Few things make the heart race as much as a stylish, sexy two-seater. And since fewer are being made, it’s important to appreciate the ones that remain, like the 2023 BMW Z4 M40i. With a strong powerplant, excellent handling and the right amount of technology, this pocket model is a must drive.
For many automotive buffs and enthusiasts, two-seat sports cars define the motoring experience since they are fast, nimble and glamorous, while carrying with them a hint of danger carefully bred out of modern vehicles.
But nowadays manufacturers have a hard time justifying the expense that comes with selling low-volume models, like two-seaters. The expense of new technology and safety equipment continues to climb, and the interest of cash-strapped youthful buyers turns to more practical and more versatile vehicles.
But BMW, the Bavarian maker luxury vehicles, has kept its hand in the two-seater market for years with the Z models such as the Z4 M40i, which I got to drive for a week. The Z4 M40i is nicely balanced, enjoys more than enough power and even boasts a surprisingly comfortable interior for drivers who have grown accustomed to the space and features available in contemporary utility vehicles.
Big fun in a small package
This car is a lot of fun to drive even though we didn’t get up to full speed, given the prevailing traffic laws in the state of Michigan. But it is quick thanks to a substantial gasoline fueled powertrain and a very favorable power-to-weight ratio.
It’s a real presence out on the road, plus the Z4 has a great suspension, delivering a smooth ride on all sorts of surfaces, including broken up asphalt. That same setup also holds the road nicely through tight curves, including freeway exits or entrances. The steering is also impressively precise and offers the driver plenty of feedback. It also has excellent, which are a necessity on car that invites aggressive driving.
Part of the appeal of a two-seater is it is built for speed and a solid powertrain is vital to keeping the sports car image intact. The BMW Z4 I drove was equipped with a 3.0-liter, twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder engine matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Z4 is built on rear-wheel-drive layout but it comes with both stability and traction control. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the 2023 BMW Z4 M40i a combined fuel economy rating of 26 mpg, including 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.
The BMW Z4 comes with a long list of safety features over and above the passenger and driver airbags for frontal and side-impact crashes, and it also comes with driver attention and pre-collision alerts. It also has rain-sensing windshield wipers, a rear-view camera, LED dusk-sensing headlights, and heated steering wheel. It is also equipped with satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a connectivity package with Bluetooth and Real-Time traffic.
Attractive inside and out
On the inside, the BMW Z4 offers a very compact and very efficient layout, putting all the key controls within easy reach of the driver, including those for the entertainment system in the center stack. While the cockpit’s dimensions seem small, the occupants do not seem cramped and the visibility from the driver’s seat, even with the convertible top firmly in place in rainy weather, was excellent. The quality of the materials used throughout the interior also was first rate as was the Harmon Kardon sound system.
The exterior design of the two-seat roadster like the Z4 was more or less fixed roughly a century ago with some variations over the years. BMW sticks with the traditional approach: a long hood or bonnet over the engine in front of a compact cabin and a short rear compartment, which is used for storing the convertible top if the weather permits.
BMW sheathes the Z4 in solid, muscular-looking sheet metal, which gives the car some brawny shoulders and a solidity normally associated with larger vehicles. The 19-inch wheels at the corners also amplify the car’s presence.
Attractive, fun, but limited
As endearing as the Z4 might be for some car buffs, it is definitely not a practical vehicle. Even if you wanted to use it for commuting — if you still have to trek into work — there is no room for a stuffed briefcase. God forbid you ever had to run an errand, involving a package bigger than a man’s hand.
It doesn’t even have a cup-holder, which does underscore the entire vehicle was designed by some old-school Germans somewhere in Munich. But the car does make a statement that ties the owner back to an impressive tradition of speed and daring on open roads.