2020 BMW Z4 First Drive Review

Much has changed with the compact two-seater convertible segment since the last Z4 bowed. And its precursor, the Z3, debuted in a world that thirsted for compact convertibles like the Mazda Miata MX-5. These ragtops stood a chance of attracting a small but strong audience.

Those early days are long gone. Porsche has famously (and controversially) dropped the cylinder count and turbocharged the Boxster, while Mercedes-Benz has abandoned ship altogether and discontinued the SLC. Others, like the Audi TT Roadster, have quietly soldiered on in low volume anonymity.

To adapt to this new world order, BMW’s new Z4 bears the burden alongside Toyota, who use the same platform to build the Supra. The all-new underpinnings are built for better handling: though slightly taller than the old Z4, width grows by nearly 3 inches and wheelbase shrinks about an inch. The chassis is 20 percent stiffer, and front-to-rear weight distribution is an ideal 50/50.

Also perturbing to traditionalists is the fact that the Z4 is only available with an eight-speed automatic. One BMW rep told us that once the take rate drops below 10 percent, it becomes all but impossible to justify a three-pedal setup. That said, accelerating onto the Estoril circuit in Sport+ mode reveals a copacetic relationship between the torquey six-cylinder and the eight-speed auto, with plenty of torque to pull the Z4 onto the track.

The raw mechanical grip is an unexpected boon. My lead/follow track session at Estoril’s 2.599-mile course involved chasing two pro drivers, and our pace in Sport+ was surprisingly quick and with minimal intervention from the traction control in Dynamic mode. The brakes were equally up to the task of hauling the Z4 down from serious speeds.

The Z4 has evolved into a more refined, composed convertible that begs to be driven faster and farther. But that’s the rub, too. By removing the slip and slide aspect that elevates cars like the flickable Mazda Miata MX-5, the Z4 also removes some of the thrill from the equation. Mature, secure, and surprisingly capable, the new Z4 is more cerebral than visceral. It’s a safe play in a shrinking ragtop market with fewer players than ever.