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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery:
2012 BMW Z4

Rumour has it that the naturally aspirated BMW straight-six engine is not long for this world, which in the BMW enthusiast’s universe could be tantamount to a travesty of biblical proportions.

But before we all don our black mourning duds, it is worth noting Bavarian Motor Works (or Bayerische Motoren Werke for you Deutsche fans out there) is still very much in the business of making good motors, even though they are mostly equipped with turbochargers these days.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW Z4 car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive 35is. Click image to enlarge

This came into focus for me after driving a 335-hp Z4 sDrive 35is ($77,900 base) through rural Bavaria for a few days and then having a 241-hp Z4 sDrive 28i ($54,300 base) in my possession on this side of the pond. Despite their ridiculously long alphanumeric handles, these two convertible hard-top roadsters, which lean more towards grand touring than out-and-out sports car antics, proved very pleasant devices indeed.

The Z4 35is stands as the only car in the BMW line still using the spectacular N54 twin-turbo 3.0L straight-six that we saw in last year’s 1M Coupe and the previous gen 335is. Making 335 hp and 332 lb-ft at 1500 rpm (369 lb-ft in overboost mode), this engine delivers the goods in a wonderfully smooth and linear rush that its replacement, the 300-hp/300 lb-ft single twin-scroll turbo N55 straight-six doesn’t quite match.

Although to put this into perspective, the N55 is probably the second-best turbocharged straight-six ever made.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW Z4 car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive 35is. Click image to enlarge

The Z4 35is only comes with BMW’s seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox that shifts quickly, seamlessly and responds instantly to paddle-shifter inputs. It rides on 18-inch wheels, and this European tester was shod with performance tires (225/40R front and 255/35R rear). A switch on the console toggles from Comfort to Sport to Sport+ and adjusts the adaptive suspension, throttle response, shift maps, and steering feel accordingly.

The Z4 has a decidedly retro feel. You sit way back, almost over the rear wheels, and that long hood stretches out in front. Like my Golden Retriever, the Z4 follows its nose. Steering is quick and direct, and the prow can feel a bit darty until you recalibrate your inputs.

While the Z4 can’t match the Porsche Boxster’s sublime balance and unflappable poise when pressing the limits, the BMW is still engaging, entertaining and has a disposition in the bends that requires your attention.

With the top down, there’s precious little luggage space, but the six’s robust soundtrack filling the cabin is quite something. This car is very quick and has serious mid-range punch. The zero to 100 km/h dash is done in 5.0 seconds.

The roads in rural Bavaria are heaven in a sports car—smooth, winding and every turn reveals a postcard vista. A run on the autobahn saw me up against the speed limiter at 250 km/h. Germany can be so civilized.




About Peter

Peter Bleakney is a Toronto-based automotive journalist. He is also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).