The new Z4 sDrive35is has as tongue-twisting a name as you’ll find in the U.S. auto market.
Those who speak BMW can decipher what it means, but all you really need to know is that it fully lives up to the automaker’s Ultimate Driving Machine slogan.
The top-dog version of the Z4 retractable-hardtop roadster is a pleasure to drive on the street or the track — just don’t expect that experience to come cheap.
There are a number of versions of the Z4, all with excessively complicated names. The base model starts at $46,000 and is called the sDrive30i, and the lineup is capped by the $61,050 sDrive35is, which is new for 2011.
The first generation of the Z4, which replaced the Z3 as a 2003 model, was more unusual than handsome, but the design hit its stride with a 2009 redesign that softened some of the prior model’s more controversial lines. The long hood and passenger compartment set nearly over the rear wheels remain, but a more traditional BMW front-end sets the tone for the entire car.
The top-of-the-line sDrive35is exterior is distinguished from other Z4s by its more aggressive front bumper styling, which calls to mind the high-performance M3, and a restyled rear bumper. Its standard 18-inch alloy wheels are an inch larger than the base ones you get on the other two trims, and there are also sDrive35is badges on the front quarter-panels.
Ride & Handling
You know the minute you get behind the wheel of the sDrive35is that it’s been designed to deliver responsive performance. Although there are numerous electronic gadgets, they don’t come between you and the car.
The position of the cockpit plays a part in this. As mentioned, the cabin is set near the rear wheels, and the driver looks over a long hood. The orientation enhances the sensation of rotation when carving through a corner; there’s no waiting for the rest of the car to make it through the turn because you’re practically sitting at the back of the roadster.
The sDrive35is’ natural rotation and overall balance make it a fun track car. With its technical corners and long, fast straightaways, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., is good at exposing the shortcomings of production cars in a track environment. The sDrive35is is one of the few production cars I’ve driven there that managed to hold its own. It continually urges the driver on — unlike some cars, whose response tells you it’s time to back off. The low-slung Z4 sDrive35is proved to be a cornering champ, exhibiting little body roll and plenty of grip. While its responses may not be as immediate and direct as a Porsche Cayman’s, they’re not far behind.
The penalty for this sublime handling is ride quality that can be quite rough on patched asphalt roads. BMW has often impressed me with its ability to combine great handling and good ride comfort, but in the sDrive35is, ride comfort has definitely taken a backseat — or in the case of this two-seat roadster, it’s been stuffed in the trunk. Sometimes an adaptive suspension can deliver the best of both worlds, but the feature doesn’t do enough here.