Road Test Review: Is The 2023 BMW Z4 The GR Supra Convertible You've Been Waiting For?
Toyota has never built a convertible version of the Supra, its once-and-current halo car that crowns the automaker’s high performance line-up. Sure, there have been plenty of models that featured lift-off targa panels to let in a little more sunshine than a standard moonroof, but that’s been the limit of open-air fun for Supra fans. The current version of the car’s rounded roofline doesn’t even allow for the inclusion of fixed glass, let alone an opening big enough to pound your fist through as you triumphantly apex a corner.
Fortunately, for those whose pockets are a little bit deeper, there’s a Supra-like driving experience to be found at a dealership just down the road—one that peels the top back without a moment’s hesitation, while nearly matching the Toyota sport car’s mechanical and chassis details. That’s because the Toyota GR Supra and the BMW Z4 not only share the same platform, but were co-developed by the two automakers as a cost-saving option (and are even built by Magna Steyr on the same assembly line in Graz, Austria).
The suggestion to swap allegiances from one brand to another might sound a bit extreme, but for convertible cravers facing down a dwindling set of options (and seeking the same sweet, sweet drivetrain found in the Supra), the move to BMW is the only play.
As it turns out, featuring a wave of mild updates for 2023, in top-trim M40i guise the Z4 is more than just a fashion-forward alternative to Toyota’s fixed-roof fun-mobile.
Equal Boost, (Near) Equal Thrills
BMW has kept things status quo under the hood of the Z4, carrying over the same 3.0L turbocharged six-cylinder engine it’s sported since it first appeared in 2019. That’s far from a bad thing: this unit is good for 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque on paper, and if you believe the official party line on its output well I’ve got a bridge in Bavaria to sell you. Case in point? The roadster squirts to 60-mph roughly 0.3 seconds quicker in real world testing than it did prior to this refresh, making it a sub-four second car in the hands of even an inexperienced driver thanks to the quick-shifting nature of its eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
That’s fast enough to challenge the same-engine Supra in a straight line, and while the BMW might lack the six-speed manual transmission now available with its cross-corporate sibling, the ZF is truly one of the best self-shifters on the market. There are paddles stapled to the steering wheel for those who feel the need to intervene in the gear selection process, but there’s no fault to be had in letting the auto’s ECU do the thinking for you. It’s a remarkably rapid car in almost every driving environment, and it especially shines in highway passing where the speed piles on smooth like hot fudge on a sundae.
How do the two cars compare when it comes to handling? Despite a remarkable solid-feeling drive—even absent its roof—the Z4 comes across as more of a grand touring option than a focused sports car.
This isn’t a bad place for a luxury roadster to sit, especially considering that the GR Supra also leans towards the GT side of the fun-to-drive equation. Full-throttle cornering in the BMW is controlled and a little less lively than what the Toyota has to offer, and its staggered tire setup prevents squirm or unsettling when encountering unexpected mid-motion bumps.
Credit goes to the Z4’s adaptive suspension in making the model livable in daily driving, preventing an over-muscled commute from shaking up your insides. It’s worth noting that all versions of the convertible, including the base model, now get the same big brake treatment that was previously reserved for the M40i, and its trick dampers are also standard across the board (giving BMW an easy, affordable way to freshen up the entry-level car without having to dip into its R&D budget).
The real difference between the Z4 and the GR Supra, of course, is that the former frees drivers of the latter’s tight cabin confines by way of its retractable roof. With the top in place the BMW’s blind spots are a little bigger than I’d like, but when down I had zero complaints about how much wider the car felt in comparison. The passenger compartment, already comfortable and reasonably equipped (with even the older infotainment system still easy and quick to use), is also remarkably insulated against buffeting at almost every speed, and with the windows up it’s quiet enough inside to have a conversation at normal volume while eating up highway miles.
What the Z4’s suspension lacks in outright precision it makes up for with the added immediacy imparted by the crackle-pop exhaust note exploding directly behind the driver’s ears, a sensation of connection that is further enhanced by wind, traffic, and engine noise all coming together in a concerto that reminds you that you’re an vital participant in the act of driving. This is the true gift a roadster has to offer the enthusiast that few other vehicle types can match, and BMW has not forgotten this when freshening up its only two-seater.
Make Sure To Wear A Hat
The BMW Z4 M40i’s days are sadly numbered, with plans to sunset the model by 2025 due to the sheer lack of interest most buyers have in pint-size convertibles. This is evidenced by how mild the updates are to the car’s basic package, with only subtle styling tweaks (including the addition of the brand’s gorgeous Thundernight Metallic purple to the palette, and the now-standard M Sport package for M40i models) to be found as visual identifiers that it’s been massaged.
The message, then, is that GR Supra fans with a sweet tooth for top-down driving should snag the Z4 M40i while they still can—presuming, of course, that they are willing to front the extra cash required to do so. The entry-level, four-cylinder BMW is priced $8,000 higher than its Toyota equivalent, with the turbo six climbing all the way to start at $66,000 (a nearly $12k premium versus the Supra). Putting badge recognition aside, this is one instance where handing over more money for less roof pays off equally in terms of smiles and sunburns.