As BMW just dropped the latest 2023 Z4, it got me thinking about my first Z. No, it wasn’t a Datsun. Actually, it wasn’t even the first BMW Z that I drove, it just happened to be the first Z produced—the Z1. If you read the July 2022 issue of Roundel, in the story “From Z to Shining Z” Jack Raymond and I describe our experiences borrowing both a Z1 and Z8 from the very generous, renowned BMW restorer and collector Lothar Schuettler.It all started with the Z1 in 1987. The front-mid-engine roadster had a number of unique features such as the slide-down doors, removable plastic body panels, and trick aerodynamics integrated into the body, negating the need for large exterior wings. Only 8,000 hand-assembled examples were built, costing as much as a 7 Series at the time, and none were sold in the US. A few examples have begun to trickle into the States with the 25-year rule making the Z1 fair game for US roads.
Moving along in BMW Z history, the James Bond-introduced Z3 came in 1995 and was produced in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It had a good run in both roadster and coupe formats, until 2002. And let’s not forget the other Bond-owned Z car, the Z8, which came on the market in 1998 and ran until 2006. The Z4 was introduced at the 2002 Mondial de l’Automobile show in Paris. The Z4 has been in production for 20 years now. Two decades? It seems like just yesterday I was seeing new Z3s on the road!For 2023 the current Z4 receives a number of updates. First, the M Sport package will come standard on the Z4 sDrive30i. For the exterior, the M Sport package includes the three-section air intakes in the front facia seen on other M Models as well as M Sport-specific side-sill contouring and a rear facia. In the interior, the M Sport Package “includes an M leather steering wheel, M Sport seats, M pedals, an M driver’s footrest, and a dashboard upholstered in SensaTec.” Moving back to the exterior, for 2023 BMW has restyled the side air intakes, which they say “guides the oncoming air to the air curtains, reducing turbulence in the wheel arches.” And last but not least, the kidney grill has been updated with a new “horizontal inner structure.” Additionally, a new set of optional 19-inch M light-alloy wheels is available, wearing 255/35 ZR19 tires up front and 275/35 ZR19 tires at the rear. In regard to new options, paint choices have been updated with Thundernight metallic, Portimao Blue metallic, and Skyscraper Grey metallic. M Shadowline Lights also appear on the options list for the first time. Performance comes from the familiar B46 (sDrive30i) and B58 (M40i) —the B46 putting out 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and the B58 producing an impressive 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. BMW rates the 30i to 60 in 5.2 seconds and the M40i in 4.4 seconds with both models electronically limited to a 155 mph top speed. Base MSRP for the 30i is $52,800 and the M40i starts at $65,300 (not including $995 destination). The latest Z4 carries on BMW’s 35-year Z tradition of open-air roadster driving and one-of-a-kind styling, making it an unmistakable presence on the road. Given the full lineup of Zs, a blank check, and instructions to “pick one,” it would be a tough choice, but I would probably go with the first one. While possibly the slowest of the bunch, the M20-powered Z1 has such an unique and engaging driving experience. One that I’ll never forget.—Mike Bevels
[Photos by Mike Bevels and courtesy of BMW, as credited.]