the right sounds – and delivers the right experience.

Wind in your hair is standard (it’s unavailable in the Supra).

Fairly large (9.9 cubic foot) trunk for a roadster makes it more practical than other roadsters like the Mazda Miata (which only has about half the Z4’s trunk space).

What’s Not So Good

Neither the four nor the six is available with a manual, which detracts from the sports car experience.

No hardtop option.

Supra sibling costs $8k less to start – and does offer the manual experience.

Under The Hood

The ’23 Z4 continues to offer two engine choices.

The standard engine in the sDrive30i being a 2.0 liter turbocharged four that makes 255 horsepower and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque at just 1,500 RPM. The M40i comes standard with a turbocharged in-line six displacing 3.0 liters that makes 382 horsepower and 369 ft.-lbs. of torque – output comparable to that of a  5.7 liter V8.

Which accounts for the M40i’s ability to get to 60 in less than 4 seconds.

This is more impressive than it sounds given how surprisingly heavy (3,543 lbs.) this small roadster is. A Toyota Camry – which is a mid-sized, five-passenger family sedan – weighs about 200 pounds less (3,310 lbs). And that’s why it takes the four cylinder-powered Z4 just over six seconds to get to 60 – about the same as the four cylinder-powered but much less powerful (181 horsepower) Mazda Miata roadster, which is some 1,100 lbs. lighter than the Z4 (just 2,341 lbs.).

There is no choice s regards transmissions – at least, insofar as the Z4. Whether you choose the four or the six, you have to accept the standard eight speed automatic transmission.

This is an oddity given what the Z4 is. Sports cars usually come standard with manuals because people who buy sports cars usually prefer to shift for themselves. This has however changed some over the past several years as regards performance cars, which the Z4 also is.

The reason for that being . . . performance.

Modern automatics out-perform manuals, in terms of shifting faster and more accurately than most human drivers can and more consistently than any human can, including professional race car drivers.

They – modern automatics – never miss a shift, at any rate.

People who buy sports cars – cars like the Miata – don’t mind that. And they like being able to shift their own gears, even if they can’t match the perfect timing and faultless transitions between gears that an automatic delivers.

But then, the Miata is not a performance car.

The Z4 is both a performance car and a sports car. It blends the attributes of both and it appeals to a different kind of buyer. It is quick – with the available six – while a car like the Miata requires more effort to go as quickly as it can.

And if you want both quickness and more effort – that is, more involvement – there’s the Supra. Of course, it leans more toward being a performance car in that it’s not a roadster – and there is no such thing as a roadster that’s not by definition a sports car.

Whether you go with the four or the six, you’ll get a 3.15 final drive ratio and almost identical gas mileage. The Z4 with the four rates 25 city, 33 highway; with the six, 23 city, 31 highway. Both engines are designed to deliver their peak power – and economy – using premium unleaded.

“Economy” italicized to emphasize something not commonly understood – which is that an engine designed to burn premium generally won’t deliver on its best-case horsepower and MPG numbers if you use regular. Put another way, you’re not saving money by not using premium in an engine designed to burn premium.

And you’re losing horsepower, too.

On The Road

Even with the standard four, the Z4 sounds like it has a six under its hood. This isn’t imagination.

It is augmentation.

BMW – and it’s not just BMW – knows that people who buy certain kinds of cars like them to sound a certain kind-of-way. So even if the engine doesn’t naturally make those sounds, it can be made to sound as if it did, by discreetly augmenting the sounds it does make – via sound amplification tech – so that it sounds right.

And thus, the Z4’s four does. Deeper and richer than it otherwise would.

But sounds can’t hide what’s not actually there if the car doesn’t perform as people expect it to. That’s not a problem here. The turbo four’s abundant low RPM torque works well with the automatic – and almost makes you forget there isn’t a clutch. And there’s enough performance on tap to make this automatic-only sports car feel . . . sporty.

Of course, it’s being in the breeze that makes this roadster something more than just sporty – and irrespective of its performance.

Even if it were slow, it would still feel good – and that is the main point as regards a car like this and gives it something that its hardtop’d Toyota sibling hasn’t got, even if it does have a clutch. It was smart of BMW – and Toyota – to each offer something the other doesn’t. It makes them more complementary than competitive.

The Z4 with the six is its own reward.

It performs better than some performance cars with V8s – and the sounds it makes are entirely authentic. It also works very well with the automatic – due to having even more torque – with the additional perk of making all that horsepower. There’s so much of both available that it’s easy to steer this thing with the rear wheels.

It’s a drift king, if that’s your thing.

Also – and here I may get into some hot water – the six isn’t the engine that Toyota ought to have been paired with the manual. The four would be more fun with a clutch to play with.

The six is just fun, regardless.

Both versions of the Z4 are agile, as they ought to be. The reflexes belie the weight – and the weight gives this car the heft that you won’t find in flyweight roadsters like the Miata. The latter is one of the most fun cars ever made but when you are on the highway surrounded by massive SUVs and with semis running inches off your bumper at 80 MPH, it can feel like you’re the smallest guy in a dive bar, with a fight about to break out.

Not to be morbid but the truth is that you’re probably likelier to survive a “fight” in the Z4 than in the Miata.

At The Curb

Some cars have big mouths.

Well, they look like they do. YouTuber Scotty Kilmer calls this the Bullfrog Look and – thankfully – the Z4 hasn’t got it.

The new grill is tastefully wide but not wide-open. It looks good – and so does the rest of the Z4. Classic roadster lines. Long hood, wide through the hips and tapering tail. It also has something else that most roadsters lack.

A decent-sized trunk.

Just shy of 10 cubic feet, which is nearly as much trunk as some small sedans have and almost twice as much trunk as a Miata has. Practicality may not be the chief shopping criteria when shopping for a roadster, but it’s nice to find a roadster that’s not as impractical as most.

This car comes standard with a power-folding top, which has its pros and its cons. The obvious pro being you just push a button if you want to feel the breeze. And get out of the rain. The con is not being able to just throw the thing back while the car is moving (at any speed) and that the electric action takes a little longer to do its thing. But the relevant consideration is that you can drop the top – something you can’t in the Z4’s Supra sibling.

At least, not without a Sawzall.

The main gauge cluster is meant to echo the trapezoidal themes executed elsewhere but the angular tachometer takes a little time to get used to. Of course, it matters less because you’re not doing the shifting. You also get a glovebox and cupholders in the center console storage cubby, both absent in the Miata.

The sport buckets are bolstered on the sides and have integrated rollbars built into their backsides. A very good ten speaker stereo is standard but you can choose an even better 12 speaker Harman Kardon system.

Surprisingly – given this is a BMW – heated seats and steering wheel aren’t standard. Neither is the wireless phone charger which costs $500 extra. On the other hand, a leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel, pedal trim and the sport buckets mentioned just above are now standard.

As is the wind in you hair.

The Rest

The Z4 is neatly positioned in that it is much less expensive than the next-closest thing (the $65,500 to start Porsche Boxster) and much more powerful than a similar thing (the Miata) and a very different thing from its Toyota-badged and hardtop-only relation.

It is less involving to drive than the manual-equipped Supra – but driving with the top down is something you cannot do in the Supra.

The Bottom Line

The Z4 is a BMW – literally.

Mechanically as well as cosmetically. You buy it at the BMW dealer – as opposed to buying the mechanically identical thing at a Toyota dealer. This latter may or may not matter to you.

What may matter more to you is the price difference that separate these fraternal twins. That and the presence – or absence – of a roof.

And a clutch.

. . .

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