A look into the design of the upcoming, third-gen Z4

BMW essentially struck gold in the compact, two-seater market when it released the Z4 back in 2003. It featured a sporty exterior, with potent, naturally aspired engines, and could be had as a soft-top convertible or in coupe form. That first generation lasted until 2009, but before the first-gen made its exit BMW was able to introduce a Z4 M in both forms with performance credentials good enough to get the little car that could up to 60 mph in as little as 4.8 seconds if you knew how to shift it right. The second-gen came to be in 2009 and, while most of the engine choices were naturally aspirated, one was offered with turbocharged goodness. Within a couple of years, the entire drivetrain lineup went turbo, and BMW hasn’t looked back since. The second-generation model lasted from 2009 to 2016 and, ever since its discontinuance, fans and purists everywhere have begged for the third-gen model – an all-new roadster that’s due for the 2018 model year and has been caught many times testing out in public over the last two years. At the kickoff of Monterey Car Week, BMW decided to release the Concept Z4, a wild interpretation of the upcoming roadster and something that at least gives us a little hint as to where BMW is going with the third-gen model.

As is the usual case with concepts, this car isn’t a firm representation of what we’ll see. For instance, it has no roof or, at the very least, has a Targa-style top. The exterior design is quite bold and features stout overhangs with crisp lines and a style that you could only get from BMW. There’s no word on what might be lurking under the hood, but BMW claims the Concept Z4 is an “all-out driving machine” that is stripped down to the bare essentials. With that said, let’s take a good look at the concept and talk more about it!

Updated 08/21/2017: We added a series of new images taken during the concept’s presentation at the 2017 Monterey Car Week.

Exterior

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You could call the Concept Z4 a number of things, but uninspired, understated, or under-imagined isn’t any of those things

You could call the Concept Z4 a number of things, but uninspired, understated, or under-imagined isn’t any of those things. Just take a look at the front end. Before I go further, I need to point out that this nose reminds of a shark with a big mouth and a bad attitude that’s giving us the evil eye. Be that as it may, it’s stylish and aggressive as hell with the major highlights being those wide kidney grilles, both of which get a healthy dose of chrome garnishing which accents the chrome that’s hidden away inside the headlight lenses and the side view mirrors. The nose actually overhangs the lower portion of the front fascia, giving the concept a unique look while providing a basis for that huge lip that extends from the top of those massive corner air intakes downward below the nose. From the images we have, it looks like the air dam and the corner air intakes are actually blocked off, so this could be purely aesthetic, but that really isn’t surprising. Finally, the headlights feature angular LEDs around the bulbs and a strip that traverses along the top edge to go with the double-stack bulb design. This is a key design component of the front end as it gives the whole car that evil eye, snarling look – it’s a nice touch.

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2017 BMW Concept Z4 High Resolution Exterior
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The hood features a pair of long, sleek vents that are recessed a bit while the front fenders get a massive vent that serves as the foundation for the two dominating lines on the side profile

Moving further back, the hood features a pair of long, sleek vents that are recessed a bit while the front fenders get a massive vent that serves as the foundation for the two dominating lines on the side profile. These two lines – The top is straight but runs at an angle toward the rear while the bottom has an angular curve to it – create a concave section in the fender and door area that provides a sense of depth and aggression. It also provides from some interesting shadows depending on how the light hits the car throughout the different times of the day. There are no real side skirts to speak of, as the shell appears to be one piece all the way up to the fenders. It’s definitely a refreshing design, and BMW would be smart to use this design characteristic in the production model. Finally, the windshield looks like it’s frameless with a dark tint around the edges while the side view mirrors are sleek and look like little chrome wings ready to flap and send the car into flight.

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Around back, the low-slung nature of the Concept Z4 really shines through

Around back, the low-slung nature of the Concept Z4 really shines through. It’s much easier to tell just how low the body of the car, and subsequently the waistline, really is. The rear deck area is stamped to include a spoiler-like element that should throw some rear downforce into the mix, but if nothing else does provide for a stylish concave section above the tail lights. Those taillights, by the way, are LED units that come to a point to the inside and gradually get taller as they wrap around the rear corners. A single LED strip angles back around in the center to provide a truly unique look. Down below, the lines of the rear fascia are deliberate and thought out well. The sharp lines of the lower corners provide for a concave section that seems to be a bottomless pit at the right angles while the sharp line that runs between these two concave sections is curved just in the slightest at the corners. Finally, the gloss black trim that surrounds the exhaust outlets and fills the center section of the lower fascia ties the package together just right.

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2017 BMW Concept Z4 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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One thing to point out here is that this baby does have the roll bars behind the rear seats, which isn’t something that’s necessary for a concept car and would only really matter if this thing was to be driven at some point. This could mean that BMW is actually considering a roofless or Targa-style version of the upcoming Z4, which would be a really cool thing to see. I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath, but it’s not out of the question either – it certainly would bridge the gap between the coupe and soft-top convertible quite well, don’t you think?

Interior

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The most noticeable thing hits you like a kick to the face – that two-tone nature of the cabin

With such a bold and defining exterior, it should come as no surprise that the interior is also just as bold and unique. The most noticeable thing hits you like a kick to the face – that two-tone nature of the cabin. The whole passenger side of the vehicle is essentially covered in what looks like orange Alcantara while the driver’s side looks to get a healthy dose of black leather and some black Alcantara. Needless to say, the colors really work well together and for part of the interior to match the exterior it just adds a bit of class into the mix. The other important part to note here is that the cabin is clearly focused on the driver. Not only does the black make this clearly visible, but so does the overall layout with all buttons on the center console positioned close to the driver. The screen and instrument cluster also seem to pop out at the driver, which is likely thanks to the unique steering wheel design and the massive overhang above the instrument cluster. The door trim panels are very deliberate in their design, and if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the insert around the door handle actually resembles the LED strip of the rear tail lights. The seats get a laser cut motif on the inner side bolsters while the Z4 logo has also been embossed on the seats.

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The screen looks thinner than those on the current model and is also slightly angled with the taller side closer to the driver

The steering wheel is quite unique in its own way, and while it does, technically, have a four-spoke design, only two of the spokes at the bottom are actually attached to the central hub. The side spokes extend toward the center but bend back, which at the right angle makes the rim of the steering wheel look kind of like it is floating around the hub. Ahead of the wheel sits an all-digital instrument cluster with two primary gauges that serve as a tachometer and speedometer. Two smaller digital gauges reside in the lower corners to display fuel and most likely engine temperature. To the right, you get what could be the next interpretation of BMW’s infotainment system. The screen looks thinner than those on the current model and is also slightly angled with the taller side closer to the driver – again, to help increase focus on the driver as opposed to the passenger. Two HVAC vents are actually integrated into the model that houses the HVAC controls and, while there are analog buttons below the vents, a digital screen displays temperature settings in the middle. The center console features a traditional style shifter while the control knob for either the infotainment system of drive modes sitting just to the right. Quite honestly, I’m surprised this knob isn’t positioned further back and closer to the driver.

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All told, this is a very attractive cabin with a unique take on the two-tone language

All told, this is a very attractive cabin with a unique take on the two-tone language. Hopefully, since the cabin isn’t all that futuristic, we’ll see lots of the concept make it into the production model. After all, Bimmer did say that it previews its future design language, so we shall see.

Drivetrain

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That 2.0.-liter will probably be the same unit offered in most smaller, entry-level Bimmers, and will likely be rated at 258 horsepower

BMW has remained 100-percent silent when it comes to what lurks under the hood of the Concept Z4, which is a little odd, considering it’s meant to be a driver’s car and is masquerading as a preview of the fourth-gen model that’s set to debut sometime in early 2018. With that in mind, the rumor mill has been quite busy these days and more recently started shelling out word that the upcoming Z4 would be offered with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 3.0-liter inline-six, neither of which are a big surprise given BMW’s current powertrain lineup. As such, that 2.0.-liter will probably be the same unit offered in most smaller, entry-level Bimmers, and will likely be rated at 258 horsepower. BMW could, in fact, massage it to deliver a bit more to make it stand out, and it probably should, considering the third-gen model delivered 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter. With that in mind, the 248-horsepower, throw-into-everything, 2.0-liter probably won’t cut it. It could improve on the 5.4-second sprint to 60 mph, however, as with a cloth top, the roadster should be lighter than ever. I would expect somewhere closer to 270 horsepower and maybe 290 pound-feet from the 2.0-liter.

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The big news about the upcoming production model is that it should get the B58, 3.0-liter, inline-six as the more upscale offering

The big news about the upcoming production model is that it should get the B58, 3.0-liter, inline-six as the more upscale offering. If it’s the same unit offered in the 5 Series, and more specifically, the 540i trim, it should deliver a cool 335 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 332 pound-feet at 1,380 rpm. The 5 Series with this engine can hit the 60-mph sprint in 4.9 seconds, so something as small and light as the Z4 should be able to get much closer to the four-second range with the same power. Word has it that while the Toyota Supra won’t get a manual transmission that the BMW Z4 will – it’s just one of those things that will separate that rather strange collaboration. With that said, the Z4 will probably only be offered with a six-speed manual when equipped with the 2.0-liter engine. The 5 Series with the 3.0-liter is stuck to the exclusivity of an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters – not exactly the most performance oriented setup, but Bimmer could surprise us with a dual-clutch unit which would help in the performance department.

The smaller and lighter Z4 will probably offer up performance figures that range anywhere between four-seconds flat and 5.7 seconds

With that said, the 5 Series models powered by a 2.0-liter can hit 60 mph in six seconds flat. So, with these numbers in mind, we can predict that the smaller and lighter Z4 will probably offer up performance figures that range anywhere between four-seconds flat and 5.7 seconds depending on the drivetrain setup and engine tuning. Top speed will most likely be in excess of 155 mph, but because it’s made by a German company, it will be electronically limited to that speed as a maximum. Considering the Concept Z4 is exactly that, a concept, I would have to guess that BMW decided to dump that 3.0-liter under the hood so that anyone near it while it’s being moved can hear the road of that inline-six as it undoubtedly will always sound better than a little four-pot. But, we may find out more later this week as the Concept Z4 makes its rounds, so if we get word on official specs of the concept, we’ll be sure to

Conclusion

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When you consider the fact that the BMW Z4 has always pretty much spoken for itself and generally has its own foundation of fans – much like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Honda S2000 always have – it’s a little surprising and even almost a little tedious to debut a concept this far into the research and development process. We’ve been seeing the test mules for both the Toyota Supra and the next-gen Z4 as far back as January of 2016, so it has to be near-ready for production. It would have been more feasible to bring a near-production-ready prototype on Monterey Car Week instead of this crazy concept. Of course, we’re hoping it really does preview what’s to come, and one with a Targa-style roof would be absolutely amazing. The exterior design of the concept is fresh, attractive, and has just the right mix of sportiness and aggression.

With that said, the Concept Z4 is one of the more attractive concepts we’ve seen this year, and it’s nice to see something without a bunch of tech that automakers are too afraid to put into their production models – yes, Audi, I’m talking about you and your automatic door poppers. So, I think we’ll see a lot of the design from this concept make its way into the production Z4, however, I don’t think it’ll be as one-offish, and you’ll probably have to pony up to BMW Individual if you want such an exquisite color and Alcantara layout. What do you guys think of the Z4 Concept? Should Bimmer do a trim with a Targa-style roof? Will the production model be anywhere near as aggressive or classy? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

  • Leave it
    • * Why not the production model instead of a concept
    • * Production model won’t be quite as aggressive
    • * 3.0-liter probably won’t have manual transmission option.

References

2018 BMW Z4 Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
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Read our full speculative review on the third generation BMW Z4.

2015 BMW Z4 - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Read our driven review on the current BMW Z4.

Press release

The BMW Group is using the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach to present its exciting new take on a BMW roadster. Dynamic, progressive and an irresistible purveyor of thrills, the BMW Concept Z4 boasts lithe and compact proportions, a dynamic silhouette and an emotionally appealing use of forms. The attention-grabbing design study offers a look ahead to the series-production version of the car set to be unveiled over the course of next year.

“The BMW Concept Z4 in an all-out driving machine,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “Stripping the car back to the bare essentials allows the driver to experience all the ingredients of motoring pleasure with supreme directness. This is total freedom on four wheels.”

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A statement of unbridled driving pleasure.

The sporty and progressive BMW Concept Z4 encapsulates the BMW Group’s vision of a modern roadster. “The BMW Concept Z4 expresses the new BMW design language from all perspectives and in all details. From the dynamic-looking front to the striking flanks to the clean-cut tail end: a few lines and the subtle interplay between surfaces are enough to generate a sense of power and emotion,” adds van Hooydonk.

BMW’s roadster tradition, reloaded.

The BMW Concept Z4 adopts classical roadster design cues, such as a long wheelbase, a low-slung, stretched silhouette and a compact rear end, wraps them in a fresh, confident package and enriches them with the contemporary BMW design language. A shorter bonnet and crisp overhangs ensure the driver sits closer to the centre of the car than in previous BMW roadsters. This gives the new proportions a focused, sporty and agile feel. The outline of the car follows a distinct wedge shape, which fills the BMW Concept Z4 with dynamism before it even pulls away. The large domes stretching out rearwards from the cabin elegantly integrate the function of rollover bars and provide a sporting conclusion to the low-to-the-road silhouette at the rear.

Reimagining the design language and surfaces.

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The clearly sculpted shark nose at the front end spawns dramatic surface contouring that extends the full length of the flanks. The new direction taken by BMW’s design language can be seen here in just a few precise lines that form clear surfaces, while the body’s volumes are powerfully sculpted. The surfaces and forms therefore create an extremely modern and emotionally engaging impression. The large Air Breathers rearwards of the front wheels act as the source of the flanks’ elaborately modelled surfaces (they appear to be shaped by the flow of air as it exits the Air Breathers). Light and shaded surfaces develop in a rising movement towards the rear, then twist to form muscular wheel arches and athletic volumes. All of which shines a bright stylistic spotlight on the car’s rear-wheel drive. The dramatic interplay of lines and surfaces underscores the wedge shape of the flanks and infuses them with even greater dynamism. And the low door sills, with their distinctive crease, makes the body appear closer to the road, emphasising the low-slung sensation when viewing the car from the side.

The expressive Energetic Orange frozen exterior paint finish showcases the contrasts of light and shade in the surfacing, accentuating the three-dimensionality of the exterior. And the 20-inch light-alloy wheels in a sporty bi-colour double-spoke design provide harmonious finishing touches to the styling of the flanks.

Low and progressive – the front end.

The design of the BMW Concept Z4’s front end is undeniably sporty in nature. The relationship between the low-set, broad kidney grille and the positioning of the headlights higher up sparks deliberate associations with the BMW Z8 and lends the BMW Concept Z4 a certain flamboyance. In place of the customary bars, the inside of the kidney grille features elaborately designed mesh, whose vertical orientation recalls the sporty, functional kidney design of early BMW roadsters such as the BMW 328 Mille Miglia. In a departure from the BMW norm, the Concept Z4 provides a vertical interpretation of the classical four-eyed headlight look, with two overlapping tubes on each side. The turn signal indicators point diagonally towards the kidneys from above and underline the dynamic flair of the front end. And the clamshell bonnet with stylised gill vents curves over the wheels, creating an intriguing and virtually seamless sweep over the front end as a whole.

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The front apron cuts a genuinely athletic figure with its sculptural design language. Its trio of large air intakes are a nod to the powerful engine further back and so carry the promise of a dynamic driving experience. The large carbon-fibre insert in the central air intake is straight out of the motor sport playbook and champions the use of detail to emphasise the front end’s dynamic presence. Together, these design elements compose a fresh and memorable face for the Concept Z4 – one which pays a very modern and sporting tribute to the celebrated roadsters of BMW’s past.

Athletic and eye-catching – the rear end.

The design of the BMW Concept Z4 likewise references details and qualities from BMW’s rich roadster tradition and updates them for the years ahead. The wide and low design of the rear picks up the lines of the car’s flanks and massages them into a modern rear of beguiling clarity in terms of surfaces and styling elements. The powerfully flared wheel arches give the car broad haunches, which are emphasised by the slim, L-shaped rear lights and therefore further enhance the car’s sporting stance. Above the rear lights, the boot lid – complete with prominent spoiler – stretches across to the burly wheel arch extensions, sending out a message of power-infused agility. Below, large air outlets in the rear apron create their own dynamic impression. The carbon-fibre diffuser adds a sporty and exclusive flourish and signs off the rear end at its lowest point to the road.

Exterior and interior in unison.

The kinship between the interior and exterior of the BMW Concept Z4 is evident in both forms and colour scheme. The design language of the interior takes the powerful, three-dimensional character of the exterior and adds another voice to the dynamic chorus. Much of the interior adopts the colour of the car body, creating a clear visual link between the interior and exterior. Only a classy chrome trim strip provides separation.

Maximum focus on the driving experience.

At the same time, the interior serves to reinforce the total focus on the driving experience too. The driver’s seat as well as the door trim panels, instrument panel and centre stack that encircle the driver are finished entirely in black, meaning that they stand out prominently from the coordinated orange shades of the exterior and the rest of the interior. Together they form a clearly defined area that wraps around the driver like a capsule, producing a very sporty sensation. This creates a pure-of-purpose driving environment with a pronounced “cone of vision”, where the steering wheel as well as the surrounding black surfaces appear to be surging forward and, in so doing, accentuate the cabin’s powerful driver focus.

The instrument cluster and central information display form a high-quality cluster of screens that are integrated into the driver’s cockpit to flawless ergonomic effect. The two displays are now positioned at almost the same height and in close proximity to one another, which gives the impression of a single, cohesive unit. They work together to deliver the right information at the right time. The driver can choose which elements they wish to call up (via touch command) from the content available in the information display – route guidance, playlists or other infotainment features. Above the instrument cluster, the Head-Up Display presents the key driving information within the driver’s direct field of view.

Prominent surfacing.

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Emerging from the driver’s side of the cabin is a sporty instrument panel of inherent lightness. The clever arrangement of surfaces and edging breaks up the considerable volumes and engenders the impression of a powerfully chiselled muscle. The clear wraparound design from the doors to the instrument panel enhances the sporty, cocooned feeling in both seats.

Pared back to the essentials.

In keeping with the focus on the essentials, all the controls are grouped into “function islands”. Nothing distracts from the driving experience. Trim elements inside the cabin are likewise minimalist in nature. Indeed, it is instead the classy materials, carefully applied polished chrome accents and swish, hexagonal laser-cut motifs in the seats that do most to create the interior’s exclusive ambience. Carbon-fibre door sill finishers and embossed asymmetrical logos in the seats and instrument panel set the seal on the interior’s sporting profile.

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