The photos here are of the Z4 35is at the Detroit Auto Show. Since the car I drove was in pre-production form we weren’t allowed to shoot any photos (except for the one we snuck in at the end of the article).
The Z4 35i I reviewed last year was about as perfect as a BMW has ever been. However, (and it’s a big however) there were a couple issues that were hard to ignore. The biggest was that the steering felt artificial at best and lacked the connection with the road you’d expect from a BMW. In fact after driving it I couldn’t remember any non SAV BMW product with less road feel. While the Z4 has been a huge hit and we rank it as one of the best BMW roadsters of all time, it seemed like a good car just one or two changes away from being great.
Enter the Z4 35is. In what has to be the most aggressive application of the “is” modifications to date, BMW has re-energized the Z4 as a car for enthusiasts. They started with re-mapping the steering and not only drastically improving the feel but also the weight. Driving the Z4 35is I couldn’t help but feel that this was as close to an ///M in feel as any BMW had been since the E46 ZHP.
BMW endowed the Z4 35is with the most factory power ever offered out of the N54 twin turbo inline six. The 335 hp and 369 of torque (with over-boost) is good enough for a claimed 0-60 time of 4.8. But to be honest it felt much quicker than that and decidedly faster than the 335is I had driven just minutes before.
Speaking of the 335is it was clear in back to back runs that BMW has given both cars obviously different characteristics. Where the 335is is raucous in it’s exhaust note, the Z4 35is sounds slightly more sophisticated under normal driving. Although when given a bit more right foot it rewards you with some of the same aural fireworks you’ll find in the 335is or an ///M car. My personal favorite is the vicious rap (I can’t think of a better word) that you hear under hard acceleration when downshifting.
Unlike the 335is the Z4 35is only offered with the 7 speed DCT transmission. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it feels perfectly mated with the engine in this application. However, the big downside is that the Z4′s steering wheel doesn’t accommodate the new “pull/pull” paddle design that we’ve see on the 335is, F10 5 Series and all M cars. It shouldn’t bother me but I have to admit I was a little heartbroken when I heard that news. The “push/pull” design on BMWs from the past few years has always struck me as severely compromised and something that doesn’t suit the enthusiast driver, though it makes sipping a latte and driving easier for those are inclined to do such a thing.
Shifting aside it’s hard not to like the Z4 35is. It is as close as BMW has gotten to an ///M car without the badge since the E46 ZHP. In fact I’d argue it may be closer. With the optional 19″ wheels it’s the best looking roadster (sorry Z8) BMW has ever made. It’s nothing less than jaw-dropping at every angle. If you’ve read our full review of the Z4 35i last year you’d know that the interior may even be better.
This car is the full package. However at over $61,000 it better be. Is it worth it? Would we recommend one over the M3 convertible? If you don’t want to shift for yourself and need nothing more than two seats, yes. It is that good.
Now imagine how incredible this car would be with a fixed roof and a manual transmission. A guy can dream right?