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2012 BMW Z4 Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 BMW Z4 was new.


Performance: 8.3

Test drivers report that the 2012 BMW Z4 is powerful and handles like a pro. However, its agility in corners also means that the Z4’s ride isn’t as smooth as that of rivals like the Mercedes-Benz SLK. Drivers looking for some real speed should check out the Z4 sDrive35is trim. But if you want a convertible with even better handling, don’t overlook the Porsche Boxster.

The base Z4 gets a new, turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 2012, which replaces the 2011 Z4’s inline-six. Overall, reviewers agree that although it’s smaller, the new engine boosts fuel economy and gives the Z4 a slight performance edge.

  • "At 2.0 liters, there wouldn't seem to be much displacement to spool up the turbocharger quickly. But the twin-scroll turbo (the turbine is fed exhaust by two distinct pathways) builds boost with a whiny glee." -- Car and Driver 
  • "In fact, the 2012 BMW Z4 as a whole is easy to love. While not possessing the perfectly balanced nature of the Porsche Boxster or the peerless refinement of the new Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Z4 manages to strike a middle ground between the two." -- Edmunds 
  • "Actually, the Z4 seems to reclaim a measure of BMW's ultimate-driving qwon. The company's sedans seem to be getting heavier and less involving. The roadster (about 3,250 pounds), by contrast, is right there, like it's got Red Bull in the tank." -- The Wall Street Journal 
  • "With similar horsepower, more torque (!), lighter weight and better balance, this newest Z4 promises to recall any number of great drop-tops, some of which were built by BMW." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "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." -- Cars.com 

Acceleration and Power

For 2012, the base BMW Z4 has a new, smaller engine under its hood. BMW has replaced the 2011 Z4’s 3.0-liter I6 engine with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four in the base trim, which is known as the sDrive28i. The new engine produces 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm. While that’s 15 less horsepower than the Z4 it replaces, it’s also 40 extra pound-feet of torque. In general, reviewers say that it’s a great tradeoff, since the turbo four is quicker than the outgoing model. If you want more power, the Z4 sDrive35i has a turbocharged 3.0-liter I6 engine that generates 300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1,400 to 5,000 rpm.

Standard on both trims is a six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic transmission is available on the sDrive28i, while the sDrive35i has an optional seven-speed automated manual transmission. For even more power, consider the Z4 sDrive35is trim. It features the same turbocharged 3.0-liter I6 engine as the sDrive35i, but makes 335 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 332 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. The Z4 sDrive35is comes standard with the seven-speed automated manual transmission that’s optional for the Z4 sDrive35i.

Some reviewers say that it’s hard to justify the price of a six-cylinder Z4 since they aren’t that much quicker. Regardless of which Z4 you choose, test drivers love the available transmissions, saying that the automatic and automated manual are almost telepathic, staying in the right gear for any situation.

According to BMW, the base 2012 Z4 has a top speed of 130 mph. While the sDrive28i can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, the Z4 sDrive35i can do it in 5.1 seconds. The Z4 sDrive35is, however, does it in just 4.8 seconds.

The EPA reports that the 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i gets 24/33 and 23/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic and manual transmissions, respectively. By comparison, the sDrive35i gets 17/24 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic and 19/26 mpg with the manual. The more powerful Z4 sDrive35is gets 17/24 mpg city/highway.

  • "And this Z4 is seriously fast. With the eight-speed automatic flinging gears down the driveshaft faster than you can ask ‘what turbo lag?,’ the N20 squeezes out enough juice for a 5.6-second run to 60 mph, according to BMW." -- Automobile Magazine (Z4 sDrive28i)
  • "The engine is really good, with a wide torque band from about 1,250 rpm up to 5,000 rpm. On a drive up a twisting mountain road north of Ojai, Calif., we spent most of the time in third gear, using the wide power band to our advantage and amusement." -- AutoWeek (Z4 sDrive28i)
  • "The turbocharged six-cylinder engines found in the sDrive35i and sDrive35is models carry over. Despite their significant power advantage over the 28i, they deliver 0-60 times that are less than a second quicker." -- Edmunds 
  • "The 8-speed automatic gearbox was responsive to driver input, obediently kicking down a gear for passing or upshifting at redline." -- Road and Track (Z4 sDrive28i) 
  • "For those of you ‘classically trained,’ the loss of a naturally aspirated six (sDrive30i) will come as a disappointment. We'd skip the therapist and go straight to your BMW showroom, where a drive in the new Z4 sDrive28i will both enlighten and inspire." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "While I'd still like to have the choice of a traditional manual transmission - it's available only on the lower Z4 trim levels - this gearbox is so good you forget about stick shifts altogether." -- Cars.com (Z4 sDrive35is) 

Handling and Braking

Most test drivers are impressed by the Z4's purposeful handling dynamics. Some say that the new sDrive28i handles even better, thanks to better weight distribution than the six-cylinder models. However, a few auto writers note that great handling results in a ride that’s more firm than comfortable.

The Z4 sDrive35is improves on the Z4’s athleticism, but most reviewers note that it still lags behind the Porsche Boxster in terms of all-out sports performance. Nevertheless, drivers can opt for BMW’s M Sport Package, which, among other things, includes an adaptive M suspension, performance run-flat tires and a higher top speed.

  • "With the standard tires and suspension, Z4 has a firm ride. The suspension can't quite smother bumps, but there is enough compliance to avoid harshness." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "In Edmunds brake testing, the 28i came to a stop from 60 mph in an outstanding 103 feet. The other two models were essentially identical." -- Edmunds 
  • "Equipped with the M Sport Package which included Adaptive M Suspension, M Aerodynamic body package and 18-in. light alloy wheels and tires, the Z4 tracked the curvy mountains and coastline with confidence." -- Road and Track 
  • "It also helps dynamically that the smaller four-cylinder engine is situated entirely behind the front axle line, thus placing the car's heaviest component more centrally for more cornering agility." -- The Wall Street Journal 
  • "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." -- Cars.com

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