Reborn 2019 BMW Z4 Delivers Top-Down Thrills

This roadster has more verve than before, but it suffers from a stiff ride

The BMW Z4 returns after a brief hiatus, backed by the automaker’s pledge that the reborn roadster has improved performance. The previous model that retired in 2016 was quick, efficient, and well-finished, but it lacked an enthusiast-satisfying edge.

The new Z4 is 3.3 inches longer, 2.9 inches wider, and a half-inch taller. On top of that, it gave up the retractable hardtop for a traditional soft top to save weight and speed the opening and closing process.

BMW has also updated the infotainment and safety technologies. We were eager to see whether the new Z4 brings the thrills BMW has promised, so we bought a Z4 sDrive30i just in time for spring.

Here are our initial impressions, before our Z4 enters the formal testing process.

Update: Since this first drive was published in May 2019, we have completed testing. See the complete BMW Z4 road test.

What we bought: 2019 BMW Z4
Powertrain: 255-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; eight-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive
MSRP: $49,700
Options: $8,500 (M Sport package, Premium package, Executive package, remote engine start, 19-inch wheels)
Destination fee: $995
Total cost: $59,195

What We Like . . . so Far

The Z4 is engaging to drive, right from the first press of the accelerator. Drivers should cast aside doubts that the increased size or the four-cylinder engine would temper performance. The Z4 accelerates quickly and delivers steady power, no matter where the engine is in the rpm range. And the mischievous Sport mode creates a sonorous soundtrack that’s certain to widen any driver’s smile.

In Comfort mode, the Z4 becomes a bit more sedate and tailored to casual cruising. The shifts are very smooth in this mode, compared with the snappy gear changes in Sport mode, underscoring the benefit of fine-tuning the car’s personality at the touch of a button.

The steering wheel is thick, making it easy to hold with a solid grip. This is well-matched to the heft of the wheel, which requires a bit more muscle to rotate than those on some other cars. We like that meaty feel and quick response.

Sports Car Road Tests

The seats are very comfortable and supportive. Some drivers felt that the torso bolsters alongside the seatbacks hugged them well; others found them to be a bit snug. But don’t assume that this sports car is for smaller people; our tallest driver says the car fit him well.

There’s a handy wireless charging pad for a smartphone and a couple of cup holders hidden in the center armrest.

The cabin itself is more austere than flashy, but fit and finish is high-quality throughout.

The soft top goes up and down with a simple, one-touch operation, opening and closing in a quick 10 seconds; conveniently, either task can be done on the move at slow speeds. Thanks to a meshed wind blocker behind the passengers, there’s minimal wind buffeting.

The trunk is predictably small, but it’s more functional than one might think, thanks to how long it is. One staffer used the car to buy weekly household groceries on a couple of occasions and had plenty of space.

Overall, there’s no doubt that new Z4 is more fun to drive than the previous version.

What We Don't Like

There’s no denying it: The Z4 has a stiff and choppy ride. That’s not too surprising on a sports car, but the Z4’s suspension is so tightly wound that it might become tiresome. This reaffirms that the Z4 favors fair-weather driving on smooth, preferably curvy, roads.

Also true to form, this sports car is low-slung. Getting in—or out—requires a bit of athleticism. Passengers will be challenged to stretch over the wide door sills, particularly when exiting.

The accommodations are intimate, with a narrow cockpit for each occupant. This underscores that the Z4 is a fun, weekend-ready plaything more than a long-distance cruiser.

The chrome climate buttons have limited contrast in some lighting conditions, so it’s tough to make a selection based on just a glance.

With the top up, visibility is quite restricted to the sides and especially out the back. The cloth roof lets more wind noise in than the previous retractable hardtop did, to the point that some drivers were compelled to repeatedly confirm that the windows were all the way up. Putting the top down opens up a much better view, but even then, rear visibility is hampered by the mesh wind blocker.

Some of our drivers commented that the roadster begs to have a manual transmission, but one isn’t available.

What We'll Keep Our Eyes On

We can’t wait for the warmer weather, so we can further explore the top-down motoring aspects of the Z4.

This is a BMW, through and through. But will it deliver the goods during our track tests to run with the high-scoring Porsche 718 Boxster and its sublime handling? We’ll soon find out—testing is now underway. But suffice to say, the new Z4 delivers more driving thrills than its predecessor. We are keen to see how the acceleration and fuel economy measure up because those were strong points for the last generation.

See the complete BMW Z4 road test.

Jeff S. Bartlett

A New England native, I have piloted a wide variety of vehicles, from a Segway to an aircraft carrier. All told, I have driven thousands of vehicles—many on race tracks across the globe. Today, that experience and passion are harnessed at the CR Auto Test Center to empower consumers. And if some tires must be sacrificed in the pursuit of truth, so be it. Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSBartlett).