Quick Drive: 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i

By Seyth Miersma

August 15, 2012

Despite the fond memories you may have of BMW inline-six engines from years long past, or more recent impressions of speed gathered while in some vehicle powered by the company’s turbocharged 3.0-liter engines (of “35i” fame), this new 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder is a damn good powerplant.
In the all-new 328i we’ve found the motor to be spirited and compelling, and it doesn’t fare much worse in the larger 528i, either. So, headed into a recent update test drive with the Z4 sDrive28i, we had every hope that our love for the small displacement mill would continue. And, with pretty much just one exception, it did.
[Click here to read our comparison test between the Mazda MX-5 and the Mini Cooper S Roadster.]
At just under 3300 pounds, the Z4 doesn’t seem like a lightweight car, but for the purposes of the luxury roadster segment, it actually fares quite well on that front. The BMW is significantly less porky than Audi’s TTS Roadster or Mercedes-Benz’s SLK350, for instance. That’s important, as less mass means better response from the smaller engine, naturally, and we can comfortably say that this Z4 can easily hang with all of its direct competitors in terms of thrust and top-end power. Porsche’s much lighter Boxster has a significant leg up in terms of handling, it should be said. But the stiffer, mid-engined Porsche feels as though it belongs in a different (more sporting) class than the other three Germans, all of whom offer a plusher, more luxurious on-road experience.
BMW Z4 sDrive28i - interiorIn any event, the Z4 offers strong pull from low, middle, and high engine speeds, with no real evidence of turbo lag to speak of. Our test car came equipped with a six-speed manual shifter with which to modulate the engine’s power, and we thoroughly enjoyed the pairing. The easily accessible torque made it possible to stay in, for instance, third or fourth gear on our favorite back roads—concentrating fully on the finding the most entertaining way from Point A to Point B. Or, we could amp up the aggression levels, and use the slick shifter to keep the mill in the perfect spot for hard acceleration out of fast corners. Both manners of driving can be a lot of fun, and the Z4 makes each easy to accomplish.
Because the Z4 28i is quite a bit lighter than its 35i big brother, the suspension has to work a bit less hard in those twisty sections, too. Any downgrade of cornering drama between the two BMW models is due to the lighter nose of the four-cylinder car, and the better controlled front end that results. Steering quickness seemed to be positively changed for the 28i, too, with the car offering bite from the front tires just the instant we asked for it.
If there is a downside to this new Z4 package, at least in our week’s worth of driving, it would have to be our observed fuel economy numbers relative to our expectations. We used the Z4 exclusively in-town (so, sub 45-mile per hour driving, in the first three gears only) and in the suburbs, for the first three days and 60 miles that we had it. During that period, when speeds were low and revs rarely elevated beyond 4000 rpm, we returned around 15 miles per gallon according to the in-car economy computer. That’s disappointing, to say the least, considering the Z4 sDrive28i carries a EPA city rating of 22 mpg. With that said, when we took a few trips out to the countryside, even driving aggressively on the way out and back, we did see fuel economy increase. At the end of our test—with some 180 miles, a bit of highway driving, and some fast back-roads stuff under our belts—the computer gave us an average of around 18.5 mpg. That tells us that judicious driving on the freeway is probably likely to get close to the car’s 32 mpg rating in optimal conditions, but that throwing in much mixed use (especially the kind of high-pace hooning that one might buy a convertible like this for) will suck fuel at a much faster rate.
Frugal or gulping, we rate the Z4 as one hell of a good time, with a full tank of premium and a sunny day in which to cruise. The suitable power and improved ride and handling make this best-balanced Z4 in the BMW lineup, and a serious competitor in the luxury two-seater niche.
2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 240 hp/260 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.5 sec
Weight: 3263 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 22/32 mpg
Base Price: $48,650