You know, for as much as we talk about the Toyota Supra, people tend to forget about the BMW Z4. But neither of these cars would exist without the other. While driving the updated 2023 Z4 in Florida last week, Michael Wimbeck, the car’s development boss, talked about how BMW wouldn’t have been able to do a new generation of the roadster without sharing the cost of the project with Toyota. And come on, do you really think Toyota would’ve fully funded a standalone low-volume sports car on its own?
The reality is, BMW seems to have gotten the lousy end of the deal. The Germans are responsible for the engines, transmissions, chassis and electronics, yet the Supra outsells the Z4 three to one. Yes, the Toyota is cheaper, but its interior is also way worse and it uses seriously outdated infotainment tech. All the best things about the Supra are totally the work of BMW. It’s time to give credit where credit’s due.
Full disclosure: BMW told me I could drive a bunch of pristine modern classics – including a Z3 M Coupe and X5 4.6is – on a road trip from Miami to Amelia Island, but only if I drove a new Z4, too. BMW also fed me and paid for my hotels and flights, which was very kind.
The G29-generation BMW Z4 debuted in 2018, and it received the tiniest of updates for 2023. New wheels and colors are honestly the biggest changes worth mentioning, and even then, the most exciting line item is the addition of Thundernight Metallic purple paint you see here. The base Z4 sDrive30i also comes standard with the M Sport package now, which includes a new front fascia and better seats, so that’s neat, I guess.
Because the updates are so minor, the Z4 isn’t radically more expensive than before. The base price for the sDrive30i rises by $1,300, to $53,795 including a $995 destination charge, all because of the extra M Sport stuff. The more powerful Z4 M40i costs $66,295, which is the same as last year.
The Supra and Z4 use the same four- and six-cylinder engines, and both cars have identical power outputs. In the Z4 sDrive30i, a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four makes 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, while in the Z4 M40i, a twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-six cranks out 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both engines deliver their max torque super low, at 1,500 and 1,600 rpm, respectively, yet there’s still the tiniest bit of turbo lag under initial acceleration – especially in the four-cylinder.
Powerful as the M40i is, it’s not the Z4 I’d buy. The chassis tuning between the two models is very similar, and both have the same 15.5:1 fixed steering ratio, so it’s not like the M40i gives you a vastly different experience – other than the extra thrust. I have a feeling Z4 buyers are less concerned with outright performance than Supra customers, and the 2.0-liter engine is perfectly fine. Plus, it’s less expensive and more fuel-efficient, all while being just as nimble. For what it’s worth, I’d buy a 2.0-liter Supra over a six-cylinder version, too.
The Supra got a six-speed manual transmission option for 2023, exclusively paired with the 3.0-liter engine. This transmission was developed by BMW, so it’s a little weird that the gearbox didn’t make its way into the Z4 M40i, but I’ve heard a bunch of rumors that this will be rectified for the 2024 model year. Probably. Maybe.
Even so, considering the Z4’s more luxurious vibe, if a manual does become available in the M40i, it’ll likely account for a teensy-weensy percentage of sales. Most buyers will probably just stick (pun intended) with the currently standard eight-speed automatic transmission, which is a perfectly fine gearbox. Oh sure, it’s a little clumsy when paired with the turbo-four engine, where it’ll occasionally shift at weird times. But with the straight-six, the eight-speed transmission is slick, and helps the more powerful Z4 accelerate to 60 mph in a respectable 3.9 seconds. The Z4 sDrive30i, meanwhile, does the same run in 5.2 seconds.
Like, a lot nicer. For starters, you get seats that are more comfortable and supportive in all the right ways. The Z4’s overall fit and finish is better and the BMW has greater attention to detail. There’s nothing low-rent inside the BMW, though you should definitely make sure you spec the upholstery in a color other than black, otherwise it can be a little dark and dreary in there. Overall, the Z4 feels like a legit luxury car while the Supra feels like some kind of off-brand bargain solution.
BMW puts better infotainment tech in the Z4 as well. While the Supra relies on an old, outdated version of iDrive 6, the Z4 has iDrive 7 on a 10.2-inch central touchscreen. You can use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly in the Z4, and a fully digital 12.3-inch gauge cluster comes standard.
Safety tech, on the other hand, is shared across both cars. The Z4 comes standard with features like precollision braking and lane-keeping assist, but you have to pay extra for blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, which seems like a weird packaging strategy, especially since it’s only a $700 upcharge, but whatever.
If I’m just looking at the Supra vs. the Z4, I honestly believe the 2.0-liter BMW’s $9,160 price premium is worth it. The Z4 is better looking (subjectively) and just as good to drive, with a significantly nicer cabin and a huge upgrade in multimedia tech.
Really, the problem with both cars is that they exist in very small niches. Neither car can be called a rational purchase decision. If I want a small, sporty coupe, the Toyota GR 86 is less expensive and hell of a lot more fun than a Supra. And if I’m going to break the bank to add a premium two-seat sports car to my stable, you’d best believe I’m going to shell out for a better-driving Porsche 718 Boxster.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that BMW and Toyota could come together for this project; the world is a better place with cars like the Supra and Z4. Just make sure that when you talk about one, you don’t forget the other. The Z4 deserves its own place outside of the Supra’s shadow.