Full 2012 BMW Z4 Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 BMW Z4 introduces a new entry-level model. Replacing the sDrive30i and its normally aspirated six-cylinder engine is the new sDrive28i with a turbocharged four-cylinder. The new engine produces more torque than the former six-cylinder, and when it's paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission, a stop/start system delivers surprising fuel efficiency.
James Bond once drove a BMW roadster with a four-cylinder engine, apparently content with the firepower provided by the Stinger missiles behind the car's headlights. Non-spy buyers were a different story, however, and BMW eventually did away with the Z3's four-banger in favor of a traditional straight-6. That was more than a decade ago, and now an inline-4 engine has returned to a two-passenger BMW convertible, this time as the base engine in the 2012 BMW Z4.
This may seem like a downgrade, but a lot has changed since 007 drove that humbly powered BMW roadster. The new turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter inline-4 found in the 2012 Z4 sDrive28i produces 100 horsepower more than the old Z3. More important, the new four-cylinder delivers 35 pound-feet of torque more than the base Z4's outgoing naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6. The result is an engine that matches the straight-line acceleration of last year's base Z4, while actually feeling more robust thanks to its low-end grunt. Even more important than that, the 28i achieves an impressive 22 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. That's economy car territory.
The turbocharged six-cylinder engines found in the sDrive35i and sDrive35is models carry over. Despite their significant power advantage over the 28i, they deliver 0-60 times that are less than a second quicker. Yes, you get even more of that low-end grunt with the six, but the 28i carries around less weight, making it feel more nimble around corners. If it sounds as if we're smitten with the new engine, you'd be right.
In fact, the 2012 BMW Z4 as a whole is easy to love. While not possessing the perfectly balanced nature of the Porsche Boxster or the peerless refinement of the new Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Z4 manages to strike a middle ground between the two. It handles well (especially with one of its must-have sport packages), offers a comfortable ride and cossets its passengers with a spacious cabin. Sure, it's expensive, but so are its competitors. With its new engine for 2012, the Z4 definitely won't need Stinger missiles to get itself noticed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 BMW Z4 is a two-seat convertible with a retractable hardtop, available in three trim levels that correspond to engine choice: sDrive28i, sDrive35i and sDrive35is.
Standard equipment on the 28i includes 17-inch wheels, automatic and adaptive xenon headlights, heated mirrors, automatic wipers, adjustable drive settings (alter steering, throttle, automatic transmission response), cruise control, air-conditioning, height-adjustable seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a sound system that includes a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The 35i adds an inline-6 engine, dual-zone automatic climate control and eight-way power seats with driver memory functions and leather upholstery. Besides the engine, these features are all available in the 28i's Premium package.
The 35is adds a more powerful engine, unique styling cues, a lowered suspension with adaptive dampers, a sport steering wheel and 10-way sport seats with adjustable bolsters and a manual thigh adjustment. These latter items are included in a Sport package available on the other two Z4 models.
Every Z4 is eligible for several options. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and headlight washers. There are also several bigger wheels to choose from, along with parking sensors, automatic high beams, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system (includes BMW's iDrive electronics interface), BMW Assist emergency communications, satellite radio, a six-CD/DVD changer and a premium sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard, while an eight-speed automatic is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped 28i went from zero to 60 mph in a respectably quick 5.8 seconds. Manual-equipped cars include an automatic stop/start function that turns off the engine when the car is stopped to improve efficiency. EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 22 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with the manual and 24/33/27 with the automatic.
The Z4 sDrive35i is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed manual is standard and a seven-speed automated dual-clutch manual known as DCT is optional. With the six-speed in place, the Z4 goes from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19/26/21 with the manual and 17/24/19 with the DCT.
The Z4 sDrive35is gets a revised version of the 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. At full throttle, an overboost function increases torque to 369 lb-ft. The DCT is the only available transmission. In Edmunds testing, the 35is went from zero to 60 in 5 seconds flat. Its fuel economy is 17/24/19.
Every 2012 BMW Z4 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, side airbags and knee airbags. The antilock brakes also integrate several features designed to improve braking performance, such as periodically wiping the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are in use and snugging the brake pads against the rotors if the driver abruptly lifts off the throttle. Parking sensors and BMW Assist emergency communications are optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 28i came to a stop from 60 mph in an outstanding 103 feet. The other two models were essentially identical.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 BMW Z4's cabin is sleek and upscale. High-quality materials abound and combine with diverse shapes to create an undeniably premium environment. The addition of several new two-tone color choices for 2012 adds some further pizzazz. There are also a few thoughtful touches inside, including secondary knee-level air vents and a small cargo shelf behind the seats.
The Z4 is also arguably the most practical two-passenger sports car on the market. Legroom is plentiful, which is something you don't hear often about small convertibles. Visibility is also unmatched thanks to large rear quarter windows that eliminate the typical blind spots in most convertibles. With the hardtop roof raised, the trunk is quite large, measuring 8 cubic feet and capable of holding two sets of golf clubs and a carry-on suitcase. You'll have to ditch those clubs when you lower the two-piece hardtop, but the suitcase can remain, which is more than you can say for some other hardtop convertibles. There's also an available trunk pass-through that can accommodate longer items.
Some people might not like the idea of buying a sports car with a four-cylinder engine. Most won't like the sound of the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i's four-cylinder at idle, as it produces an unbecoming rough clatter. But slot the manual transmission's slick shifter into 1st and lay into the throttle and we're pretty sure you won't have anything to complain about. This torque-rich engine pulls hard and has a sharp, warbling exhaust note reminiscent of BMW's past inline-6s. The 28i also handles a bit better than its six-cylinder siblings thanks to its lighter weight. The 35i and 35is are quicker, but truth be told, you'll be plenty happy with the 28i.
The Porsche Boxster remains the hands-down favorite when it comes to providing an engaging top-down driving experience. The Z4, especially with one of its sport packages, is certainly no slouch around corners, but its more comfortable ride, more spacious cabin and less communicative steering make it more of a grand touring car akin to the Mercedes-Benz SLK. We should note that we've found the top-of-the-line 35is doesn't really provide much of a performance or handling advantage over the regular 35i with a Sport package, while suffering from a rougher ride. We'd save money and go with one of the cheaper models.