It’s confusing, this business of the new BMW Supra and the Toyota Z4. Hmm: That doesn’t seem quite right. Ah, yes: It’s the Toyota Supra and the BMW Z4. Forgive me if I was a bit confused after comparing interior pictures of the two.

To be more specific, it should be the Toyota GR Supra (the “GR” is for Gazoo Racing of Le Mans fame) and the BMW Z4 M40i. (And BMW might even have an sDrive badge in there somewhere.)

I understand the benefits of sharing the best bits: all of those interior items, general suspension design, and of course the drivetrain. In theory, you should end up with an overall better platform at lower cost than if either company went it alone. But based on a whole lot of written reviews and YouTube videos (that I may or may not have spent too much time reading and watching into the wee hours of the night), both the Toyota Supra and BMW Z4 M40i are rather underwhelming—well, at least compared to what they could be (I also blame the Porsche Boxster/Cayman duo, even if they cost significantly more money).

It doesn’t help that neither car is available with three pedals.

Intriguingly, the Toyota is consistently faster off the line when put up against the Z4, despite the on-paper power deficit. Yes, we are long past the days when quoted power outputs mattered.

The roundel on the steering wheel indicates that this is a Z4, but the switchgear, transmission shift lever, and other controls are all very similar to what’s found in the new Supra.

While the interiors could both be mistaken for roundel-badged automobiles, there is minimal overlap with the exteriors. To my eyes, the exterior of the Supra is a tad too busy, and it’s missing the final few degrees of sharpness that could have made it a true visual feast. On the other hand, the Z4 looks purposeful and aggressive from practically every angle, although the ubiquitous silvers and grays don’t do much to enhance the overall aesthetic. BMW’s more vibrant hues are a much better match for the roadster body.

While the silver and gray hues are not the most flattering, the Z4 is still a sharp-looking car.

But I wonder if all these reviewers are correct in their so-so reviews of the Z4 M40i, even if there is a high level of consistency. I’ll be right back…

After a quick call to my client advisor, Joe Chern, over at BMW Cleveland, it turns out that the local dealership does indeed have a few examples in stock and just happens to be having their Summer Drive event. Do I want to stop by and take the new Z4 for a spin?

Um, yeah—let’s do that.

Initially, the M40i feels solid, and barely betrays its roadster setup. Wrapped in the very comfy driver’s seat, with the canvas top up, it is easy to forget that you’re ensconced in a drop-top at all. While I am rather infatuated with idea of a roadster in the garage, I could happily live with the Z4 even if the top were fixed in place (now, there’s a thought). Of course, enough brand equity has been poured into the Z4 roadster to make Starbucks proud, so I have zero hope for a future Z4 coupe. (And there’s a decent argument to make that Toyota has already fulfilled that brief with the new Supra.)

If only the Z4 M40i knew what it wanted to be!

My overriding impression was that it would make an excellent grand-touring car, with its oodles of refinement—it really does ride well on the Adaptive M suspension—and effortless acceleration—it is pretty quick and the engine likes to rev—which seems at odds with the aggressive looks and exhaust pops on the overrun. When I dived for an apex, the nose had to think about it—and in that fraction of a second, the connection between what the wheels were doing and what the driver needed to hear was gone. It happened over and over, and after a while it was easier to just let the car work its way through the turns and trust that it would grip until it was time to pin the throttle again. Effective, yes, but not too engaging. Sigh.

That’s when Bobby Ozersky, BMW Genius, recommended driving another Z4 with less power and less weight.

This is the badge that you really want on your Z4. Also, there is just something very right about circular tailpipes on a roadster.

Here’s the dirty little secret about all of those iffy reviews of the Z4 M40i: The Z4 was meant to have the four-cylinder engine—it’s just better.

Again, the on-paper power advantage seems to favor the six-cylinder with 382 horsepower versus 255 in the Z4 30i, although the torque figures are much closer at 368 versus 294 pound-feet. Factor in the 170-pound weight difference (3,457 pounds versus 3,287), and the real-world acceleration is far closer than I would have thought. The inline four does run out of puff earlier in the rev range than the six, but I’m sure that with some minor upgrades, the smaller engine would be more enthusiastic heading toward redline. Even in stock form, it’s plenty fast for the road.

What is much harder to ignore is the handling and steering feel. With less mass to move, especially in the nose of the car, the 30i sniffed out corners with far more immediacy than its heavier sibling—and there was more feedback through the steering wheel as well. Both cars were riding on the Adaptive M suspension and wore the same wheel type and Michelin Pilot Sport tires, so the handling characteristics likely result from the reduced engine mass and accompanying suspension tune. Regardless of the reasons, the result is rather impressive.

And here is what I suspect is the true difference between the Toyota Supra and the BMW Z4: The Supra has a single engine option and was designed around the straight six, while the BMW was slated for multiple engines from the start, and seems to be much more cohesive with the inline four under the hood. Whatever process that Gazoo Racing used to tune the Supra, they inevitably had to work with the extra mass over the front wheels, and likely lost some character development along the way. Maybe they will improve the car over the coming years, but it’s surely our loss if we never get a Z4/Supra hardtop with the BMW four-cylinder. I can only imagine what it would be like with the engine from the X2 M35i!

If I were to buy a Z4 tomorrow, this is pretty darn close to my perfect spec.

In the meantime, I’ll take a Z4 sDrive 30i, as it’s officially known. How would I option it? I would check the M Sport option to start, select either Misano Blue Metallic or San Francisco Red Metallic (I might need to flip a coin on that one), and opt for the Jet Black nineteen-inch M double-spoke wheels, Style 799M with performance non-run-flat tires. To spice things up inside, I would get the Magma Red interior with black contrast stitching and select the black high-gloss trim (I’m actually not a big fan of that trim, but the aluminum-teragon-and-mesh-effect options just look cheap to me). Despite this being a roadster, I’d still get the premium package and heated steering wheel, because I live in Cleveland and want heated, well, just about everything. The Adaptive M suspension really does work and only adds $700, so that’s a winner, although I would like to try a non-adaptive version first. Finally, I would check the box for a manual transmission—oh, right, there isn’t one.

All in, this would set the buyer back $57,990, plus destination, taxes, and title fees, which is a deal compared to the M40i, which starts at just under 64 Large and hits $68,000 when comparably equipped.

Of course, there’s no getting away from that lack of three pedals, so I’d probably just pass on the roadster ,and for roughly the same price, get an M2 Competition instead. At least that car’s donor drivetrain comes from models that are still unambiguously BMW vehicles.—Chris Doersen

[Photos courtesy Chris Doersen.]



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