2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is Review – The perfect solo getaway car

BMW Expert Reviews

By Danny Chang


  • Awesome acceleration in Sport+ mode
  • Lenient traction control that allows a little cornering fun
  • Retractable drop top cool factor
  • No room for baby


  • Tight luggage room with top down
  • Improved styling still lacking in some ways
  • Marathon name – takes forever to say but you want to make sure everyone knows it’s not just the pedestrian Z4 sDrive30i because you spent $15k more

I have come to expect family-friendly test cars from my editor lately now that I have a baby and diaper changing has become a fact of life, so when the Z4 sDrive35is (Warning: I will make every effort to call the car by its full name throughout this review, BMW Marketing guys would be proud) showed up instead of the BMW 550is Gran Turismo, I was, shall we say, pleasantly surprised. It was most unfortunate that the two-seater is not so useful in carrying the entire family around, so our weekend plans of driving the wife, the baby, and the mother-in –law around town visiting other parents with babies and mother-in-laws had to be postponed. Bummer, I was so looking forward to it too. But hey, duty calls, I must test drive the Bimmer this weekend. “What, hon? Oh no, the baby seat can’t go in the front seat, so you will have to drive the baby separately in your Passat. And yeah, the trunk is useless on the Z4, so I won’t be able to pick up milk on the way home either. You want me to do what? I’m sorry, hon, I can’t hear you with the top down, there’s too much wind noise, I’ll have to call you back later.”

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

Driving Impressions

The 335 HP and 332 lb.-ft. of torque from the bi-turbo 3.0 liter in-line 6 is no joke. The Z4 sDrive35is is capable of 0-60 in less than 4.8 seconds. And you definitely feel it too. The acceleration G force actually pins you back against the seat as you engage the Sport+ mode (higher shift points for the 7-speed dual clutch automatic and turns off traction control) and sink that accelerator. There’s no noticeable turbo lag, thanks to the twin turbo set up that covers almost the entire rev range. You’re at the next stop light before you can say, “fahrvergnügen.”

The coolest part about driving the Z4 sDrive35is (tired of reading this long-derriere name yet? I’m tired of even just copying and pasting it) is actually rounding corners. The fact that your derriere is sitting right on top of the rear axle definitely helps. But the fact that the BMW engineers tuned the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) just so that you get to kick out the rear of the car out just enough around the corner is simply awesome. It even flashes the traction control warning light on the dash at you a few times just to prove that the DTC has given you some leniency to have some German-controlled fun.

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

Build Quality

The Z4 sDrive35is feels like a German-engineered and built car. Probably because it is, unlike the first gen Z4, which was manufactured in Spartanburg, North Carolina. The materials all feel expensive and the panels fit really nicely. All the interior controls feel rich to the touch and the Aluminum Carbon Shadow trim (aluminum with a carbon fiber weave pattern) panels provide a nice way to light up the small cabin. There’s no noticeable creak while driving, but that’s probably because I had the top down pretty much the entire time. But seriously, the body felt really solid despite the fact that it’s got no roof over your head most of the time. Of course with the fully-automated folding hard top up, the Z4 sDrive35is feels as solid and quiet (enough) as a coupe. The folding hard top is a joy to watch, I spent a lot of time in the garage just putting it up and down using the remote control. I should’ve video-taped it now that I think about it. That way I can watch it over and over again.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

First of all, if you bought this two-seater roadster, you’re not exactly optimizing for interior comfort. The cabin on the Z4 is not big by any means, but surprisingly offers a mile of leg room if you push the seats all the way back. I’m not tall by any means (5’11”) but I think fitting in a 6-footer would not be a tall order (pun intended). The tester Z4 sDrive35is does not have power seats, but there are enough manual levers to adjust the seats a million different ways. The lumbar support, thankfully, is electronically controlled via a handy button placed near the front of the seat.

Our tester does not have iDrive or navigation, which simplifies the controls a lot. The paddle shifters take a little getting used to, because I’m used to the usual set-up with right paddle upshift, left paddle downshift instead of the both-paddle pull upshift and push downshift design.

The climate control buttons are nicely laid out and easy to learn and use. I hate the cruise control lever on Bimmers. I hit it every time I want to use the turn signals. Everything else works well and the seats, as mentioned before, can be adjusted to fit just about any body type. All this said, however, the Z4 sDrive35is is not the car you want to take on that road trip to the Grand Canyon this summer.

2011 BMW Z4 interior2011 BMW Z4 storage bin2011 BMW Z4 Aluminum Carbon Shadow interior trim


Exhilarating! Someone from my office actually said that after riding in the Z4 sDrive35is to lunch one day. Indeed, the Z4 sDrive35is is one of the fastest cars I’ve driven and I guess the double-clutch 7 speed automatic transmission beats my manual shifting speeds. Putting the car in Sport+ mode gives you much higher shift points than the standard mode. The twin-turbo 3.0 liter in-line 6 pumps out 335 horses at 5900 RPM, but 332 lb-ft of torque at 1500 RPM. That results in the sudden jolt you feel as you floor the gas pedal in Sport+ mode. Plus the Z4 sDrive35is benefits from an additional 37 lb-ft of temporary torque delivered with a standard overboost function. How do you unlock this extra torque, you ask? By flooring the gas pedal, of course! It’s smart enough to know that if you’re flooring it, you probably need the extra boost. It reminds me of the “turbo boost” K.I.T.T. had in Knight Rider. Highway acceleration is also good, I went easily from 65 to 85 when I needed to pass up some drivers who don’t know their gas pedal from their brake pedal.

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