2011 BMW Z4 Review
Edmunds' Expert Review
- Smooth and powerful engines, quick-folding hardtop, comfortable ride, big trunk (with the top up), excellent visibility for a roadster, sharp styling inside and out.
- Not as invigorating and involving as some rivals.
Sleek styling, a high-class interior and plenty of performance combine to make the 2011 BMW Z4 one of the most desirable luxury roadsters available.
Sometimes you just have to wave a white flag, concede your ground and head in the opposite direction. Perhaps you could've kept on fighting, but why bother when the enemy is fierce and there are equally fertile pastures to occupy? It seems as if BMW faced such a scenario when it redesigned its Z4 roadster two years ago. Instead of futilely taking on the dynamic midengine perfection of Porsche's Boxster, BMW went in the opposite direction toward comfort, luxury and refinement.
Indeed, the latest Z4 puts a greater emphasis on these aspects more than its predecessor and many other entries in the class. It all starts with its retractable hardtop, which, like the Mercedes SLK, makes the Z4 a more versatile, all-weather choice. Inside, the 2011 BMW Z4 offers more room than its competitors, impressive rearward visibility and a luxurious, nicely styled ambience. On the road, the Z4's superb ride quality sops up bumps like a much larger, more expensive convertible along the lines of Mercedes' SL. In fact, the Z4 often feels like it belongs to that bigger, more refined class of luxury roadsters.
Of course, even if the Z4 has carved a new grand touring niche for itself, BMW is still known for building the "ultimate driving machine." For 2011, the Z4 is now available in a spicier variant, the new sDrive35is. Trust us; it's a lot cooler than its clunky name sounds, boasting 35 additional horsepower from the 35i's twin-turbo inline-6, enhanced steering and an M Sport package that adds adaptive suspension dampers, 18-inch wheels, an aerodynamic exterior kit and sport seats. That package is also available on the other Z4 models.
If you're looking to buy a luxury roadster, it all comes down to a simple question: What kind do you want? If you want a nimble convertible with an uncompromised connection between man and machine, then your answer is the 2011 Porsche Boxster. If, however, you desire a convertible that puts an emphasis on comfort, luxury and style while still keeping the drive interesting, then the answer is a little tougher. The 2011 Audi TT and 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK fall on this side of the roadster coin as well. But in general, the 2011 BMW Z4 is a more complete package. It may have ceded its previous ground to the Boxster, but in the process, it's arguably become king of its own hill.
2011 BMW Z4 models
The 2011 BMW Z4 is a two-seat retractable-hardtop luxury roadster available in three trim levels that correspond with engine choice: sDrive30i, sDrive35i and sDrive35is.
Standard equipment on the sDrive30i includes 17-inch wheels, adjustable sport driving settings (steering, throttle and automatic transmission if applicable), automatic adaptive xenon headlights, automatic wipers, a fully powered retractable hardtop, cruise control, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, six-way manually adjustable seats and a sound system that includes a single-CD player, auxiliary audio jack and HD radio. The sDrive35i gets you a more powerful engine, sun-reflective leather upholstery, automatic climate control and brushed aluminum interior trim.
The sDrive35is gets an even more powerful engine, a standard dual-clutch automated manual transmission, sportier steering and the M Sport package that is optional on the other Z4 trims. This package includes 18-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, an aerodynamic body kit, increased top speed, a thicker M steering wheel and 10-way manually adjustable sport seats with power bolster adjustment.
A regular Sport package available on the 30i and 35i includes only the suspension, seats, increased top speed and 18-inch wheels (the 30i sticks with the 17s). The Cold Weather package adds to all models heated seats, a heated steering wheel, retractable headlight washers and a trunk pass-through. The Premium package adds auto-dimming mirrors, power-adjustable seats, BMW Assist telematics, Bluetooth and on the 30i, leather upholstery and automatic climate control. The Premium Sound package adds a 14-speaker sound system with two subwoofers, satellite radio and an iPod/USB adapter. Many of the above package items are available as stand-alone options, along with Comfort Access keyless entry (push-button start is standard), automatic transmission shift paddles, front and rear parking sensors, automatic high beams, a navigation system (includes the iDrive electronics interface) and a six-CD/DVD changer. The 35i and 35is can be equipped with 19-inch wheels.
Performance & mpg
The 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive30i is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 255 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a traditional six-speed automatic is optional. BMW estimates the 30i will go from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with the manual. EPA-estimated fuel economy with both transmissions is 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The Z4 sDrive35i gets a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the manual is 18/25/20 and 17/24/20 with the automated manual. In Edmunds testing, the 35i manual went from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds.
The Z4 sDrive35is gets a revised version of the 35i's twin-turbo engine good for 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. A temporary overboost function pumps torque up to 369 lb-ft. The dual-clutch automated manual is standard. BMW estimates a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 17/24/19.
Side impact airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist and stability control are all standard on the 2011 BMW Z4. 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 automatically snugging the pads to the rotors if the driver abruptly lifts off the throttle. BMW Assist emergency telematics is optional.
The roof is made of aluminum and incorporates a structural support system that helps protect occupants in case of a rollover accident. To provide protection in the event of a top-down rollover, there is a steel hoop behind each seat.
Even the base 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive30i is an entertaining drive thanks to its willing and exceptionally smooth 255-hp inline-6. The twin-turbocharged sDrive35i and sDrive35is are better yet, offering up authoritative yet refined acceleration. The Z4 is also characterized by its adjustable driving settings that alter steering effort, throttle response and, when optioned with the automatic transmission, shift response. Normal mode makes life a little easier around town, but the Sport and Sport+ settings are more appropriate for a roadster like the Z4.
The new M Sport package that's standard on the 35is and optional on the others should be a must-buy for serious drivers. Having said that, though, no package or adjustable settings will make the Z4 as engaging to drive as a Porsche Boxster -- the steering in particular is a bit of a letdown, providing less road feel than we'd like from a sporting car. However, we think there's a place for such a grand touring roadster and the Z4 certainly does it well.
The 2011 BMW Z4's cabin is sleek and upscale. High-quality materials abound and combine with diverse shapes to create an undeniably premium environment. Thankfully, BMW didn't forget about practicality along the way. There's a wealth of legroom in a segment not known for it, and plenty of storage space.
With a simple touch of a button (done while depressing the brake pedal), the Z4's two-piece retractable hardtop folds into the trunk in 20 seconds. With the top raised, visibility is unmatched for a roadster thanks to the Z4's large rear quarter windows that eliminate the typical convertible blind spots. The large area needed to swallow the folded roof also creates an expansive trunk (with the roof raised) capable of holding two sets of golf clubs and a carry-on suitcase. Even when the top's lowered, though, there's a deep, reasonably useful space for a pair of carry-on suitcases as well as a moderately sized pass-through that effectively expands trunk space to accommodate long items like skis or golf clubs.
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Features & Specs
More About This Model
The sports car is not really BMW's thing. The company has tried to make one plenty of times, yet every attempt is greeted by widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth, as if it were somehow shameful that a company that has achieved such excellence in sport sedans should design two-door cars that drive like sport sedans.
Nevertheless, BMW has stepped up once again with another sports car, the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is. We will see if the whingers (mostly British) complain yet again that a BMW doesn't feel like a Porsche, while offering no sound reason why it should.
It was a great relief to most of us when the introduction of the second-generation Z4 revealed a newly mature nature within this package that no longer tried to bludgeon you into submission with pretentions to sportiness. With the 255-horsepower Z4 sDrive30i and 300-hp Z4 sDrive35i, the Z4 seemed to have finally reached equilibrium as a hardtop convertible, more like an Audi TT or Mercedes-Benz SLK than a Porsche Boxster or Cayman.
And yet there were those who were scandalized that the car has become a hardtop convertible and they were shocked that no longer would there be high-performance M versions of the Z4. But in a move that signals BMW has not given up on attempting to entice the enthusiast driver with its latest two-seater, there is now a third Z4, the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is.
Let's Get Serious
The 2010 BMW Z4 sDrive35is wants to take its place next to the Audi TT-RS, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster S/Cayman S, and it has some visual snap to show it. The style embellishments include a deeper front bumper with a matte-aluminum trim bar in each of the outboard air intakes, more pronounced rocker sills and a rear aero diffuser.
More important, 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.
When it goes on sale in North America next month, the Z4 sDrive35is will go head to head with some formidable competition, but it is well up to the job. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised to see this car trump them all.
Performance certainly isn't a problem. The 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is's engine is easily the most effective inline-6 with a BMW badge right now, the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter N54, recently superseded in the cooking 3 Series by the N55 edition with a single twin-scroll turbo. Thanks to a new set of electronics, the output of the Z4 sDrive35is's N54 has increased by 35 hp over the Z4 sDrive35i to 335 hp at 5,900 rpm. Torque also increases by 32 pound-feet to 332 lb-ft at just 1,500 rpm. Thanks to an overboost control, you can actually liberate a further 37 lb-ft of torque, so there's a heady 369 lb-ft at your command for short bursts of full-throttle action.
Command and Control
As impressive as these figures are, they fail to convey the whole story. What the Z4 sDrive35is offers is terrifically strong, infinitely usable and ultimately stirring performance. The delivery is extraordinarily flexible and linear all the way up into the upper reaches of the rev range. This car might not wear an M car's badge, but it certainly feels like one. And the hard-edged exhaust note that rises in intensity until you find the ignition cutout at 6,800 rpm makes it sound for all the world like one, too!
Sending drive to the rear wheels is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the same Getrag-engineered unit offered as optional equipment for the M3. It is spectacularly good, providing rapid and seamless shifts that fully justify BMW's decision not to even offer the Z4 sDrive35is with a traditional six-speed manual gearbox as on the Z4 sDrive30i and Z4 sDrive35i.
Clearly, a lot of work has gone into perfecting the new dual-clutch unit. You'll notice this in its ability to cope with changes in gear at high engine loads without any discernible pause on the upshifts, and its ability to introduce a hearty blip of the throttle during downshifts to avoid unsettling the chassis when you're braking hard into tight corners. It is just a pity that the tools provided to operate it are so intrinsically flawed, as both the shift buttons on the steering wheel and the traditional gearlever on the center console leave a lot to be desired. (Note to BMW: Two simple shift paddles like those used on the M3 will suffice nicely, thank you very much.)
Nevertheless, the gearing is superbly matched to the eager personality of the engine, providing heady levels of off-the-line acceleration and storming in-gear performance. Officially the Z4 sDrive35is will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.7 seconds, some 0.5 second faster than Porsche claims for the Boxster S, no less. More than this, it is the way the new BMW Z4 gathers speed though the gears that really grabs your attention. No matter what the revs or the gear, it's always willing. And with an ability to hit 155 mph before the onset of an electronic limiter, this car is up there with the most potent BMW models on top speed.
Keeping It Together
Yet there's much more to the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is than just a tuned engine. Its 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.
The Z4's standard electric-assist steering has been tweaked to endow the sDrive35is with a meatier 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.
BMW has also completely revised the kinematic 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.
The great thing about the changes BMW has brought to the chassis 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 — not in dry conditions, at least. The Z4 sDrive35is 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.
It's entertaining, too. Pressing the button next to the gearlever to call up the Sport + mode effectively disengages the traction control system, providing the scope for some lurid oversteer for those willing to seek it out.
But 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 and less forgiving of small ruts than the Z4 sDrive35i, but the 35is retains reasonable levels of compliance even in the most extreme Sport + setting for the electrically controlled dampers.
Inside the cabin, the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is scores on the proper sporting feel it imparts. The fabulously supportive, electric-adjustable seats can be set low to the floor, providing a traditional sports-car-style, legs-out-in-front driving position together with an alluring view over the long, contoured hood. The multifunction steering wheel is also nicely proportioned and generously adjustable for both height and reach, making it easy to find just the right balance despite the snug confines of the two-seat cabin.
In front of the driver are gray-face instruments from the M division, just one of a number of touches from BMW's fast-car department. Look elsewhere and you'll also find that the door sills, gearlever, floor mats and even the driver's footrest all carry the evocative M logo. Of course, all of this makes you wonder why BMW didn't just give the Z4 sDrive35is an M badge in the first place, since it looks and feels like one in every respect.
The 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35is might not be a successor to the M Roadster in name. But in terms of styling, performance, overall dynamic ability and, most important, intrinsic character, it is more than a worthy replacement for BMW's former signature for hard-core drivers (Dr. Burkhardt Goetschel, BMW's former director of research and development and a member of the Formula 1 manufacturer's council, was one).
It's no bargain, though. With a base price of $61,925, this car will set you back almost $10,000 more than the full-fledged M version of the Z4 coupe that was introduced in 2006 and a similar amount over the price of the 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35i. This car is good, but at such a price, it's clearly going to be relying on dedicated enthusiasts to make it a sales success.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
Used 2011 BMW Z4 Overview
The Used 2011 BMW Z4 is offered in the following submodels: Z4 Convertible. Available styles include sDrive30i 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl 6M), sDrive35i 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M), and sDrive35is 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 7AM). Pre-owned BMW Z4 models are available with a 3.0 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 335 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2011 BMW Z4 comes with rear wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 6-speed manual, 7-speed automated manual. The Used 2011 BMW Z4 comes with a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. basic warranty, a 4 yr./ unlimited mi. roadside warranty, and a 4 yr./ 50000 mi. powertrain warranty.
What's a good price on a Used 2011 BMW Z4?
Price comparisons for Used 2011 BMW Z4 trim styles:
- The Used 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive30i is priced between $24,000 and$29,990 with odometer readings between 28123 and76358 miles.
- The Used 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35i is priced between $28,998 and$32,495 with odometer readings between 27477 and60954 miles.
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Which used 2011 BMW Z4s are available in my area?
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Should I lease or buy a 2011 BMW Z4?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.