2014 BMW Z4


2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2015.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

The BMW Z4 sDrive35is is as close to an M version as we can expect. It offers a notable power boost over the 35i, but much of the rest of the equipment can be had in option packages without paying $61,050. Still, if you’re looking for the best performing Z4, this is it.
  • Fast and powerful
  • Handles like a dream
  • Open-air fun
  • Good luck seeing around traffic
  • An expensive toy
  • Limited space for stuff

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.

Model Lineup
The 2011 BMW Z4 is offered in three trims: the base sDrive30i, the more powerful sDrive35i and the new sDrive35is. All are 2-seat roadsters with a power-retractable hardtop. Standard equipment on the 30i is extensive and includes leatherette upholstery, a height-adjustable driver's seat, air conditioning, cruise control, power locks and windows, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and P225/45R17 tires on alloy wheels. The 35i adds leather upholstery, automatic climate control, aluminum interior trim and larger P245/40R17 rear tires.

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 2011 BMW Z4 comes with three engine choices. The 30i features a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that produces 255 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy ratings are 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six in the 35i produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 19 mpg/28 mpg. The 30i comes with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, while the 35i is offered with the manual or BMW's 7-speed double-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT).

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.

Inner Space
The Z4 is a true sports car, designed with a low-slung stance that makes entry and egress a chore. Once inside, drivers feel like they are practically sitting on the ground, legs stretched out before them. The car sits so low that a Toyota Corolla would block the view ahead, let alone the vans, SUVs and crossovers that dot our streets. The view astern is pleasingly unobstructed with the top up. That's one of the advantages of a hardtop. The other advantages are a quieter interior and increased security; a thief can't cut it open with a knife. The Z4's hardtop is also fast; it opens and closes at the push of a button in about 20 seconds, with no levers to pull.

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
Every Z4 is a blast to drive, but the sDrive35is is faster than the others and it handles better. It comes standard with the equipment in the M Sport package, which includes adjustable shock absorbers, a 10-millimeter-lower ride height and lightweight 18-inch wheels. It also has specially calibrated electronic power steering.

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?
The BMW Z4 sDrive35is makes a great second car, but it has some usability, too. The hardtop keeps things quiet inside with the top up, and offers open-air fun with the top down. Cargo space is decent for a sports car, but the real reason to buy this particular Z4 iteration, which starts at $61,050, is to own BMW's hottest roadster. The low stance, sharp handling, burbling exhaust note and added power are all pluses over lesser Z4s.

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.


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BB01 - 9/17/2014 12:53:09 PM