Roadsters are fun vehicles. They're top-down, nimble little cars that are summertime molded into steel, rubber, and glass.
BMW's latest incarnation of the Z4 is all of those things and more. While we were sent the more powerful version of the car, it's hard to imagine the smaller-engine model not delivering the same amount of smiles. But it's not all windswept hair and sunshine. There's the inevitable exposure to sunburn and BMW has a few tech versions of that in its roadster.
Gallery: 2020 BMW Z4 M40i review | 7 Photos
Gallery: 2020 BMW Z4 M40i review | 7 Photos
BMW Z4 M40i
- Wonderful handling and power
- Lane-keep assist isn’t overbearing
- Living’ that top-down life
- No manual transmission
- CarPlay integration is wonky and you have to pay for it
- KeyFob settings are aggressive
- Pricey M40i engine too much for most folks
Starting at $49,700 the Z4 returned in 2019 after a four-year hiatus. The 2020 model year vehicle ticks all the boxes driving-wise for a roadster. BMW sent us the M40i version of the vehicle which sports a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 382 horsepower and 369 pounds-foot of torque. The result is that it's quick at any stage of driving. Off the line, it'll do zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and I was never wanting for power to overtake another vehicle, no matter what speed I was traveling.
It's fast. Possibly too fast.
While I really like the larger engine in the Z4 M40i (it's the same found in the new Toyota Supra), I'm going to suggest that if you are interested in the Z4, try the twin-turbo 2.0-liter 4 cylinder in the regular trim level. Yes, it's "only" got 254 horsepower, but you'll likely never use the M40i's to its fullest potential and that more powerful version of the Z4 (which I drove) starts at $63,700. That's a $14,000 difference. That's a lot of cash for something you'll never take full advantage of.
What you will enjoy is how the Z4 handles. It's a proper sports car with tight suspension that keeps it glued to the road. Steering is precise with the rear-wheel-drive Z4 offering just a tiny bit of oversteering with all the safety items on. It's a satisfying driving experience that should soften the blow to enthusiasts when they discover this car will not be offered with a manual transmission.
Fortunately, the automatic 8-speed transmission is paired perfectly with the engine and shifts quickly and exactly when needed for linking corners. Paddle shifters are available for extra control over the experience.
But all this top-down driving comes with the comforts and tech you would expect from a BMW. It's the tech side where things get slightly weird. The company's infotainment system is still easy to use with access to controls via the touchscreen or scroll wheel. Plus the inclusion of the "Hey BMW" voice assistant is a reminder that voice assistants are the future of controlling everything in your car without taking your eyes off the road.
The Z4 doesn't come with adaptive cruise control, but it does have Dynamic Cruise Control. Essentially, it slows the vehicle down if it encounters a curve that the system thinks requires deceleration. It'll slow down for sharp corners while you're on the freeway. It won't track cars, but it does know the lay of the land.
The lane-keep assist system does a splendid job nudging you back into your lane without being overbearing. It can be a bit annoying on backroads, but you can customize the safety features to turn that off while everything else (automatic braking, pedestrian protection, etc) stay active. Almost all is well until you try to set up your iPhone with the infotainment system.
BMW's CarPlay integration is a source of frustration. In addition to charging $80 a year after the first 12 months with a car, the experience is fraught with issues. BMW's wireless CarPlay connection has recently been a source of frustration for myself with the Z4 and another recent BMW either not keeping the connection or failing to make a connection at all. I'm not alone, our sister site Autoblog recently posted about issues with CarPlay in a BMW.
And sure, in the grand scheme of things $80 every 12 months for someone that can afford a BMW isn't that much money. But it should at least work consistently.
Another weird issue is the distance around the car in which the key fob activates the security system. It feels too short and therefore seems aggressive when you're nearby. I couldn't walk past the car in my driveway without it constantly locking and unlocking the doors. My neighbors probably think I've lost my mind locking and unlocking the car while just getting out and moving to the back of the car to open the trunk.
This might seem like nitpicking an otherwise outstanding car, but the issues got on my nerves enough during my week with the car, that I assume that owners will also be irritated by it. I'm assuming most will turn off the car's auto-lock and just stop using CarPlay all together until BMW or Apple figure out what's going on.
Does it take away from the driving experience? No. Does it slightly taint an impressive interior experience? Yeah, a little bit. But ever so slightly less, once you sit down. The Z4 is comfortable with seats that secure you without being too "sporty." The interior materials are high quality and every button is logically placed.
I'm also a big fan of the tiny door between the seats that leads to the trunk. There are actually two doors, so if you want to store something without it sliding around the interior of the vehicle, you can place it between them in a little cubby.
At the end of the week with the Z4 it was one of those cars I'm sad to see go. Convertibles are a special breed of vehicle. Top-down at any speed is a joy. But the M40i makes it extra special by being a true sports car roadster in nearly every sense of the word. Just don't expect your iPhone to connect to it on a regular basis.
Update 10/31/19 11:53AM ET: An earlier version of this article stated that BMW's CarPlay subscription was $80 a month. It's $80 a year.