2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
When typical car nuts see that "M" insignia on the trunk lid of a BMW, they almost unconsciously say, "Sweet!" Why? Because they know the M designation means that Bimmer is a posh and powerful beast, tweaked at the factory to a higher level of performance than the standard assembly line fare. But M isn't the only letter BMW uses to symbolize performance. It also uses "S."
The S is the brand's performance level set between regular trims and those specifically modified by M GmbH, the creator of the brand's most powerful, speed-hungry machines. The line was born in the 1980s when the E21 320is hit world markets, and ever since it has served as a happy medium for buyers wanting a tad more speed for a smaller price premium. While BMW hasn't used the S designation often, it is adding an S version to the Z4 lineup for 2011, raising the little roadster's performance quotient to a level that BMW fans have wanted for years.
The new sDrive35is is enhanced with equipment meant to improve performance, including BMW's adaptive M suspension; M Sport steering wheel, seats and gearshift; unique interior trim; exterior aerodynamic enhancements; and 18-inch wheels. Exclusive 19-inch wheels are also offered.
Safety features on all Z4s include dual front airbags, side airbags, knee airbags, anti-lock brakes, roll bars, a tire-pressure monitor, traction control and electronic stability control. Manual transmission cars also have a hill-holder clutch to prevent the car from rolling backward when starting on an incline.
Under the Hood
The new 35is gets a more powerful version of the twin-turbocharged six. It makes 325 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. The 35is comes only with the DCT, and fuel economy is rated at 17/24.
The interior environment is typical BMW, a bit stark but crafted from quality soft-touch materials. The 35is gets gray-faced gauges and aluminum carbon interior trim, which is aluminum with a carbon-fiber pattern. The sport bucket seats are heavily bolstered to keep drivers in place during exciting maneuvers, but they may be too tight for some folks. Driving enthusiasts will love the thick M steering wheel, which feels great in the driver's hands and tilts and telescopes for the best possible position.
In standard form, the controls are fairly easy to work, with a radio set low and a series of climate controls above it. Add the optional navigation system and you get BMW's iDrive control interface, which operates the entertainment and communications features and absorbs some of the radio and climate controls. The system now includes several buttons around the central control knob that ease access to their underlying functions. It also incorporates programmable preset buttons that can be used to store commonly used functions, such as radio stations and favorite navigation destinations.
Cargo space is a fairly useful 8 cubic feet with the top up, and it's aided by an available rear-seat pass-through that will allow you to carry longer items such as skis or golf clubs. Fold the top down, though, and space is reduced considerably. That's the disadvantage of a hardtop — they take up room.
On the Road
The adjustable M Sport suspension has Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus settings, each adjusting the shocks, throttle response, steering feel, transmission shift points and the limits of the electronic stability control. The Comfort and Normal modes provide the smoothest ride for everyday use. Sport Plus mode sharpens all the responses, but makes the car a bit more high-strung than most would like during normal driving.
We had the opportunity to drive the 35is on a racetrack and were impressed by the experience. Goose the throttle and the car squats on its rear wheels but doesn't get unstable at high speeds. Steering response is immediate, and the car is very willing to change direction. Braking is strong and worry-free.
The other important change for the 35is is the more powerful engine. It's the same engine as in the 35i, but the extra boost delivers the power sooner. It also comes with an overboost function that increases boost to 14.5 pounds per square inch and torque to 369 lb-ft for up to 7 seconds. Thanks to the added power and a launch control feature, the 35is can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than a 35i.
The Z4 sDrive35is comes only with BMW's dual-clutch automated manual transmission. It makes the car quicker in performance driving, which is usually the case with a manual. The DCT works well as an automatic, too, without much of the indecision of other transmissions of its type. Our one complaint involves the steering-wheel shift paddles, which you push down to downshift and pull up to upshift. Other BMWs have the more common and easier to use paddles that downshift on the left and upshift on the right. We'd prefer those.
Right for You?
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.