2012 BMW Z4 Review

Pros & Cons

  • Powerful six-cylinder and efficient four-cylinder engines
  • quick-folding hardtop
  • comfortable ride
  • big trunk (with the top raised)
  • excellent visibility for a roadster.
  • Not as invigorating and involving as Porsche rival
  • four-cylinder is clattery at idle
  • very pricey.
List Price

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Edmunds' Expert Review

Sleek styling, a high-class interior and plenty of performance combine to make the 2012 BMW Z4 a highly desirable roadster. Its new base engine for this year makes it even better.

Vehicle overview

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.

2012 BMW Z4 models

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.

2012 Highlights

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.

Performance & mpg

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.


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.


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.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 2012 BMW Z4.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Constant compliments!
Scott LaRocca,01/31/2016
sDrive35i 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M)
We traded in a baseline model 2003 Porsche Boxster for this 2012 BMW Z4. Everything about the Z4 blows away the older model Boxster except handling. While the Z4 is still stellar on hard turns due to its Sport and Sport+ suspension modes, it weighs 500 lbs more than the Boxster and feels like it'll fishtail if you don't have excellent control of the accelerator. The Boxster felt like it was pulling you around corners. The Z4 makes you have to pull it around corners. Subtle distinction, but noticeable. Definitely don't regret the trade in though. It's faster than most muscle cars off the line (not a new Stingray though). 0-40 mph before you can blink, and the auto- and paddle-shifting are FAR faster and smoother than you could ever possibly do with a manual transmission. I've owned Mustang 5.0s that weren't this fast off the line, including a Shelby GT. The looks, sound, power, and technology of the Z4 are phenomenal. Just don't get in a wreck with it, you won't win.
Z4 best car I have ever owned
sDrive35is 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 7AM)
I have had my 2012 Z4 for 4 years and 60k miles. No mechanic issues. Great MPG and it is a Rocket. I get compliments every time I fuel up. I had a Lexus, SC430 for 5 years before this car. The Lexus was great but this is Great plus gets a whole lot more attention. I love it. This is my 4th BMW. They just make great cars. I had a Z3 before the Lexus and put 230k Miles on it before selling it to my neighbor who still drives it as a weekend car.
sDrive28i 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
Wife birthday present all she ever wanted, we had a vette, but due to age 62 had a hard time getting out! went to Florida for the winter, really missed convertible, looked @ Audi, Lexus,Porsche, Merecedes, fell in luv with Z4!
Claude Hutchison,05/16/2018
sDrive35i 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M)
This car has a standard 6 speed transmission which works like a swiss watch. Engine provides lots of power and quick acceleration. When driving on the highway lots of torque available without downshifting even even to pass going up a grade. Body is very tight with no rattles and consistently gets close to 27mpg in combined city/highway driving. Top is easy to raise and lower and the process is quick. Storage is tight in the trunk particularly with the top down. 5/20: Have not driven much this spring due to COVID-19. The servicing log, derived from the key holder seems erratic as the advice on needed service categories at the local BMW dealership is either inconsistent or read differently by alternate BMW service advisors. I can not find bedrock in terms of what service items the vehicle actually needs. Run flat tires are very expensive but there seems to be no alternative and there is little competition between brands available. Mileage currently 49,000.

Features & Specs

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It took about 20 seconds after we got onto California's Pacific Coast Highway to realize why BMW's all-new turbocharged four-cylinder is a good fit in the Z4 two-seater. That's the time it takes to lower the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i's two-piece power-retractable hardtop, and doing so lets you properly experience its mechanical soundtrack.

Suddenly, we could hear the whistle from the turbo as it spooled up and down, not to mention some cool decelerative pops from the exhaust pipes. With the windows and top up, all you can hear is a small four-cylinder working away, one that's not particularly sonorous high in the revs, either.

Then again, 7,000 rpm is not where this engine does its best work. Nope, BMW's first four-cylinder in 12 years is better at delivering midrange power. And although the N20 (its internal code name) doesn't pack the supple character of an inline-6, the new turbo-4 packs something the normally aspirated engine doesn't — personality.

What's in a Name
In BMW-speak, the "TwinPower Turbo" label on the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i's engine shroud refers to the combination of direct injection and Valvetronic intake control, not a statement that the N20 has twin turbos. Further muddying the BMW naming waters, the car is labeled "28i," not 20i, because the engine "provides the power of a 2.8-liter six-cylinder," or so says BMW. We'll tackle the German reasoning for the wordy "sDrive" tag another day.

Confusion and misleading labeling systems aside, the N20 turbo-4 produces 15 fewer ponies than the outgoing inline-6 Z4 base engine, although it reaches its peak of 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm versus 6,600 rpm.

But torque is what the N20 is really all about, generating 258 pound-feet from 1,250-4,800 rpm. The old inline-6? Just 220 lb-ft at 2,600. And you feel that torque hit. True, there's a little bit of turbo lag, but by 2,500 rpm things are really humming along. There's no need to rev the turbo-4 to its 7,000-rpm redline either, as anything above 6K is mostly just noise with little reward. That said, having an actual spike of motive force makes this engine more exciting to drive versus the nondescript delivery of the N52's silky-smooth inline-6 power.

The 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i comes standard with a precise, if slightly notchy, six-speed manual transmission with reasonably short throws. But the car we spent the most time in was fitted with the no-extra-cost automatic, now with eight forward gears (replacing the previous six-cogger). Our tester also had the benefit of the $3,900 M Sport package, which — besides driver-controlled Adaptive M suspension, 18-inch light-alloy wheels, an aero body kit and sport seats — adds an M steering wheel with paddle shifters. The tranny's shifts are always smooth regardless of mode; manual downshifts (via the paddles or the console lever) are aided by computer-controlled throttle blips.

Our seat-of-the-pants impression tells us the Z4 with the turbo-4 has a significantly stronger midrange than the outgoing six. In terms of pure acceleration numbers, BMW claims the six-speed manual-equipped Z4 sDrive28i hustles to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, a tenth quicker than the three-pedal Z4 sDrive30i. But it's with the new automatic where the biggest gains are seen, 60 mph arriving in just 5.6 seconds, a good 0.4 second quicker than the previous six-speed auto/inline-6 Z4.

BMW expects the Z4 sDrive28i with the eight-speed automatic will see about a 20 percent improvement in fuel mileage over the auto-equipped Z4 sDrive30i it replaces, which should put its EPA figures somewhere around 21 city/33 highway mpg. The six-speed manual Z4 will also get the benefit of start/stop technology.

A Weighty Matter
Besides the superior power curve characteristics of the new turbo-4, it's also smaller and lighter. A BMW spokesperson told us the new engine with the manual gearbox weighs "about" 33 pounds less than the outgoing inline-6, while the automatic version sees the fat trimmed by about 44 pounds. As such, curb weight on the manual model went from 3,252 pounds for the 2011 car to 3,263 pounds.

Wait, say what? Yes, you read that correctly, the 2012 BMW Z4 actually weighs 11 pounds more than the previous car due to "a substantial increase in standard equipment," according to BMW. Apparently floor mats are now standard on the Z4. Floor mats, folks. Truth be told, the eight-speed automatic model does, in fact, weigh 22 pounds less than before.

Since the Z4 sDrive28i's weight has hardly changed, we can't report any drastic updates in the way this roadster handles, although the shorter engine does shift some weight rearward. Still, drive the Z4 hard on a twisty road and you realize it offers nowhere near the precision of an M3, especially when it comes to the Z4's electric-assist steering. The responses coming through the perfectly thick M steering wheel remain on the vague side, although the three-way-adjustable Adaptive M suspension and grippy, staggered-width 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza summer tires deliver plenty of stick.

It Prefers a Smoother Road
After a day spent in a Z4 equipped with the automatic, we spent a valuable hour flogging a six-speed manual test car on Carmel Valley Road near Monterey, a winding stretch of blacktop that could serve as a suspension test loop for just about anything. The stiffest Sport Plus setting actually proved a bit too harsh and bouncy, the Z4 skittering about over the seemingly endless bumps.

The smooth, new pavement of Highway 33 near Ojai was much more to the Z4's liking, where it could strut its high grip level and show off the turbo-4's plentiful torque. That being said, don't mistake the Z4 sDrive28i for a tool with which you can execute easy power-on-oversteer corner exit slides. It just doesn't have that kind of punch.

The brakes were impressive, especially during heavy use on the CVR torture test. The pedal remained firm throughout, and we saw no fade and minimal brake odor. It was also on CVR that we appreciated the sport seats' extra bolstering.

The interior is little changed from previous second-generation Z4s. The center stack is clean and largely devoid of excessive buttonry due to the iDrive controller, and materials are mostly of a high quality. This is classic roadster simplicity here, and we like it. There is, of course, the afterthought cupholder stabbing the passenger's left knee.

Blasphemy or Brilliance?
BMW doesn't shy away from controversy. There were the Bangle Years. Early generations of iDrive. A V8-powered M3. A turbocharged 1 Series with an M badge. And now BMW has replaced one of its ubiquitous inline-6s with a turbo-4.

In the case of the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i, you're getting a slightly quicker, more fuel-efficient and ever-so-slightly more exciting two-seat sports car. Not a bad deal, right?

Well, sort of. Despite losing two cylinders, a liter of displacement and a few horsepower, the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i will start at $49,525 (including $875 destination). That's actually more expensive than the sDrive30i it replaces. The extra cost comes from added standard features like Bluetooth, USB integration, an alarm system, a ski pass-through and those aforementioned floor mats. BMW says it's an actual savings of $500.

Yes, it is a lot of money for a four-cylinder. It's also a lot of money for a Z4. But the N20 is the way of the future, an enthusiast's engine that also makes sense from an efficiency standpoint. So much sense, that BMW will plop it into the 2012 528i when that car starts production in September, surely followed by the X3 and 3 Series soon after. We expect few will miss the six it replaced.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

Used 2012 BMW Z4 Overview

The Used 2012 BMW Z4 is offered in the following submodels: Z4 Convertible. Available styles include sDrive28i 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M), sDrive35i 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M), and sDrive35is 2dr Convertible (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 7AM).

What's a good price on a Used 2012 BMW Z4?

Price comparisons for Used 2012 BMW Z4 trim styles:

  • The Used 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i is priced between $18,995 and$18,995 with odometer readings between 79256 and79256 miles.

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Should I lease or buy a 2012 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.

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