First Impressions Review: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

BMW Expert Reviews

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

Things That Make You Smile:

  • Sling-shot performance and slot-car handling without the go-kart suspension
  • Beautifully balanced proportions and elegant design silhouette
  • Retractable hardtop insulates you from the elements and road noise better than a ragtop
  • Intelligent dual-clutch automatic is fast and silky smooth
  • The new interior is more visually pleasing, and includes a slew of comfort and usability improvements

Things That Turn Your Smile Up-side Down:

  • Melbourne Red paint attracts more attention than Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco spotting the General Lee
  • I know it’s a roadster, but where do I put my golf clubs?

Bada bing, bada boom! Last year we drove the 2010 Z4 sDrive35i powered by BMW’s silky-smooth turbocharged, inline-6 engine and a double-clutch transmission that can change gears faster than Quick-Draw McGraw on speed. Performance was impressive, handling was sharp as a razor, and driving dynamics were more engaging than Betty Davis’ eyes. This year BMW has added a new range-topping Z4, one with a massaged engine that produces 335 hp and a load of M Sport touches. Not that the Z4 needed any more power, but we were surprised the company didn’t call it a Z4 M.

The 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is wants to play with the big boys and take its place next to the Audi TT-RS, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster S/Cayman S. BMW has given the 3.0L engine better intake breathing and higher boost pressure for a new output of 335 hp at 5900 rpm and 332 lb-ft from 1500 rpm, with overboost providing quick bursts of 369 lb-ft. A specifically tuned exhaust system provides a deep rumble with a focus on the low-frequency sound range.

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

The sDrive35is is available only with BMW’s seven-speed double-clutch transmission. The same Getrag-engineered unit offered as optional equipment for the M3. Here, it features a dual-mass flywheel to handle the increased power. It is spectacularly good, providing rapid and seamless shifts that fully justify BMW’s decision not to offer the Z4 sDrive35is with a traditional six-speed manual gearbox as on the Z4 sDrive30i and Z4 sDrive35i. The programming is also unique to the model. Gear changes can be effected either via the console selector or steering wheel-mounted paddles. Launch control is part of the package, as well.

Launching the Z4 from a standing start, redline approaches faster than you can hiccup and the dual-clutch transmission snaps through gears 1, 2, and 3 before you can exhale. Officially the Z4 sDrive35is will reach 0-60 mph from a standstill in 4.7 seconds, some 0.5 second faster than Porsche claims for the Boxster S. We did detect a tiny bit of turbo-lag response, but the real beauty of this engine is its willingness to go faster, no matter what the revs or the gear, all the way to its electronically limited 155 mph.

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is - 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission

Yet there’s much more to the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is than just a tuned engine. The 35is also gets a reworked suspension with stiffer springs and dampers, a ride height that’s lower by 0.4 inch and a set of 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels. Steering, body control, grip and overall responses are in an altogether different league from those of the Z4 sDrive35i — so much so that you’re left wondering if the two really share the same origins.This car might not wear an M car’s badge, but it certainly feels like one.

The Z4′s standard electric-assist steering has been calibrated to endow the sDrive35is with a beefier feel and added levels of feedback compared to lesser versions of the two-seat roadster. It weights up nicely through corners and delivers sharp response both at lower speeds around town and as the pace increases out on the open road.

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

The wunderkinds from Munich have also completely revised the active properties of the Z4′s aluminum-intensive suspension to provide the sDrive35is with the sort of sharpness that keen drivers will appreciate, together with impressive levels of compliance that everyone appreciates. The MacPherson struts up front and multilinks at the rear have been enhanced by stiffer stabilizer bars at each end, along with firmer springs and recalibrated dampers.

We tested the car under dry conditions and discovered that the great thing about the chassis changes is that once you get in the zone and start pushing up to the absolute limit, the car doesn’t prematurely back away from the action with early stability control intervention. The Z4 simply gets on with the job, digging deeper without displaying any worrying tendencies that might force you to back away from the throttle. Even at seriously high cornering speeds, it’s extraordinarily eager and imparts a feeling of utter competency.

2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

The truly admirable achievement is that BMW’s suspension engineers have managed to endow the Z4 sDrive35is with such crisp and engaging handling without significantly ruining the ride. Yes, it is firmer than the Z4 sDrive35i, but the 35is retains reasonable levels of compliance even in the most extreme Sport+ setting for the electrically controlled dampers.

M Sport upgrades also adorn the exterior and interior. New front and rear fascias (the latter with an integrated diffuser) give the already attractive car a more aggressive look. Standard wheels are 18-inch five-spokes, with 19s available as an option. The sDrive35is also receives Audi-like silver mirror caps. Inside is a thick M leather steering wheel with the shift paddles, an M dead pedal, M door sills, floor mats with colored piping, and sport seats. Interior trim is done in what BMW calls Aluminum Carbon, which supposedly renders the look of a carbon-fiber weave in aluminum.

2010 BMW Z4 2010 BMW Z4 sDrive35i Review – Roadster
Rating: 4.0 stars
By Kurt Gensheimer

“It perfectly blends the serenity of highway driving in a luxury hardtop coupe with the open top fun of a weekend roadster… So from an everyday driver perspective, the Z4 is a must drive.”

2008 BMW Z4 2008 BMW Z4 Roadster 3.0si Review – The Perfect Second Car
Rating: 4.2 stars
By Alex Kramer

“With perfect 50-50 weight distribution and a surprisingly stiff chassis for a convertible, the Z4 makes carving switchbacks an absolute delight. Add in the supremely sticky Bridgestone Potenza tires and responsive, fade-free brakes, and you have a recipe for cornering precision.”

Photo Galleries:
2011 BMW Z4 | 2010 BMW Z4 | 2008 BMW Z4

BMW USAThe official BMW of North America website –

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  • Tim Goebel says:

    “The wunderkinds from Stuttgart …” Mercedes and Porsche are located near Stuttgart … but BMW still is Bavarian and located in Munich – though the Z4 is build in Regensburg.
    Will get my Z4 35is by the end of the year – just can’t wait.

  • Peter Anastopulos says:

    This is more a bargain Mercedes SL then it competition to the SLK.The 3 Women that redesigned this sports car are proving that girls can build something other then Mini Vans .The way the flame surfacing was smoothed and a serious beauty was revealed .Besides the driving dynamics this car must be a visual symbol and now it is.The Z4 is the right size while the SL look’s bloated and the TT seems to be more econobox.It’s to bad GM got rid of it’s very beautiful Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice .Only if GM would evolve these models as BMW has done we might have something competitive in this class.Z4 is a great timeless car that we all can aspire to for a down to earth price.

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