WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. — OK, really, who didn’t see this coming? As soon as Toyota gave the GR Supra a six-speed manual option, we knew it’d only be a matter of time before its badge-engineered sibling – the BMW Z4 – sprouted a stick as well. For 2024, the six-cylinder Z4 M40i will have a DIY transmission option in the United States; a love letter from BMW to enthusiasts and purists everywhere. But there’s much more to this special model than just a third pedal and a stick-shift. A whole bunch of nifty changes turn this Z4 into something truly rad.
In addition to the six-speed manual transmission – a gearbox created by ZF and tuned by BMW – this Z4 M40i gets a staggered wheel setup, with 19s up front and 20s at the rear. The larger, wider rear rolling stock is connected to the same assembly used in the BMW M240i coupe, including its torque-vectoring active differential. Stiffer front anti-roll bars improve the roadster’s turn-in characteristics, while the recalibrated steering delivers more feedback to the driver. Finally, tweaked adaptive dampers have more differentiation between the Z4’s Comfort and Sport settings, with the latter firming up more appreciably than before.
The six-speed manual will only be available with the M40i’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six engine, which delivers 328 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. (Side note: BMW did offer a four-cylinder Z4 sDrive20i with a manual transmission in other markets, but it was discontinued due to slow sales.) We don’t yet have an official 0-to-60-mph acceleration time, but the manual Z4 will likely be a bit slower than an M40i with the standard eight-speed automatic transmission, which does the deed in a scant 3.9 seconds. The manual Supra, for reference, hits 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Setting off from BMW’s New Jersey headquarters, the first thing noticed about the six-speed Z4 is that it feels refreshingly familiar. If you’ve ever driven a manual BMW, you’ll feel right at home in this car. The weight of the clutch, the rubbery (that’s a compliment) action of the shifter – it’s exactly like what you’ll experience in an M2, M3 or M4. The clutch pedal has a bite point your left foot can clearly feel, and it’s easy to engage first gear smoothly on the very first try. The ample torque at idle means you can slowly let the clutch out and grab first without even touching the throttle, which has the added benefit of making this a great learner’s car for stick-shift newbies.
Comparisons to the GR Supra’s manual are natural. Both it and the Z4’s are sourced from Z4, but each was individually tuned by its respective automaker. They feel different as a result, and the Z4’s is better. The Supra’s may still be fun, but it lacks the lock-step action of BMW’s rendition.
Rocking around the roads of northern New Jersey, heading into New York and over to Connecticut, the Z4 M40i’s other changes really give this car new life. The steering is sharper and more direct, with a lot more communication to the driver – especially on-center. The adaptive dampers not only keep the chassis nicely balanced but do a great job of smoothing out road imperfections, as well. The manual Z4 genuinely feels more eager to dive-bomb an off-camber turn at the bottom of a hill, with torque shuffling across the rear axle to send grip where it’ll be best used.
Keep in mind, the GR Supra got its own set of changes last year along with its manual option, including revised shocks and better steering. But the Z4 feels better balanced overall, and the 285/30ZR20 rear tires are wider and grippier than the Supra’s 275/35ZR19s.
The Z4’s interior is also world’s better than the Supra’s, which relies on secondhand tech (from BMW), and is one of the most claustrophobic cabins of any new car today. Toyota makes do with an 8.8-inch digital gauge cluster and 8.8-inch central screen, but the Z4 upgrades those displays to 12.3 and 10.2 inches, respectively, both of which have more robust reconfigurability, not to mention wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – something the Supra still lacks.
The manual-averse among you will still be able to spec a 2024 BMW Z4 with the eight-speed automatic transmission, but here’s an important distinction: The 6MT’s chassis changes will not carry over to the 8AT model. This definitely ups the why-buy factor of the manual Z4; people who plunk down for one of these are getting a roadster that’s significantly more special.
BMW will start building the manual Z4 M40i in the first quarter of 2024, and the company isn’t planning to limit production of this variant. Pricing is still TBD, and we can’t necessarily assume that the higher level of performance equipment will dictate a bump in price. After all, Toyota sells the Supra 3.0 with either transmission for the same $55,595 MSRP, which includes $1,095 for destination. Currently, the Z4 M40i starts at $67,295 including $995 for destination, with the key price-raisers being the Bimmer’s nicer interior, better tech and power-folding convertible roof.
As it stands, the BMW Z4 is a super underappreciated sports car, and through the third quarter of this year, the Supra is outselling its Bavarian cousin: 2,097 coupes vs. 1,453 roadsters. Here’s hoping this vastly improved manual model works like a shot of gasoline on the Z4’s feeble flame.