2023 BMW Z4 First Drive Review: More fun than you’d think

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MIAMI — There’s a joke amongst auto writers that if a company holds a launch event in Florida, the car probably isn’t very good to drive. Florida is known for many things, but great roads aren’t one of ‘em. That really does cars like the 2023 BMW Z4 a disservice. This little roadster deserves better, for sure.

The Z4 heads into 2023 with only minimal changes, limited to things like new 18- and 19-inch wheel designs and some spiffy paint colors, my favorite being Thundernight Metallic – a fancy way of saying “purple.” The base Z4 sDrive30i now comes standard with the M Sport package that includes a more aggressive-looking front fascia, new steering wheel and more voluptuous seats. Really, it just makes the Z4 sDrive30i look like its more powerful sibling, the M40i, which isn’t a bad thing. I struggle to call this generation Z4 pretty, but it doesn’t look awful, either.

There aren’t any major mechanical changes to speak of. Both four- and six-cylinder engine options are available, and all Z4s use rear-wheel drive. The sDrive30i has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that makes 255 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 1,550 rpm, while the Z4 M40i gets a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six with 382 hp at 5,800 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm.

If there’s one thing Florida’s roads are good for, it’s straight-line launches, and the base Z4 will get to 60 mph in a BMW-estimated 5.2 seconds. That’s respectable hustle for this 3,314-pound roadster, but if you’ve got a need for speed, the Z4 M40i will do the same deed in 3.9 seconds, accompanied by a much heartier exhaust note.

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Interestingly, both Z4s continue to be offered exclusively with an eight-speed automatic transmission. I say “interestingly” because, don’t forget, the Z4 and Toyota GR Supra are fraternal twins, with BMW leading the powertrain development. The 2023 Supra added a six-speed manual transmission option for the 3.0-liter engine, and it’s disappointing that the same ZF-sourced transmission adapted for one car could not be dropped into the other (even when that same transmission can be had in the European-market, four-cylinder Z4).

The Z4’s chassis is pretty good overall, with nice cornering composure and light but accurate steering. That’s true for both the four- and six-cylinder variants; the M40i’s biggest differentiator is really its extra power. Along a few curvy sections of road heading out toward Florida’s coast, the Z4 demonstrates that it’s totally capable of more enthusiastic antics than this state’s lame-o roads can accommodate. My previous stints in the Z4 were much more engaging, and I remember really liking this thing. Road tripping through Florida really feels like a waste.

That said, the Z4 is also super comfortable, making a long slog up the I-95 freeway much more palatable. Obviously the point of a roadster is to enjoy it with the top down, but if you’re driving in a place as hot and humid and generally gross as southern Florida, you’ll be happy to know the Z4 is pretty quiet inside when the soft top is up. On more pleasant days, electronically removing the roof only takes 10 seconds, and you can do this at speeds up to 30 mph, too.

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The decidedly drab, all-black interior of my test car can be a little claustrophobic with the top up, so I’d probably spring for a lighter color, personally. But no matter the hue, the Z4’s cabin is pretty plush, with good overall fit and finish, and sport seats that are perfectly contoured, providing equal amounts of comfort and support – something that’s great for extended drives.

All of the Z4’s cabin tech carries over unchanged, so no, it doesn’t upgrade to the new iDrive 8 infotainment suite you’ll find in the 3 Series, 7 Series, iX and so on. Many Autoblog editors would not consider this to be a bad thing as iDrive 7 still works perfectly well, while iDrive 8 has received its share of complaints. A key difference between the two is the 10.2-inch central display can be operated either by touching the screen or with the familiar iDrive knob on the center console that’s been removed for iDrive 8. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster looks cool, too, with easy-to-read graphics that don’t get washed out in the sun when you’re driving with the top down.

The Z4 has a solid list of driver-assistance technologies built in, as well, though the good stuff is locked behind a $700 Driving Assistance Package. That’s where you get full-speed adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring – the latter being something you really want while driving with the top up.

The 2023 Z4 sDrive30i is $1,300 more expensive than before, starting at $53,795 including a $995 destination charge. The Z4 M40i, meanwhile, keeps its $66,295 MSRP intact. Load one up with every option like my test car and you’ll pay right around $71,000.

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Honestly, the four-cylinder 30i seems like the better buy of the two, since it doesn’t compromise on luxury or good road manners, and I have to believe that anyone looking for something super sporty will bypass the M40i altogether and spring for a Porsche 718 Boxster. Besides, if you live in a place as bereft of winding roads as Florida, an sDrive30i is all the Z4 you’ll be able to use, anyway.

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