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BMW Z4 sDrive 35is Specs Suspension Rebates Price Color Pictures Videos and Review

Monday, March 21, 2011

Has BMW ever built a sports car? Andrew English drives the latest top-model Z4 and examines the evidence.

BMW Z4 sDrive 35is review
Has BMW ever built a sports car? It’s certainly not for want of trying. Since the epochal pre-war 328, the Munich motor manufacturer has built some pretty hard-core saloons and coup├ęs, but every time they cut off the roof, those engineers get an attack of the vapours and fail miserably. The Z1 was a study in style over performance and the Z3 a retro ghastly. The Z8 came close, but their only true sports car is probably the 328.
BMW’s latest tilt at the windmill is this new version of the Z4, tailing clouds of “schportiness”. Has BMW finally done it? Is this a sports car?
Leaving behind the scary thought of just who pays £44,220 for a two-seater toy, albeit one with a muscular 3.0-litre in-line six and state-of-the-art, seven-speed, twin-clutch transmission, we can only gasp at the price of the options on this model. These include a £210 wind deflector, £320 voice control, £285 heated seats, £605 park-distance control, £2,185 navigation and multimedia pack, £120 high-beam assist, £195 folding door mirrors, £160 extended storage, £610 connectivity package and a £520 comfort access package.
There’s also that name, BMW Z4 sDrive 35is, which even BMW admits hardly trips off the tongue like MGB, MX-5, TR4 or E-type. The cabin is smart in an austere BMW mien. So everything fits beautifully, is elegant to the sight, pleasant to the touch and strangely bloodless as if it’s been designed by a computer given a set of “sportiness” parameters. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and there’s adequate storage space, though the boot is small and gets even smaller when the metal roof is folded down.
Other moans include the grey-on-grey instrument dials, which are virtually unreadable, especially the speedometer, which is something of a problem given the performance on offer.
Starting is a malarkey of safety locks and button pressing, but once under way the straight-six, twin-turbo engine reveals itself as a fine piece of engineering with an almost instant response to the call and an enormous well of pulling power virtually from idle.
There’s a lovely, old-fashioned roar from the mill, rising to a snarling exhaust sound at peak revs. Unfortunately, there’s also a booming sensation between 2,500rpm and 3,000rpm, which transcends sporty and becomes plain annoying.
The transmission is simple to use, direct and accurate, but again lacks passion. It also kicks down violently, sending the revs soaring, which is disconcerting and occasionally dangerous, when overtaking animals for example. The steering wheel paddles are completely counterintuitive and clunky.
On roads with potholes so deep you could see Satan’s bald patch, the ride was firm and supple, although even on the standard 18-inch tyres it crashes around, especially in Sport mode.
There’s also a worrying nervousness from the chassis, which refuses to settle even in a straight line and pitches diagonally across the car. And while the steering is direct and well weighted, the delayed yaw from the front end feels like the car is responding in slow motion to your real-time commands.
As for the rear end, it wanders around like the village idiot after a few pints. At one point I pulled into a garage to check the tyre pressures because it felt as though they were flat – they weren’t. The optional (naturally) 19-inch wheels improve the handling, but tramline along every road groove. Whatever the chassis setting or tyres, you have to guide this car into corners like a Sixties sports car, so the experience is authentic in that respect at least, if a little scary and antediluvian. I’ve driven better developed Triumph TR6s, which had more heart in their indicator stalks.
BMW decided to drop the old M prefix for this top model Z4. It didn’t explain why, but if you open this car up on the road, you’ll understand immediately. It simply isn’t good enough and no amount of tragically misjudged “Joy” adverts will change that fact. In fact, the Advertising Standards Authority has just adjudicated against those ads because they imply that the Z4 might be a bit more economical than it is. Sometimes I hold my head in my hands…
BMW marketing types seem to think it is merely adequate to point out how competitive the Z4 is in price and fuel economy against the Porsche Cayman S, but that’s a ludicrous comparison. That Porsche is one of the finest machines on sale today, with a handling and steering precision that surpasses its rivals.
Nice try BMW, but we are still waiting for a sports car.
BMW Z4 sDrive 35is
Price/on sale: £44,220/now
Engine/transmission: 2,979cc twin-turbo straight-six cylinder/seven-speed, twin-clutch transmission. Rear-wheel drive
Power/torque: 335bhp @ 5,900rpm/245lb ft @ 1,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.8sec
Fuel economy: 22.4mpg (Urban)
CO2 emissions: 210g/km
VED band: K (£550 first year)
On the stereo: Ain't That A Bitch, by Johnny "Guitar" Watson
Verdict: Great engine in search of a chassis. Overwhelmingly disappointing.
Telegraph rating: Two out of five
BMW 328 (1936), £250,000 with no history
Peter Szymanowski (coachwork) and Fritz Fiedler (engineering) got it so right that Bristol “borrowed” a 328 and technical drawings from a bombed BMW plant. The 2.0-litre, six-cylinder is efficient and this handsome car looks good and drives well. With 95mph and 0-62mph in 10 sec, just 464 were built between 1936 and 1940.
BMW 507 (1956), £300,000 with no history
Albrecht von Goertz got the looks absolutely right, but the 507 was engineered for the underbelly of the US market. Its 150bhp, 3.2-litre V8 was in a soft state of tune and this boulevardier had a top speed of 120mph with 0-62 in more than 11 sec. Launched in 1956, it was a sales disaster against Mercedes-Benz’s SL300 and BMW lost money on each one.
BMW Z1 (1989), about £19,000 for a good one
Z stood for zukunft (German for future). This innovative, plastic-bodied and steel-chassised roadster was developed by Ulrich Bez (now Aston Martin boss) at BMW Technik over three years and launched in 1989. Sleek styling and doors that dropped into the sills, but it weighed 1.3 tons and had the speed of a striking slug.
BMW Z3 (1996), about £5,000 for a good one
Joji Nagashima’s retro design seemed just the ticket when it was launched, but this sportster, based on the previous model 3-series, was cheap and unlovely to drive. The first new BMW model to be built in the US, the Z3 had an overhyped and ill-judged role in the Bond film GoldenEye. Eventually BMW improved it, but it’s still no sports car.
BMW Z8 (2000), £50,000 for a good one
Henrik Fisker’s finest hour, even if he did chainsaw parts of Sixties E-types and Austin-Healeys to achieve this derivative but attractive look. Has an aluminium body and chassis, plus the 4.9-litre V8 driveline from the M5. More muscle than sports car, it was great fun to drive and came closer than most to the holy grail.

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