2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

I can muster no complaints about this turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine and its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. We've all driven various BMWs with this powertrain, and I'm always particularly struck by the transmission's performance. Crisp, fast, upshifts and explosive acceleration are yours with a simple mash of the accelerator pedal.

Yet in driving the Z4 again, I begin to understand why our European bureau chief, Georg Kacher, has recently criticized BMW for being an automaker that historically hasn't really "done" sports cars. The Z4 is still lacking the fluidity, the finesse, and the sense of athletic balance that cars like the Porsche Boxster, the Mazda Miata, the Chevrolet Corvette, and even the Nissan 370Z are blessed with. It's not bad, mind you; in fact, the Z4 is very, very good. It is not, though, at the top of the sports car hierarchy, despite its brilliant powertrain.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

This car is little more than a big engine strapped to a tiny body. The sweet exhaust sound that comes from the turbocharged in-line six and the paddle-shifted dual-clutch automatic gearbox make for intoxicating aural fun. However, this Z4 seemed too much on edge, as though it was trying too hard: the steering felt artificially too heavy, the suspension unnecessarily too firm in normal mode, and the transmission sluggish to engage gears from a stop.

When this generation Z4 came out in 2009 and one of the important points BMW pushed was that its interior had been designed by a woman, giving it a softer, more luxurious touch. The female designer did a top-notch job, as the interior has a number of sweeping lines, all aesthetically pleasing yet without hampering ergonomics. It is a nice change from the more utilitarian look of most BMW interiors. The sweeping dashboard complements the Chris Bangle-era "flame surfaced" exterior design, with its multitude of convex and concave surfaces, which look quite dramatic in our tester's optional Melbourne red metallic paint.

I was able to drive this Z4 back-to-back with a 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 and found the SLK to be a better all-around package. While the BMW was trying too hard to be an all-out sports car, the Mercedes understood that its objective was to be a sporting roadster, not a track tool. I have also driven the lesser Z4 sDrive35i but still found it trying a little too hard to be an enthusiast's machine.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

This may be the ultimate performance driving machine in the BMW's roadster portfolio, but it's not the ultimate driving machine in general. I'm sure this is an absolute hoot to blast around a closed course, but I'd rather thread a roadster along back roads, through small towns, past old farms, and through state parks instead of whittling seconds off my lap time. In that capacity, this iteration of the Z4 doesn't satisfy; it's simply too stiff and perhaps too fast to enjoy in anything but high-speed hijinks. If this opinion warrants the revocation of my car enthusiast card, then so be it -- but at the moderate speeds I prefer to drive at, the is-spec Z4 doesn't tug at my heartstrings.

Funny, Donny, that you mention the revamped interior. Although the Z4's cabin does look to be the epitome of beautiful (and materials are top-rate) its ergonomics are still a little funky. Want a cup holder? Unless you decide to use the accessory that protrudes into your passenger's knee, you'll have to flip up the entire center console and subsequently sacrifice both a covered storage area and the armrest. A minor complaint, perhaps, but when Mercedes-Benz is able to put a pleasing yet functional cabin into its compact roadster, so should BMW.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

I think this is the best-looking BMW of the past few years. I love the Z4's sultry lines, top up or down. It was raining during my morning commute so I kept the top closed; compared with other convertibles, it seems less shameful to have this car's top up, so effectively does its interior and exterior design make it a "convertible coupe." It's best to have the top down, though, of course--all the better to hear the crisp exhaust note and the dual-clutch transmission's super-quick shifts. After driving this version of the Z4 at New Jersey Motorsports Park last year, I'm leery of this car's twitchy handling at the limit. Since the roads were wet during my entire session with this test car, I was extra cautious. No matter how you drive a Z4, though, it's easy to enjoy the car's sweet character. I can't say that I disagree with my colleagues who say that they prefer a Z4 with lower limits or more tossable and predictable roadsters like the Porsche Boxster and the Mazda Miata.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

1 of 3

New Car Research

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price


new cars

Read Related Articles