BF Review: 2011 BMW Z4 35is

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?

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  • Dylan

    Oh Gabe, if they made a fixed roof version you’d be up all night trying to decide between the new M1 and this baby. At least as it currently stands, your choice is an obvious one 😛

  • Michael Kull

    This is no substitute for a M car,and i would personally buy a z4m the minute the new model arrives.

  • If you have a chance listen to our latest podcast. In it we talk about the moment that both Michael (in his E90 M3) and myself in the Z4 35is gunned it from a dead stop onto a highway entrance ramp. The Z4 (I’m surprised to say) was pulling away up to around the legal limit. The M3 may have eventually got me but clearly the Z4’s powerplant was up to the task at hand.

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  • Ted

    I love this car and would not mind one over the 35i, but that rear bumper is a deal breaker. It really looks hideous, more like an afterthought. Based on that rear bumper alone, I wpuld have to get the 35i over this model. Yes,

    • Dtflchamps

      Knowing people that work for BMW and have their choice, your qualms about the bumper are far from universal.

    • Dtflchamps

      Knowing people that work for BMW and have their choice, your qualms about the bumper are far from universal.

  • Ted

    Yes, I would have to pass on the extra few ponies and go with the 35i. BMW has ruined the classic lines of this car by designing that rear bumper in what appears to be a very hasteful attempt. It looks like the rear of the car is in three parts. Very undesireable!

  • JonPD

    Still lacking that /M badge leaves the car feeling a bit short. No doubt a worthy car but between the lack of a fixed roof and no /M badge doesn’t really do much for me. I would take a four door E92 /M before this, even with my dislike of four door cars lol.

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  • Richard

    This site must be for children. Compare the Z4 35is rear bumper to the M6. Has anyone given any thought to what market BMW might be going after with this car. I hate to tell you guys/girls but the only time you are going to see the rear bumper is when you are washing the car.

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