Dynamically, the M40i represents a return to a much more magical BMW product.
When it originally came out in the mid-1990s, the BMW Z3 quickly gained notoriety as a Bond car in the movie “Goldeneye“. Its classic roadster format made for a long hood and timeless lines, although many 007 fans were hoping for something with a little more brawn and bravado. Fast forward to the present, and the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is the latest iteration of the Bavarian drop top. Its styling is much more aggressive than models gone by, and after warming up to it after a few days of testing, it comes across as downright sexy and full of little details. The M40i is the more powerful version that followed up the Z4’s introduction for the 2019 model year, and rounds out the lineup in terms of mild and wild choices.
One interesting tidbit about the latest “G29” generation of Z4 is that the chassis was co-developed with an unlikely partner – Toyota teamed up to build the new GR Supra sports car in parallel. While both share many components including suspension hard points and most engine hardware, after getting to drive them in a variety of settings, including the track, it was pretty apparent that both come in considerably different flavours. For starters, the Z4 gets a soft top convertible roof – which is a change from the previous generation’s power hard top.
The uplevel, higher performance M40i is new for 2020, and packs a very special extra punch with its 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six cylinder engine. Known as the “B58”, it makes 382 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,500RPM, as well as 369 lb-ft. of torque between 1,600 and 4,500RPM. This translates to a fantastically fat low end and midrange torque curve, with zero turbo lag from the twin-scroll turbocharger design. The natural balance of the inline six also means the utmost of smoothness, and even the loud crackling exhaust isn’t enough to take away from the silky feeling.
For the M40i, the only transmission option is the ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic – no manual is offered. Despite this, for many years, the ZF has been the gold standard of automatics, and continues to keep its crown with the 2020 Z4 M40i. In normal conditions, it shifts quickly and early, making the most of the B58’s torque, and makes sure that the engine never feels laboured. Kick things up a notch, however, and the shifts become ferociously quick with a bark of the exhaust in between each upshift. Simply put, it brings just about all of the performance of a dual-clutch design, but with the refinement advantages of a conventional torque converter design.
Even with such a sweet engine and transmission combo, fuel economy on the Z4 M40i isn’t expected to take a back seat. While official numbers were not available at the time of publishing, observed economy came back at 10.1L/100KM in mixed driving with a good amount of spirited use. A minimum is midgrade 89 octane fuel is required, although premium 91 octane or better is recommended. Tank capacity is 52 litres.
Dynamically, the M40i represents a return to a much more magical BMW product than some of the last few releases of 3 or 5 Series. With the new chassis, steering feel is improved, although is not as good as some of the smaller-engined 30i four cylinder cars when on-centre. Chalk this up to the 40i cars requiring the use of the older F30 chassis steering rack. In any case, The Z4’s adaptive suspension is a hoot in the corners. Once the steering weights up with added lock, cornering is very confident, but builds up to understeer as the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires hit their limit.
Compared to the GR Supra, the Z4 is less twitchy, with the aforementioned understeer working to create a safer, more conservative experience for most Sunday drivers. The Toyota is tuned to turn in sharper, and also rotates much more easily, especially in a track setting. Both are strong performers, but the GR Supra is more of the true track weapon, and the Z4 is more of a summer cruiser that happens to be able to open many cans of whoop-ass at once.
With the move to a soft top convertible design for the G29 Z4, the good news is that refinement and highway cruising remains fairly quiet and refined. The top does its thing in ten seconds, and can be operated at speeds of up to 50KM/H. Wind noise is extremely well controlled whether the side windows are up or down, and the removable wind deflector behind the headrests works wonders. As a bonus, the Z4 maintains its good looks whether the top is up or down.
The interior design and materials for the 2020 Z4 M40i are as wonderful to look as they are to touch, and the same cannot be said for its Toyota GR Supra (reviewed here) platform mate, which uses more previous-generation BMW components. The test car’s Cognac Vernasca Leather was a real treat, and contrasted very well against the stunning and attention-grabbing Misano Blue Metallic exterior paint colour. It was hard to find a comfortable seat position however, as there wasn’t really a comfortable seatback position or lumbar support setting. The GR Supra does better there.
Technology wise, the Z4 features the latest generation of the iDrive infotainment system, which is more than just a re-skin of the interfaces of the past. The new version moves around many of the menus so that they are in a different spot, but things are not necessarily better or easier to use. BMW drivers used to the old system will need a few weeks to adjust their muscle memory. The sound system, although equipped with Harman/Kardon, was a bit of a letdown in terms of clarity.
For dollars and cents, the 2020 Z4 M40i starts at a base price of $76,100 – or about eleven grand more than the GR Supra, which only comes in one loaded configuration in Canada. On the test car, the Premium Package added $4,000 and included ambient lighting, park sensors front and rear, head-up display, Harman/Kardon audio, wireless phone charging, and Wi-Fi hotspot. The $1,650 Driver Assistance Package adds adaptive cruise, as well as a parking assistant feature. The Vernasca leather is a well-worth-it $1,500, the Misano Blue Metallic exterior paint was another $895, 19-inch M alloy wheels were $500, and high-gloss black kidney grilles were $250 extra. This all leads to an as-tested price of $84,645.
Overall, the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is a formidable roadster from the German automaker. Its amazing powertrain will put a smile on any driver’s face, and the sexy look inside and out will have the general public checking it out. The extra options pump up the price to a somewhat eye-watering value, so choose the checkboxes wisely. If you’re not dead set on having head-up display, skipping the Premium Package should save you four grand. Against the 2020 Toyota GR Supra, it’s a more premium product overall, and the BMW easily wins if considering a luxury experience. For raw performance, though, the considerably cheaper Toyota is the one to have. Both are great cars – they’re just two delicious flavours in a growing sea of crossovers.