2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

It's truly remarkable how absolutely pinned to the road the Z4 feels, whether in a high-speed corner or during a triple-digit straight run on the highway. Not even Michigan-style heaves, holes, or otherwise imperfect pavement can deflect the Z4 off your chosen line. But that glued-to-the-road feeling is accompanied by an overall impression of heaviness that makes the Z4 feel far less fun than a Porsche Boxster or a Mazda Miata.

What's most surprising about this Z4 sDrive35is is its sticker price. I know that the majority of the $64,000 is paying for the turbocharged straight six under the hood and various other under-the-skin technological or mechanical systems, but if I spent this much money on a car, I'd expect a more attractive and user-friendly radio interface; or at least a modern-looking one. The overall look and general setup of the unit in this car is nearly identical to the radio that came standard in the BMW 3-series -- in 2004. And even back then, it was never particularly nice-looking or easy to use. There's no need for iDrive in this small car but this system could really use an update.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms

The lines and shape of this car are a bit abstract, but from any vantage point it's amazing to see how they all work together to create a whole that is quite thrilling and fluid. Like any performance BMW, this car wants to get up and scream, you would almost think it was an "M" car. When I used the paddle shifters it seamed as though there was a slight delay as well as odd almost burping sounds from the exhaust; using the center shifter to manually move through the gears seamed to work better than the paddles. I must say, though, that the car seemed to perform better in automatic mode, with the transmission doing the thinking.

Zipping through the side roads with the wind in my little mohawk, I LOVE that my left elbow can be resting atop the door while my hand rests perfectly on the A-pillar! Getting out of the car is like a bonus set of squats at the gym... but I did not mind. After all, it's a sporty convertible BMW, and that makes any day better.

Kelly Murphy, Creative Director

This BMW Z4 sDrive35is is truly an excellent car, but there's one small problem: it's just too darn fast. Part of the fun of a small roadster is dropping the top and wending your way through winding back roads. That's just not enjoyable with this sDrive35is model. With just a few seconds of full-throttle acceleration you can break every speed limit in the state of Michigan. Not a single turn on public roads (at legal and sensible speeds, anyway) comes close to challenging the chassis. This Z4 is so capable and has so much performance on tap that it feels dull and uninteresting on public roads.

Still, the acceleration is breathtaking and the M DCT transmission a marvel of responsiveness. I love the loud exhaust note, which emits fantastic crackles and burbles on engine overrun. Too bad the steering wheel feels like a video-game simulator. There's barely any feel, and the wheel is overly aggressive returning to center.

Donny has it right: This Z4 tries too hard. The ride is uncomfortably harsh even in the "Normal" setting, and that thrilling exhaust note becomes an annoying drone on the highway. A softer, slower version of this car would be far more enjoyable for most people. (There is a lesser sDrive30i and an sDrive35i.) Yet I won't deny that I loved driving this Z4 -- I didn't want to turn in the keys.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

As others have intimated, the sDrive35is is an out-of-this-world engine and transmission shoehorned into a car that's "only" very good. My basic problem with the Z4 is that its handling, at least on public roads, is very much a student of the "high-grip, no body roll" school. I want a roadster that I can slide about at lower speeds -- simply hanging on and allowing the adaptive dampers to sort everything out isn't as fun. BMW tries to make up for this lack of involvement by dialing in really heavy steering, but that only makes it less tossable.

Now the good stuff: Floor the Z4 in a straight line and it charges forward with six-cylinder growl and only a hint of turbo whine (which, by the way, sounds unnervingly like a distant police siren). The gear changes are an occasion -- an amazing statement about an automatic. They happen instantly and with a puff of turbo blowoff. Delicious.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

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