Written By | STEVE SILER
It’s unlikely very much carries over to the Supra . . . it’s all BMW in there.
What It Is: A pair of 2019 BMW Z4 prototypes circling a roundabout near Germany’s famous Nürburgring racetrack. (Golly, what could they be doing there?)
We have hunted down BMW’s once and future compact roadster twice already—once on track last summer and again in a snowy parking lot two months ago—but this marks the first time we’ve seen the car with the top down, as well as what its dashboard and center console look like. Minor design differences between the two cars’ grilles and wheels suggest different trim levels and possibly different powertrains, too.
The topless car shows the regrettable abandonment of the expressive and elegant headrest fairings that appeared on the Concept Z4 show car that previewed this next-gen Z4. They’ve been replaced by squared-off roll hoops not unlike those found on the previous Z4. Also gone are the concept’s shark-nose kidney grille and the multi-element chin spoiler with its deeply recessed mesh inserts. In their place is a blunter, more integrated nose with grille inserts that sit more flush with the car’s body. The outboard elements appear to be merely decorative.
The interior shots reveal layout and design motifs clearly in sync with current BMWs, and the show car’s awesome deep-dish steering wheel is nowhere in sight. At least one of the prototypes seen here has a fully digitized instrument cluster that mimics the concept’s cool speedo and tach layout; a separate image shows an instrument cluster concealed by a black panel through which conventional dials bracketing a smaller center display appear to be barely visible. The center console, however, with its shifter and iDrive controls, could have been lifted directly from the concept.
Why It Matters: Just as the Concept Z4’s expressive exterior has been toned down considerably for production, so, too, has its interior. If the engineers also take this tack and remain conservative in terms of its dynamic attributes, the Z4 could drive more like the benign previous-generation model rather than a rowdy ragtop. But then, a rowdy ragtop is what BMW needs to help restore some shine to its performance credentials.
Platform: The 2019 Z4 roadster will ride on a platform shared with the upcoming Toyota Supra, the latter offered only as a hardtop coupe while the BMW will come only in softtop convertible form. We’re not sure that will always remain the case, but it makes sense to clearly differentiate the products at launch. If BMW is able to keep weight down, performance should match or surpass that of the outgoing Z4. Switching back to a softtop design will certainly help on the weight front while presumably also lowering the center of gravity and increasing available luggage space.
Powertrain: If we were bettin’ folks, we would say that the car with the black wheels and stowed roof is a Z4 sDrive30i, powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four worth about 250 horsepower or so, while the car with the larger-looking silver-finished wheels and raised top is a Z4 M40i model with BMW’s familiar turbocharged inline-six underhood, which ought to be good for at least the same 335 horses and 369 lb-ft of torque it is expected to produce when installed in the Toyota Supra. Both engines will be offered with six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions in the BMW. A more powerful M version could very well appear down the road, possibly with the 425-hp twin-turbo inline-six from the M3/M4.
Competition: Audi TT, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-type, Porsche 718 Boxster.
Estimated Arrival and Price: The new Z4 should arrive later this year. The outgoing model starts just under $51K with its complex folding hard top; we figure the new soft-roofed model will start somewhere around $50,000.