First drive reports of the new Z4 have been coming across the wires over the past week or so, and one rather interesting tidbit hidden within Car and Driver‘s own rundown that Road & Track happened to pick up on was the presence of a manual sub-model within the broader lineup.
It’s only going to be available in the Europe as it slots as the entry-level base model, but the Z4 sDrive20i will be optionally available with a traditional six-speed manual. Under the hood is a sub-200 horsepower B48 four cylinder, but the hardware is fundamentally the same as what will motivate the base model Z4 30i here in the in the U.S., which leaves the possibility of a manual option potentially being offered here someday lingering on the minds of enthusiasts.
It all comes down to demand. BMW keeps an ear to the streets in terms of customer trends, with the most recent confirmation having occurred, oddly enough, when the brand nixed its diesel models in the U.S. lineup for the 2019 model year, with executives saying they are always prepared to readjust the model portfolio if necessary. As far as manual transmissions go, there are a few previous exceptions that come to mind as well, like the E60 and F10 generations of the M5 having been offered with three pedals because U.S. customers still retained a slight preference for rowing their own gears. Take rates were dismal, of course, but BMW still hasn’t given up on pleasing the luddites among us, and earlier this year offered a form of confirmation in terms of keeping the stick-shift on life support in upcoming M cars. Moreover, 6-speed take rates in the M2, for example, have been excellent, proving there is still strong desire for a manual, even though it comes with a growing performance deficit.
Speaking of performance deficit, in modern times, it actually seems as though choosing a manual transmission on a 228i or 320i is the optimal choice, as opposed to specifying one for your M6 Gran Coupe—yes, you can still order an S63 V8 backed by a stick. When it comes to today’s fast-revving, direct injected engines which are seemingly always on-cam though, no one can deny the capability of the ZF eight-speed or seven-speed DCT boxes. There’s still practical room in the BMW lineup for manual transmissions though, and we happen to agree that they are perhaps best suited to lower output models, like the 228i, much in the same way that a first-generation Mazda MX-5 with the 1.6-liter twin-cam is nearly perfect in every way.
There are no interior photos of the Z4 sDrive20i just yet, but one does have to question how a manual shifter would work with the center console control pad that is permeating throughout the new brand portfolio. A pedestrian model like a 20i is likely to go without many of the buttons and controls seen above, and may not even come with the most capable version of iDrive, but we remain curious as to how a conventional H-pattern six-speed will be integrated into the new aesthetic.
Even with no real indication that we will ever be given the chance to buy the new Z4 with a manual, we still view this recent development as good news. Now, all you have to do is speak up, and BMW may very well listen. —Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]