2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i manual review (video)

If you want to go for a drive purely for the pleasure of going for a drive, here is a good place to start. In the base model 2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i M Sport, with the manual transmission option.

Yep, we can kind of sense what you’re thinking. It’s not fast enough, not powerful enough, and perhaps doesn’t carry a worthy badge. Well, we thought we’d give one a test to see if any of those concerns are actually valid. You know what they say, power isn’t everything. And outright horsepower doesn’t necessarily translate to a better driving experience. Especially in the real world. So let’s take a look.

In Australia all Z4 models come with the M Sport pack as standard. However, in sDrive20i form the M Sport pack does drop a few items that are featured on the next model up, the sDrive30i M Sport. But that means costs are kept to a minimum.

Well, as minimum as premium Euro cars get in Australia. With the manual transmission and no options, the retail price is $87,900 (excluding on-roads). Going for the eight-speed auto or the manual doesn’t change the price.

2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 145kW@6500rpm / 320Nm@1450-4200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
Wheels: F: 18×9.0, 255/40  R: 18×10, 275/40 (optional 19s tested)
ANCAP: Not rated
Tare weight: 1373kg
Power-to-weight: 9.46:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
Economy during test: 8.3L/100km

Fuel capacity/Type: 52L/98 RON
Power efficiency: 20.14kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.28 seconds*
0-100km/h: 6.83 seconds*
60-110km/h: 4.55 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.80 seconds at 156.3km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.797g
100-0km/h braking: 2.85 seconds at 36.15 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.190g
Decibel at idle: 54*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 87*
Priced from: $87,900

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i – THE PACKAGE

BMW Australia offers three main variants of the new Z4; the sDrive20i, sDrive30i, and the flagship M40i which is engineered by the M Performance sub-division. Just because the 20i is the base model doesn’t mean it’s sparse inside. You get the same M Sport seats as the 30i, wrapped in Vernasca leather, as well as the Tetragon aluminium trimmings around the dash and console, and the full 10.25-inch infotainment screen with navigation and BMW’s latest 7.0 operating system.

The multimedia system features a 20GB hard drive, digital radio, a built-in SIM card and 4G LTE network compatibility, as well as BMW ConnectedDrive Services with BMW Online (news and weather updates and so on). This is all quite impressive for a base model. More often than not premium brands are quick to charge extra for equipment like this.

We hate to list off all of the standard features like a brochure, but as it turns out, going for the 20i doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice any of the major luxuries that premium German cars are renowned for. Head-up display, a 10-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, auto LED headlights and auto wipers, and a host of active safety features are also standard (rear cross-traffic alert, parking camera, lane management, forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking).

So although that price is high, it seems BMW is presenting the 20i as essentially the same product as the 30i, simply without the extra performance. The same level of luxury, convenience and safety remain. And that’s pretty awesome we think. We guess the only other avenue BMW could have went down is to offer a ‘core’ model. A sDrive20i with only the fundamental luxuries, which could reduce the price and even the weight for a purer driving experience.

We mentioned the M Sport pack is standard, and it includes 18-inch alloy wheels that measure 9.0 inches wide on the front and 10 inches on the back (255/40 front, 275/40 rear tyres). These sit nicely in the wheel arches thanks to an M Sport suspension setup that lowers the ride height by 10mm. Eagle-eyed fans will also spot the M Sport bodykit with unique front and rear bumpers, paired with the Shadow Line trim package.

What it doesn’t get though is the adaptive M suspension with selectable modes like in the 30i. That model also comes with 19-inch wheels that hide M Sport brakes, adaptive cruise control and adaptive LED headlights, and the Comfort Access package. The engine is obviously more powerful as well, but we’ll get to thank in the section below.

This specific test car does feature the M Sport Plus package however, which adds M Sport blue-painted brakes, adaptive dampers, 19-inch wheels, and coloured seat belt highlights, all for an additional $3500.

What’s the interior like overall? The driving position is superb and there is ample adjustment available from the seat and steering column. Visibility is pretty enclosed with the roof up, perhaps the perception of space also plays a part as there are no rear seats. So the cabin volume is small and you can almost hear yourself think.

Build quality is one of the standouts, though. Everything feels really well put together, with a solid centre console, tightly secured fixtures, and good quality materials used in most areas. Again, this is all impressive for a base model.

Storage space is running a bit low, with a shallow console box and a pair of cup holders inside, and that wireless phone charging pad pretty much summing it up. Door pockets are available but they don’t hold much, and there is a storage box (not lockable) within the rear bulkhead and a netted shelf.

Behind the cabin, the boot volume is listed as 281L. However, it actually seems much larger than that. Tie hooks, a strap sleeve and netted pocket add convenience. You could definitely use the Z4 as a daily driver and to get the shopping, so long as you don’t have to feed a large family.

2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i – THE DRIVE

Ahh, the joys of driving a manual car. We all say we love manuals and we’re often quick to argue against phasing them out. But in reality, we just aren’t buying them. On that note we think it’s great that BMW is going against the grain somewhat and persisting to have the option there, even if only a few will take it up.

It might only be a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but BMW always manages to extract every gram of performance from its engines. The engine, codenamed B48 (the little brother to the 3.0L B58 found in the M40i and Toyota Supra), produces 145kW at 6500rpm and 320Nm between just 1450-4200rpm. For reference, the 30i with the same engine develops 190kW and 400Nm.

It uses a high-ish compression ratio of 10.2:1, a bore and stroke of 94.6mm and 82mm (identical to the 3.0L B58), and direct injection as well as variable valve and lift timing. The torque spread is one of the most impressive aspects. Particularly with the manual as you don’t need to dial up many revs to engage with the clutch. Just 1450rpm provides maximum torque, for example.

Across the standard 0-100km/h sprint BMW claims the auto takes 6.6 seconds with the manual requiring 6.8 seconds. Using our Vbox we managed a pretty easy 6.83 seconds, and that’s while preserving the well-being of the clutch and gearbox. If you tried really hard we’re sure you could probably get lower if you really wanted to.

These times mean acceleration is quick enough to be thoroughly enjoyable, but not so fast that you’ll lose your licence. And that’s what makes this car fantastic for driving enthusiasts. It allows you go for a spirited drive, and apply full throttle at times and really make the most of all, not just some, of what it has to offer. We also think this level of performance syncs beautifully with the new Z4’s excellent CLAR-based platform and relatively (for a premium car) low tare weight of 1373kg.

Throwing between the gears and galloping up to each of the speeds provides lots of joy, with a nice clutch feel that’s both mechanical yet not too heavy. The grab point is easy to read, and the gearshift action is short and full of that BMW goodness. There is a switchable rev-matching function as well so you don’t need to heel-and-toe if you don’t want to. Being a German car, although made in Austria like the Supra, the gearing is skewed toward length as opposed to punchy acceleration. But that’s fine as you have all of the torque immediately available to heave through the gears with no hesitation or lag.

Around corners the new Z4 is pretty much perfect. It mixes together the right amount of agility with solid and reassuring stability. The wide tyres also help in this department. Oversteer is available via using a combination of weight shift and lots of – and sudden – throttle. But in general you’ll need to be really on it to cause slip. The Z4 inherently wants to stick to the road and rail around corners.

2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i – THE VIDEO

2020 BMW Z4 sDrive20i – THE VERDICT

It’s not the most powerful or the fastest in the lineup, but the equipment and luxury, and the design, are pretty much identical to the more expensive variants. It still handles beautifully, sounds great, and, most of all, it tingles all of the important feel-good driving senses.

Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 6.8 seconds, which, in our opinion, is pretty much perfect for this style of car. You can go for a spirited drive with the roof down and enjoy all of the performance that’s available without upsetting the authorities.

PROS:
– 20i goes surprisingly well
– Beautiful manual shift action and clutch
– Comes with most of the high-end kit featured on the upper variants
– Balanced and confident handling
– Excellent interior; technology, build quality, standard features

CONS:
– 20i isn’t slow but 30i is very tempting; a lot quicker
– Artificial engine sound inside
– Steep entry price
– Could do with more cabin storage

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Brett is the editor and founder of PerformanceDrive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice.com.au. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.