BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

Featured Posts, Test Drives | September 10th, 2010 by 38
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Words: Shawn Molnar Photos: Shawn Molnar (Cover Photo, Gregg Jarem) 3 cans of alphabet soup later and I still don’t have the whole name. Of …

Words: Shawn Molnar

Photos: Shawn Molnar (Cover Photo, Gregg Jarem)

3 cans of alphabet soup later and I still don’t have the whole name. Of course BMW’s nomenclature tells you a lot about what’s under the badge.

Here we have the latest rendition of the Z4 roadster. “sDrive” denotes a rear wheel drive layout (as opposed to xDrive) and ‘35i’ refers to the engine spec, in this case a forced induction fuel injected 3 liter inline 6 (yes, the 5 is mysterious and we’ve yet to decode it, it probably means, “relax, it’s just a badge.”) Finally the most important character, “S.”

“S” stands for sport, and sport driving is right up our alley. How does BMW’s spicy version of the Z4 perform? Is it worth the extra money, or should one sign for the standard Z4 – better off spending the money elsewhere?

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

Let’s look at the standard Z4 sDrive 35i to start off. Making 306hp at 5,800 rpm, its twin turbo 3.0L inline 6 (N54) is highly tuned with precision direct injection. 295 lb-ft of torque is produced from 1,300 rpm all the way to 5000 spins per minute. No one will accuse this car of being slow.

The iS on the other hand receives 340hp at 5,900 rpm from an even further tuned N54 engine architecture. Increased boost is responsible for the power jump, along with higher torque output: 332 lb-ft available from 1,500 rpm with an additional 37 lb-ft available for temporary boosts of acceleration bringing the total torque output to 369 lb-ft with foot-to-floor. This increased performance is secondary to a larger, free-flowing intake manifold, increased peak turbo boost, a new high-flow exhaust, and reworked engine management.

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

“0-60 times are accomplished in a blistering 4.7 seconds.”

All this in a 1,525 kg (3,362 lb) hardtop convertible roadster – the performance that follows is unsurprising then: 0-60 times are accomplished in a blistering 4.7 seconds.

In practice, BMW’s latest Z4 feels relaxed, ready for an open-air drive. Adaptive suspension provided by M division allows for a split personality: sleeping puppy mode or scared cat. Unfortunately, we found major, persistent understeer while prodding the Z4’s limits; perhaps the legal team had a little too much say in the final setup. Short of a Scandinavian flick, it is all but impossible to get this car to rotate. A possible explanation for this conservative handling measure could be the seating position inherent to the car. Sitting well-nigh ‘on’ the rear axle, the driver is treated to a very unique sensation when the tail breaks lose – this increased lateral movement could frazzle even some experienced drivers. Ultimately, BMW has played it safe with this car’s at-the-limit handling characteristics.

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

That is not to say that the Z4 sDrive 35iS can’t handle! No, on the contrary we were impressed with the lateral grip this car is capable of. It’s not every day that you’ll find a sports car capable of lifting its inside wheel – and that is precisely what this stock Z4 is capable of! Don’t believe us? Pay closer attention to our cover photo and note the daylight showing underneath its front wheel.

“… a split personality: sleeping puppy mode or scared cat

Speaking of wheels, we were taken aback by the timeless style of BMW’s new wheels on option. Check out BMW’s gorgeous “Ferrari-esque” lightweight alloys as seen on the Detroit Show car. In our opinion, these could be the most beautiful BMW-designed wheels in recent times – classic, simple, exotic.

Top down, a deeper, throatier exhaust note resonates through the stylish cabin. ‘iS’ specific interior trim brightens things up with carbon fiber stylized brushed-aluminum surfaces. Tasteful M badges greet you throughout the interior, reminding you of the $10,000 premium you’ve paid for Munich’s finest Z4 rendition.

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iSBMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

On the exterior, changes to the body are subtle but functional, as wind tunnel tested by the M engineers. An aggressive front bumper features matte aluminum horizontal bars in each outer air intake while the rear of the car is treated to a revised bumper with accentuated tailpipe surrounds and a black textured rear diffuser.

“… the driver is treated to a very unique sensation when the tail breaks lose.”

Have we any complaints? Yes, three to be exact. First, we are frustrated by the Z4’s persistent understeer.

Second, we are absolutely baffled by BMW’s decision to fit teeny “push/pull” shift buttons on the steering wheel. What an absurd choice to make when rummaging through Munich’s parts bin: “Let’s see, we have the preferred paddle shifters as created by Ferrari and fitted to modern F1 cars… and in this bin we have some kind of oddly shaped children’s toy.” Why pick the latter? In a BMW that is otherwise performance focused and highly tuned, by the M division no less, we are simply stupefied by the silly shift buttons fitted as the only option on this Z4 sDrive 35iS. They are annoying, finicky, too small – ultimately pointless. Just leave the transmission in auto mode because you will probably be faster as you quit fumbling for the cheap-feeling buttons.

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

BMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iSBMWBLOG First Drive: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS

While we’re on the topic of ‘shifting’ we can add our last complaint to the list: the lack of a proper manual transmission! Again, we are greatly disappointed by this decision wherein an otherwise track-ready performance car is deprived of a playful 6-speed gearbox, your left foot left to slumber while you pilot this Z4.

“… we were impressed with the lateral grip this car is capable of.”

All of these complaints beg the $10,000 question: is the ‘iS’ worth the premium? The answer to this question is complicated and differs depending on your driving style. If you do not intend to explore your car’s performance envelope and are satisfied to show off your rolling artwork to a “slower” crowd (we speak of speed, not intelligence!) then we could see the appeal in terms of its spruced up interior, and bragging-rights numbers.

“… a deeper, throatier exhaust note resonates through the stylish cabin.”

But if you are a driver’s driver, a track day warrior who begs to exploit every ounce of your car’s performance – leave this model at the dealership while you drive away in a Z4 sDrive 35i. That uncomfortable lump in your back pocket is 10,000 big ones, and we can think of many ways to spend that money. After all, 10K buys a lot of track time, tires, and premium fuel; all while enjoying the bliss of your manual 6-speed.

In summary, BMW’s Z4 sDrive 35iS is a beautiful example of modern roadster design wherein, “One must be able to touch the rear wheel whilst sitting in the driver’s seat.” Depending on your driving style, the Z4 sDrive 35iS could be your ideal roadster. After all, this lengthy name spells, “sports car.”

  • 1Mc

    The car itself is an absolute stunner. First Z4 I’ve seen that I thought I’d actually want on my drive. Wonder how it holds up against a Boxster S.

    • Shawn

      1Mc,

      That’s a great question – the Boxter is certainly close competition.

      The Boxter S offers 310hp @ 6,400rpm vs the BMW’s 340hp @ 5,900rpm. In a straight line, the BMW is faster, accelerating from 0-60 in 4.7 sec vs the Boxter S 4.9 sec time (though there is an optional sport pack on the Porsche that will match the BMW’s time of 4.7)

      After driving the BMW, I suspect the Porsche would be faster through the curves (of significance, the Boxter S is around 300 lb lighter when similarly equipped with a DCT).

      The Boxter S sells for $3,000 less than the BMW in USD. While this is a lot of money, in the context of buying a car it would not be enough to sway me.

      I suspect the Porsche offers a more pure, sporting drive while the BMW does a better job combining everyday usability with sports car performance.

  • http://www.autotype.nl/bmw/ Annelies

    Great car! and a very nice design.
    Do u have more specs? http://www.autotype.nl/bmw/ i can`t find the car over there!

  • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

    I’m not surprised by the lack of a manual – with DCT as good as it is( and it’s quite good) their isn’t a need to take on the additional production costs of trying to offer different boxes. Seems to be the same reasoning behind Porsche’s Boxster Spyder – “If it’s supposed to be fast then only mate it to the fastest transmission.”

    That said, I’ve driven an E90/92 M3 with DCT quite a bit and I was impressed with the gearbox so I can understand why they opted for it – it puts SMG III to shame.

    • 1Mc

      I thought you could have a Spyder in manual though…

      • Shawn

        You’re right, for North American market the Spyder is available in either manual or PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission.

    • Shawn

      Ooops, posted this below by mistake, meant to reply here…

      The additional feedback and mechanical connection to the car offered by a manual transmission is worth the few tenths of a second you may sacrifice per lap.

      A talented driver will still be faster in a manual than a green driver in any DCT (and it’s all the more enjoyable blue flagging them with their fancy “faster” transmission! :).

      Unless you’re on an F1 payroll – nobody cares if you’re 2 tenths faster per lap, and you shouldn’t really either. It’s about the driving experience. If you’re still sweating over those 2 or 3 tenths – find them elsewhere! Stickier tires alone will take care of it. This is the joy of driving, and from a purely tactile perspective, no semi-auto can compare the the bliss of driving a fully manual car.

      Of course, this is track talk – if you’re talking about driving on the street then the speed of a DCT is completely irrelevant and it’s all about driving enjoyment – adding further weight behind my point. Fuel economy? So close as not to matter, it’s mainly based on how you drive the car, regardless of transmission.

      Production costs are not relevant in this case, it’s about sales numbers more then production costs. How so? Because the manual is far, far cheaper to produce than the highly complex DCT.

      Folks like myself will demand a manual and refuse to buy anything else… as long we we still exist and make up a large enough market share, BMW will continue to produce manual gearboxes. (We better start breeding more effectively… !) jk

      • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

        I love the manual I have but I think DCT still wins on speed no matter your skil level. I know that – with my limited driving abilities – when I was in an M3, the rate at which I was sliding around the track and how late I was braking/down-shifting for corners I probably would not have been able to duplicate with a manual – without significant practice and much improved shift times on my part.

        I think that the argument for driving feel has begun to go out the window(regarding the transmission) in favor of flattering the driver. With DCT – I didn’t feel like that times I was spitting out on the track were necessarily a full indication of my talent (or lack thereof) as it allowed me not think as much about the car’s mechanics and more about placement on the track. That makes me look like more of a hero than I probably would in a proper six-speed.

        I will continue to buy manuals as long as I can – but I see the other side of the argument for it – just playing devil’s advocate.

        As for production costs – my thought would be that the logistical costs/tooling costs of having to swap out manuals vs. DCT on an assembly line probably isn’t worth it – despite the cost of DCT typically being passed onto the consumer in other models like the M3 or 335is as a costly option.

        I also agree that when talking about cars like this – MPGs plus or minus whatever on the manual gearbox versus DCT is an irrelevant issue! Drive the balls off of the car no matter what!

        • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

          Re: productions – also that probably 80% of people who buy the car would opt for a DCT box vs. manual as that just seems to be the way things are heading – despite it being an enthusiast car.

          Anyone have stats on how many E46 M3′s were sold with SMG vs manual gearbox?

          • Volan

            actually there are a lot of e46 m3 drivers that are with manuals, myself being one- judging by the track events, car clubs, and online forums, I would say that we are about half/half.

            Also, is the z4 transmission DCT or just steptronic? not clear to me

          • Shawn

            Volan,

            The Z4 has BMW’s dual clutch transmission (7 speed).

        • Shawn

          Agree to disagree? :) All in good fun I’ll respond to your points, I do enjoy a good debate once in a while! :)

          “I think DCT still wins on speed no matter your skil level”
          Yes, the DCT can shift faster than any human on earth, so if you’re a very talented driver, it may shave a few tenths per lap. However, a talented driver will still be faster in a manual than a green driver in any DCT on the market, I’ve seen it time and time again. As a side note, it really is all the more fulfilling to blue flag DCTs in your manual because you know that you’re under-advantaged and still faster. It’s the same gratification of passing a faster sports car relative to yours.

          On the inverse, the same rule applies: it is NO fun buying a used Renault R26 F1 car and blowing past everyone on the track, several times in one lap… it’s no fun being faster only because of your equipment. (some might argue this and it’s a matter of personality and preference, but in my world, money should not be what makes you a faster on the track).

          I think that in general, a lot of people misinterpret the “2 or 3″ tenths that a DCT may be faster. In the space of a single run from 0-60, yes, the shifting speed is significant because it’s in the space of a 5 second “race” but out on the track you are leveraging these shift times against a 1 minute + lap time, so the handful of tenths will pale in comparison to many, many other factors in your lap time (ultimately, driver talent). Many circuits do not require as many shift points and you’re only losing time on the upshift, not the down shift. As I mentioned, you can literally make up the difference with a stickier set of tires, if talented with a fully manual transmission.

          Further, the weight penalty against a DCT is relevant on the racetrack as it will partially erase the DCT’s advantage in shift times. On average, advanced DCTs are 40 -50 lb heavier than fully manual transmissions. Physics won’t lie, and this additional weight will slow you down on track when driving 10/10ths pace, cutting into the overall advantage of the DCT. It seems silly talking about the impact of 50lb on lap time outside of racing, but then, that’s kind of my point… it’s silly worrying about 2 or 3 tenths unless you’re a professional driver getting a pay check for your lap times.

          1 tenth is 1 tenth and in racing it’s huge, but if you’re only racing for fun, or open lapping then the challenge of mastery over a manual transmission is extremely satisfying and far more fun than driving a DCT (in my opinion anyway!). The additional interface between man and machine is memorable every time you leave the track, you really feel as though you’re more a part of the car.

          To your next point, “I think that the argument for driving feel has begun to go out the window(regarding the transmission) in favor of flattering the driver.”
          I fear you may be right, this is no doubt part of the trend towards semi-auto sports cars. Of course, the bottom line is that this shouldn’t be the case. So far, Porsche, Lotus and others have stayed the course, but even Ferrari has now offered their first production car with no manual available. Enzo must be rolling over in his grave. Particularly in sports cars, it IS all about driving feel, and I hope that educated consumers the world over can uphold the cause before we’re all driving in fully automated self steering computers with wheels.

          “As for production costs – my thought would be that the logistical costs/tooling costs of having to swap out manuals vs. DCT on an assembly line probably isn’t worth it – despite the cost of DCT typically being passed onto the consumer in other models like the M3 or 335is as a costly option.”
          Two things: as long as there is a large enough market segment purchasing the transmissions, then the cost of production is irrelevant (especially considering the relatively low cost of producing a manual vs DCT). Like I said, we better start reproducing a little faster or we will soon be extinct! :P
          Second, the fact that the cost is passed on the the consumer is a mark against DCTs (for drivers who are deliberating) and will only harm sales numbers in the end. After all, another $2000 for exactly the same car is not exactly a selling point. Of course, they are selling way more DCTs than manuals, so the business case is obvious.

          Having said all of this (Yikes! long post) I rather enjoyed my recent time in a DCT M3 and was amazed by the technical masterpiece that is BMW’s DCT. It’s a marvel of engineering and for that alone I’m impressed by it. But at the end of the day, I’ll pocket the $2000 and go shop for tires.. maybe a nice gift for the gf to convince her the time is right to go produce manual shifting offspring.. :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

            Let me reduce this to the second grade level (a level that I’m competent commenting at ;-): The DCT ends up being out in ‘D’ and left there more often than we’d like to think. I’ll stick with a stick, thank you. :-P

  • Clinton

    I was told the 5 in the badge signifies the approximate volume of the turbochargers – 500cc.

    • Shawn

      Clinton,

      Thanks for the insight, that could be! I’ll ask BMW in due time, I’d love to get confirmation on this question. Thanks for the post.

  • Giom

    I guess the conlusion says it all. Again, not a car for everyone.

    On one hand, maybe a good thing – it means it’s focused and market driven.

    On the other hand, limiting sales.

    But in the end, not a car to be ashamed of – as long as it reaches it’s intended buyer.

    On a side note: Please, enough of the BMW nomenclature bashing. It makes perfect sense to the people that matters. Would you rahter have had it read:

    Z4 Rearwheeldrive Threelitresix but with Two Turbos thats why we call it 35 and not 30 Sports version.

    No, I think their nomenclature is genius!

    • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

      Agreed about the marketplace and who it needs to reach.

      As far as indidcated – this is the M car based on the current Z4 – take it or leave it!

      • Shawn

        The additional feedback and mechanical connection to the car offered by a manual transmission is worth the few tenths of a second you may sacrifice per lap.

        A talented driver will still be faster in a manual than a green driver in any DCT (and it’s all the more enjoyable blue flagging them with their fancy “faster” transmission! :).

        Unless you’re on an F1 payroll – nobody cares if you’re 2 tenths faster per lap, and you shouldn’t really either. It’s about the driving experience. If you’re still sweating over those 2 or 3 tenths – find them elsewhere! Stickier tires alone will take care of it. This is the joy of driving, and from a purely tactile perspective, no semi-auto can compare the the bliss of driving a fully manual car.

        Of course, this is track talk – if you’re talking about driving on the street then the speed of a DCT is completely irrelevant and it’s all about driving enjoyment – adding further weight behind my point. Fuel economy? So close as not to matter, it’s mainly based on how you drive the car, regardless of transmission.

        Production costs are not relevant in this case, it’s about sales numbers more then production costs. How so? Because the manual is far, far cheaper to produce than the highly complex DCT.

        Folks like myself will demand a manual and refuse to buy anything else… as long we we still exist and make up a large enough market share, BMW will continue to produce manual gearboxes. (We better start breeding more effectively… !) jk

    • Shawn

      Giom,

      Wasn’t bashing the nomenclature, I rather like it too – just having some fun with this particularly lonnnnng name. I think if it did not include “sDrive” as part of the badge, it would look and sound much better. Just my 2c.

  • 1Mc

    What are the chances of the silver ears coming to other cars in the range. I quite like them – very fresh looking!

    • Shawn

      1Mc,

      As seen on the recent 335iS and Z4 sDrive 35iS, BMW has been using off-body color side mirrors, silver in this case, glossy black on the 335iS. I suspect this is something we may see on all future iS models. They do look great, unfortunately Audi might have something to say about it because I believe they were the first to do this in recent times on the S line cars (S4, S5).

      • Marty

        What? Z8 had chrome mirrors through ’03, not to mention the 507 roadster. Last M5 and M6 had mirrors that are 50% blacked out (top / bottom sections). BMW used black wing mirrors all through the 1980s. Audi did not invent non-body colour mirrors. I’m not sure why people get such an idea unless they’ve just earned a driver’s license in the past 2 years.

        • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

          Audi might not be the first but they are most known for it in the premium segment with the S/RS cars all having matte chrome mirrors.

          I wouldn’t consider the Z8′s styling points as indicative of the rest of the model line-up. With the Z8 being a one-off model it’s not something that followed BMW’s “styling rules” of the time.

        • Shawn

          Marty,

          As Andrew said, it’s not that its never been done before by anyone, or that BMW has never done it before (I’m fully aware they have), it’s the consistency in “Brand ownership” of the concept.

          As a BMW driver and enthusiast, I’m only being honest by admitting that in recent times, Audi has put their flag in the ground with silver mirrors on S cars.

        • Babken

          Marty I have to agree with these guys, when I see silver ears I think of it as an Audi design feature regardless of other manufacturers having done something similar in the past.

          The matte silver is very tasty and distinctive. I see it on Volvos now too..

          • 1Mc

            I have seen it on Volvos also – really like it. Hope BMW give it as an option in 2011+. I don’t care who done it first, it looks great!

  • jon H

    fantastic write up.

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  • G.B

    the 5 resembles “twin turbo” in my observation as in the 335i e92/93, this Z4 35i, and so on…
    any info or news regarding the new Z4M coupe and will BMW produce it???

  • http://tyskbilimport.se Köpa bil från tyskland

    Red and hot car, so smal but what a powerful car!

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