Our BMW Z4 meets blood brother, Toyota's Supra

Published: Today 09:20

► CAR lives with a Z4 roadster
► It has six months to impress...
► Can it win us over?

Month 3 living with a BMW Z4: is it better than a Toyota Supra?

Not relevant. That’s what senior folk at BMW and Toyota say when you raise the question of which is more fun to drive, Z4 or Supra. While the two cars were co-engineered, and share the vast majority of their hardware, and are built at the same factory in Austria, they’re chasing different markets.

The Supra’s engineering chief Tetsuya Tada says Toyota developed the car to compete with the Porsche 718 Cayman (the sports car Toyota considers the class benchmark), while BMW configured the Z4 to rival the 718 Boxster. 

But it’s a natural question that people are going to ask nonetheless, so here’s my best answer. I believe the Supra rides, handles and entertains better than the Z4. 

While the two cars share the same suspension and powertrain, the fine-tuning of both is separate. The Toyota has its own settings for the electric power steering, active dampers and electronically controlled differential, and it’s their calibration that gives the Supra its different character. The steering feels more measured, less darty, than the Z4’s, and its overall balance feels more malleable at the limit. Its ride quality is smoother too – perhaps a result of its fixed roof as well as its suspension tuning. An overly busy ride is one of the Z4’s bugbears – it never quite settles down, and in that respect the Supra is the comfier car.

The Z4 has an array of drive modes, from Comfort to Sport to Sport+, but the Supra simply has one big Sport mode button, and feels the better for it – although you can individually fine-tune steering, damping, diff and engine maps in a further menu. 

Overall, however, the two cars feel – surprise, surprise – very similar. So much so that when I climbed back into the Z4 I found myself air-pressing phantom switchgear that had moved position from its location in the Supra. 

The interiors share plenty of common parts and architecture but they’re less alike than pictures suggest. The Z4’s is more luxurious, and I believe has superior ergonomics, cluttered digital instruments apart; the Supra’s feels cheaper and gloomier, but with its central tacho it also feels more like a proper sports car cockpit as opposed to a convertible 3-series. I find its seats – almost the same, but not quite – a touch comfier, too. 

Subjectively, I’m not convinced either is a great-looking car – while the short-wheelbase and wide-track proportions help agility they don’t lend themselves to beauty – but I find the Supra’s mini-Dodge Viper styling a bit more appealing than the Z4’s stumpier soft-top aesthetic.

Despite all this praise pointed the Supra’s way, I really am enjoying the Z4. If it’s not quite as involving as the Toyota, it’s not far off. The Supra wins this sibling scrap for me but I’m warming to the Z4 with every drive. Besides, actually, my favourite sports car that uses the same engine is the Morgan Plus Six…

By James Taylor

Month 2 of our BMW Z4 long-term test: a windscreen wiper fault

BMW Z4 windscreen wiper fault

The Z4 had already been here at CAR for a couple of weeks before I could actually get behind its wheel for the first time. Other people had been having a fine old time in the BMW roadster, but my time in it got off to a terrible start: at the first press of the ignition button a message flashed up on the iDrive screen warning of a windscreen wiper fault.

I adopted my tried-and-tested strategy in the event of any kind of error message, which is to ignore it and fervently hope that it goes away by itself. Halfway home, it did.

Next morning, however, the message was back and wasn't budging, just like the steady rainfall that had set in for the day. There was no response from the wipers whichever position the stalk was in, so I abandoned ship from the BMW and drove a more reliable MGF to work instead (not a sentence you hear every day).

The local BMW dealer, Sycamore Peterborough, was very busy and so was I, and with more rain on the way my already-flimsy resolve for investigative consumer journalism deserted me and I called BMW's press office for speedier help. The Z4 went away to the workshop for diagnosis, and the fault transpired to be a loose connection, a straightforward fix.

Before I got my Jonah's hands on it, the Z4 had already been busy at CAR, pressed into service in the July issue's Shortlist feature where it didn't fare too favourably against the Toyota Supra (its non-identical twin), the Alpine A110 and the Porsche 718, storming to an emphatic fourth place.

But that first drive before the rains came was a pleasant one – roof down, stereo on, straight-six turning lazily in eighth gear – leading me to suspect the Z4's strongest appeal may be found at low speeds rather than high. It's been an atypical scenario, having a sports car and not driving it, but I've been making the most of it (and the sunshine, bordering on heatwave) since its return. More in-depth driving impressions soon.

By James Taylor

Logbook: BMW Z4 M40i

Price £49,185 (£53,865 as tested) 
Performance 2998cc turbo straight-six, 335bhp, 4.6sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 33.2mpg (official) 30.0mpg (tested), 165g/km CO2 
Energy cost 20.9p per mile 
Miles this month 1439
Total miles 6185

Month 1 living with a BMW Z4 M40i: hello and welcome

Z4 rear quarter

Here's a second chance to make a first impression. When I first drove the Z4 at its launch in October last year, it was a good car but not an exciting one. It felt more like a saloon that happened to have two seats and a soft-top than a spine-
tingling sports car. I've been wondering if I judged it harshly, especially after enjoying driving its closely related, co-engineered Toyota Supra platform-mate recently. Now the Z4's got an entire British summer (and a bit of autumn too) to argue its case.

The Z4 range starts at £37,115 for the 20i model, with a 196bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, or £40,815 for the same engine hopped up to 256bhp in the 30i. This car, however, is the range-topping Z4 M40i, with a musclebound 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six under its stubby bonnet.

Compared with the rest of the range, the M40i also gets larger 19-inch wheels (with tyres essentially the same as those fitted to the current M3/M4), adaptive dampers (optional on 2.0-litre cars) and an active diff, as also fitted to the Supra. Less dynamic niceties include electrically adjustable seats with leather-meets-alcantara upholstery and extra aluminium trim compared with lowlier models.

Our car's also got a fancy paintjob, the optional Frozen Grey II metallic matt paint priced at £1880. In addition to the paint there's a further £3450 of options: the £900 Visibility Package (adaptive LED headlights and automatic high-beam assist); the £750 Comfort Package (heated steering wheel, wind deflector, keyless entry and start, and a through-load serving hatch from boot to interior); and the £1800 Technology Package (head-up display, Harman Kardon surround-sound speaker system, wireless phone charging, rear-view parking camera and automatic parking assistant).

Z4 LTT front cornering

So many of the ingredients are there for a truly great sports car – engine set back for a 50:50 weight distribution, short wheelbase for agility, wide track for stability, clever diff and great throttle response by any standards, not just for a turbocharged engine.

Maybe a bit of extra soak-time will help the Z4's true character shine. I'm looking forward to getting to know it again over the coming months, and finding out if it can thrill as well as cosset.

The Z4 has traditionally been more about sun-dappled boulevard cruising, rather than being a car to inspire an early alarm and the long, twisty way to work. Here's hoping this one's both.

By James Taylor

Logbook: BMW Z4 M40i

Price £49,185 (£53,865 as tested) 
Performance 2998cc turbo straight-six, 335bhp, 4.6sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 33.2mpg (official) 31.3mpg (tested), 165g/km CO2 
Energy cost 18.3p per mile 
Miles this month 299
Total miles 4746

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ