Tested: 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive35i

Third time lucky

If an underwear model came up to you for the third time and offered to buy you a drink, would you refuse? I thought so. I have no idea what happened and even less interest in the consequences, but last week someone gave me a Z4 that I have tested before.

Twice, actually. Almost two years ago, I fell in love with a black 3-litre sDrive30i; shortly afterwards I lost my heart to an unbelievably beautiful 3-litre twin-turbo sDrive35i. So it seemed like third time lucky when I found myself in another twin-turbo Z4 last week.

Not wanting to be ungrateful or honest about this oversight, I made a quick getaway and vowed to give the car a decent review and elaborate on the Z4 range a little more. So if anyone at BMW is reading this, thanks for the third chance in one of my favourite cars.

That’s right, I adore the Z4. BMW’s little roadster is supposed to be beautiful, agile and fast; and it handles all these characteristics with absolute conviction. Sexy body, crisp handling, beefy straight six, an elongated bonnet and rear wheel drive is my idea of driving nirvana.

The Z4 is the natural and obvious successor of the Z3, a slightly more delicate machine which appeared in 1996. They also made the quirky Z1 prior to that and completely forgot about the Z2. Anyway. The modular and strange-looking Z4’s first generation debuted in 2002 with a folding soft top or fixed-top coupé roof.

2009 saw the introduction of the current range, its creased and flowing bodywork designed by a team of ladies. Gone are the coupé / hard top body, the Z4 is only available with a folding metal roof and some new turbo petrol engines.

Our local line-up consists of the sDrive20i, sDrive28i, sDrive35i and sDrive35iS. All models use some form of the Bavarians’ new turbo-petrol motors and some rather deceptive badge engineering. The correctly-named sDrive20i is a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot with 135kw (184hp) and 270Nm.

Next up is the sDrive28i which yanks 180kw (245hp) plus 350Nm out of the same engine, followed by the sDrive35i which uses a 3.0-litre turbo straight six to the effect of 225kw (306hp) and 400Nm. The range-topping sDrive35iS is given an extra dose of crazy to produce 25kW (36hp) and 50Nm more.

All these engines emit incredibly low CO2 figures and all stay under 10L per 100km when it comes to their claimed average fuel consumption. All models except the loony 35iS are available in 6-speed manual and every engine can be had with an automatic gearbox.

The six cylinder models get a seven-speed double-clutch auto’box while their lesser two siblings have the option of a conventional automatic; plus one more cog. All automatic transmissions are helped by two steering-mounted paddles that work both ways – press for down-shifts or pull for up-shifts on either side.

Adaptive M suspension with dynamic driving control is standard on the six-pot Beemers and a N$15,600 option for both fours. Although the ultra-low profile tyres (30 profile) on our sDrive35i made for a jarring ride at times, it is still tolerable for roadster and/or BMW fans.

These folks also won’t mind the tight but luxurious cabin, very hard but direct steering, gloriously trumpeting and popping exhausts, smallish fuel tank and boot, alarming urban consumption, twitchy rear end, or the extremely low driving/seating position which makes for less than graceful entries or exits.

Further plus-points of an sDrive35i are the unbelievable and addictive torque, incredible performance, clever iDrive system, supportive seats, not to mention the mechanical ballet of its convertible roof. The brakes are superb and I found the Z4 to have slightly more than abundant grip, without provocation.

The 35i has negligible turbo-lag and probably too much power; we measured 100km/h in 5.4 seconds and never tested its limited 250km/h top speed. Overtaking is hilarious and the roadster also offers three driving modes (Normal, Sport, Sport+) to suit your driving style and bravery.

Z4 prices start at N$496,500 for the sDrive20i or N$567,000 for an sDrive28i; add roughly N$20,000 for an automatic gearbox. A manual sDrive35i will set you back N$704,000, while its automatic equivalent is N$733,800. The insane sDrive35iS costs exactly N$778,000.

But wait… you guessed it, there’s more. As is customary for German manufacturers, BMW likes to tempt and confuse their customers even further with special models and equipment lines called “M Sport”, “Design Pure Balance”, “Design Pure Impulse” or a combination of the above.

I won’t go into any of these package details, purely because I don’t understand them and that’s what your smiling BMW salesperson is for. Included in the purchase price of each Z4 is a 5-year 100,000km Motorplan and BMW On Call roadside assistance.

Updated, November 2011


[September 2011, excluding CO2 emissions tax]

BMW Z4 sDrive20i 6-speed Manual                                                 N$496 500
BMW Z4 sDrive20i 8-speed Sports Automatic                               N$516 200
BMW Z4 sDrive28i 6-speed Manual                                                 N$567 000
BMW Z4 sDrive28i 8-speed Sports Automatic                               N$586 700
BMW Z4 sDrive35i 6-speed Manual                                                 N$704 000
BMW Z4 sDrive35i 7-speed Sports Double Clutch Automatic     N$733 800
BMW Z4 sDrive35is 7-speed Sports Double Clutch Automatic   N$778 000

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