BMW's RIVAL TO THE MERCEDES SL
For decades, Mercedes-Benz set the standard for luxury touring sports cars with its SL series cars that delivered coupe-like cruising or open-air fun. Over the years, BMW has nibbled around the edges of its German rival with nearly head-to-head models like the classic Z8 roadster as well as the 840 and 850 coupes. Then in 1996, BMW’s Z3 brought reasonably affordable roadster and coupe touring to the market, but neither had the luxury touring panache of the larger Benz SLs.
BMW’s Z4 line was launched in 2003 and was an improvement over the previous series. And in 2009, Z4’s second generation employed a retractable hardtop to be a bit more competitive with its SL rival. Finally in 2018 the car was thoroughly redesigned, teaming with Toyota to help rationalize the low volume in sales of two-seat sports cars. BMW’s Z4 is offered in a soft top only while Toyota’s Supra is a fixed coupe. Both brands offer BMW’s turbocharged, 255 HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder as standard fitment or the velvet smooth, 382 HP 3.0-liter straight six as an optional trim level, and that’s what powered our M40i test vehicle.
The new Z4, especially in our test car’s Thundernight Metallic paint, a worthwhile $650 option, along with a $950 Shadowline Package that turned all the chrome bits black, made just the right statement. The classic sports car proportions of a long hood and short deck combined with a ground-hugging crouch begged to be driven. I wasn’t about to refuse.
The cockpit is nicely driver-oriented with the now common additional screen nicely integrated above the center console and tilted toward the left seat. The leather-trimmed M steering wheel hosts cruise control functions as well as phone, voice commands and audio. All buttons are reasonably easy to identify and use, a nice attribute since they’re frequently deployed at highway speeds. And if you need more function, BMW’s improved iDrive controller is a short reach away.
The new Z4 does not offer the firm’s six-speed manual gearbox and I’m sure a few purists may despair, but you won’t find a clutch pedal in a Ferrari or Lamborghini these days and few enthusiasts fret of its absence. The 8-Speed Steptronic is lightning quick when in Sport mode and nicely smooth when comfort is dialed up. The cabin is reassuringly quiet with the padded soft top up and when you want wide open motoring, it vanishes with alacrity at speeds up to 30 MPH. And top down is where I did most of my driving enjoying the sunny weather with excellent wind management.
I’m not sure that BMW had their German rival Mercedes-Benz in mind as a primary target, but the Z4 M40i is certainly a compelling compettitor to the AMG SL 43. It’s lighter, more powerful and delivers better EPA fuel economy while making just the right curb appeal statement. And for a bonus, our car’s retail price of $74,620 was $35-grand less than the new SL’s base price. Another luxury sport car to consider in this price range is Jaguar’s F-Type.
THE FINE PRINT
2024 BMW Z4 M40i
TYPE: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 3.0-liter Twin-Turbo I-6
HORSEPOWER: 382 @ 5,000 RPM
TORQUE: 369 lb.ft. @ 1,600 RPM
BASE PRICE: $66,300
AS TESTED: $74,620
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 23 city, 31 highway, 26 combined