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  • Writer's pictureAndy Pilgrim

2020 BMW Z4 M40i Test Drive

BMW’s new Z4 is a well-balanced, plenty-powerful world-class roadster.

Automobile's All-Stars awards are back, and this year we have one of the best fields of cars we've ever evaluated. In total, we invited 21 of our favorite new or significantly revised cars to find out which are the very best of the best. We've split them into Contenders and Winners, but let us make it clear: Every car invited to our All-Stars event is one of the most special cars on sale for 2020. Each day between March 8 and March 10, we'll bring you a new batch of Contenders, and on Wednesday, March 11, we'll announce our 2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners.

The new-for-2020 BMW Z4 M40i strikes an elegant pose as it sits among the crowded Automobile All-Stars parking area. The Z4 looks good, whether its top is up or down. For 2020 it comes in two flavors, the M40i with 382 horsepower being the more menacing version.

The Z4's front fascia certainly makes a statement, as do most M-model BMWs these days. That said, a BMW purist might have a tough time associating the schmeared "kidney grille" with the original, but it still looks good. Inside, the seats are long-distance comfortable, with effective support for any twisty bits of road you encounter. The interior looks and feels like quality BMW workmanship; it's a pleasant place to spend your driving time. Contributor Basem Wasef agreed, saying, "This roadster feels lovely and beautifully finished on the inside, with an appropriately polished driving dynamic to boot."

As with most BMW's these days, the Z4 M40i delivers quite a stiff ride, though well-sorted damping eliminates actual jarring over bumps. The Z4's handling is consistent and attainable in the sense that most enthusiast drivers can readily find the limits of grip without looking for clean underwear or a therapist.

Indeed, most of our All-Stars evaluators found the Z4 to be incredibly enjoyable on the Streets of Willow racetrack. Editor-in-chief Mac Morrison came into the pits with a big grin, blurting out, "That was way too much fun; it's a total riot." I'm pretty sure I saw him drifting sideways, roasting the Z4's tires, around 90 percent of the circuit. That explains why he revealed when he got out of the car: "I actually half-spun it in Turn 5. It's so fun to drift and is so controllable, I knew I should have lifted and just recovered it once I got super sideways, but I didn't want to give up on that slide. I honestly thought I could get it back right until the very end because it's generally so easy to control. What a great time."

Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa was a little more measured, saying, "The back end feels willing to rotate just slightly, and you can get a nice sharp and quick four-wheel drift through the tight esses. Drove it top-down, windows-down, as it should be driven, and wind protection was excellent."

The Z4 M40i feels solid, with excellent structural integrity, especially considering it's a convertible. Driving like a loon on track, there was nary a creak or rattle—impressive indeed. I love how the straight-six turbo engine pulls strongly all the way to the shift point, and the car is quick. There is next to no turbo lag, and the ZF eight-speed gearbox dispatches each gear with extreme prejudice despite lacking a dual-clutch transmission. The exhaust also pops nicely on engine overrun, and the famous straight-six BMW scream never gets old.

Still, social media editor Billy Rehbock felt the car fell a little short compared to some of our other All-Stars contenders. "It has such wonderful touring car chops, but it wasn't as eager to turn into a corner in the canyons," he noted.

Contributor Arthur St. Antoine, meanwhile, brought up the Z4 M40i's natural enemy. "It's an extremely nice little roadster: quick, nimble, attractive," he said. "One problem, though: this thing called the Porsche Boxster, which outshines the Z4 in every way. I can't see any reason for buying the BMW over the Boxster." Of course, there is the matter of the Boxster S' nearly $9,000-steeper base price compared to the M40i. But as St. Antoine also pointed out, the Porsche's handling still remains the benchmark in this vehicle class.

Either way, when considering people's feelings about convertibles and open-top driving, you're dealing with emotions on another level. The 2020 BMW Z4 M40i is without question a fine convertible, a lovely sports car, and a worthy All-Stars competitor.

Photos - William Walker

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