BMW’s Concept Z4 plays all the angles.
The third iteration of BMW’s Z4 roadster is just around the corner, and it represents a new approach to the way Werke does business. This roadster has been co-developed with Toyota, which will market its version of the car as the reborn Supra. The Concept Z4 also indicates a stylistic departure from every past generation of the company’s smallish droptop, with the long-hood proportions and sweeping body lines of the outgoing car reshuffled. Heck, the concept even reinterprets BMW’s familiar double headlights. Together with the recent 8-series preview, this Z4 points clearly to a new direction for BMW’s design language, one that emphasizes angles over curves. Departure though it may be, the Concept Z4 is a looker.
Trading the flowing, slightly bulbous lines of its predecessor for an aggressive chiseling throughout, the Concept Z4 looks the beans in its Energetic Orange paint. A retro, shark-nose front end juts forward even as the rest of the car seems canted steeply backward. Below the grille, the lower apron is a caricature of what you find on current M products. Though it’s unlikely that the production car will see the cartoonishly drawn lines of the concept’s lower bumper, they work well here, supporting the overbite of the grille and cutting any would-be blockiness out of the Concept Z4’s face.
The intersection of the clamshell hood and the fender draws focus to the trick in the car’s design: Though the Concept Z4 appears to be entirely angular, there isn’t a flat spot anywhere or a line that doesn’t have a subtle curve. Big vents behind the front wheels direct air into scooped-out door panels that bear more than a passing resemblance to those on a Corvette. The distinctive, rounded back end wraps up nicely with now-familiar hockey-stick taillights that crib heavily from the i8. Below them, exaggerated versions of BMW’s trademark air ventricles in each corner help cut the visual bulk of the rear bumper.
There’s no official word yet on which engines we can expect to power the production Z4, but a test mule was spotted with a spec sheet taped to the dashboard. It suggested that the rear-drive Z4 will offer the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder of its predecessor. Bet on a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six being the optional engine. That same set of spy shots showed a six-speed manual transmission, and we see no reason why BMW wouldn’t hold on to the excellent ZF-sourced eight-speed as the automatic choice. The turbocharged future is already here, so it’s safe to say that if there’s an M version, it’ll feature a higher-output straight-six, likely a detuned version of the 425-hp unit in today’s M3 and M4. While BMW’s U.S. operations have gone gaga for hybrids, we expect the Z4’s limited sales potential to keep such a powertrain off the roadster’s options list.
Though this concept-car body could well be fixed atop a chassis made of pretzels and gumdrops, the production car’s underpinnings will be shared with Toyota in the companies’ joint sports-car venture. BMW makes note of the more central location of the cockpit in relation to the rest of the chassis—the key change to the Z4’s proportions. Without question, the concept divides the visual bulk more evenly than any previous Z, though its wheelbase is just 1.1 inches shorter than that of last year’s Z4. At 170.0 inches, the concept is 3.1 inches longer than the outgoing car. Its 76.2-inch width—an increase of 5.7—is unlikely to carry over into production but certainly helps the concept’s dramatic proportions. The show car sports 20-inch wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, but it’s safe to assume that production models will start with 18-inchers and all-season tires. Spy shots reveal that the production car will return to the first-gen’s softtop, as opposed to the outgoing Z4’s folding metal lid, thereby saving weight, space, complication, and cost.
With the half-black, half-orange interior, BMW’s designers wanted to draw attention to the driver-centric cockpit layout, the orange pop on the passenger’s side blending in with the exterior panels. If you squint hard enough, you can almost see a leather-tonneaued single-seat cockpit, a modern take on an early Jaguar. Almost.
The driver-focused theme continues in the instrument cluster and center stack, which are oriented dramatically toward the driver. Both are set at nearly the same height, keeping the important information close to eye level. The instrument cluster itself is a TFT display that houses a speedometer and a counterclockwise tachometer, à la Aston Martin. Sadly, the deep-dish steering wheel will definitely not make it to production, nor do we expect the production car’s shifter will block the driver’s access to the iDrive controller.
The Z4 goes on sale next year as a 2019 model. You’d be wise to expect the production car to look an awful lot like the concept. Be excited about that.