BMW Z3 M Roadster
BMW Z3 M Roadster. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

In Brit-pop Band Oasis’ 1994 tune, Supersonic, singer Liam Gallagher asked, “Can I ride with you in your ‘bee-emm-double-you’?” Were it not for the fact that the song was written two years too early, he could have been singing about the BMW Z3 roadster, introduced in 1996. Really, we suppose he could have been singing about any BMW, but a flashy rock star needs a flashy car to cruise in, right?

In the mid-1990s, BMW’s line-up – in typical German style for the time – was decidedly understated, with only the rarified 8-series (which would disappear after 1997) spicing things up with its low-slung lines. So when the Z3 appeared in 1996, it certainly helped to up the “stand-out” quotient of the company’s offerings, with softer-looking bodywork in place of the sharp edges and corners that featured strongly in other BMW designs of the day.

The Z3 was the first of what would become, in many enthusiast’s eyes, a sort of “holy trinity” of German two-seat roadsters, completed with the 1997 introductions of the Porsche Boxster and Mercedes-Benz SLK. In its first year, the Z3 used a 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine sourced from the 3-series. With just 138 horsepower, it’s a good thing BMW made its 190-hp, 2.8-litre six-cylinder available for 1997, as the Boxster and SLK were both introduced with 201- and 190-hp engines, respectively.

As with most BMW models, the Z3 employed a number of different engines during its lifetime. The four-cylinder was available until 1998; after that, a 2.5-litre six-cylinder (170-hp) replaced it as the entry-level engine. The 2.8-litre was introduced in 1997 and used until 2000; it was replaced in 2001 by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder making 225 horsepower. In 1999, a couple of “M” performance variants joined the line-up: the M roadster maintained the Z3’s soft-top and added more aggressive bodywork to go with the 240-hp, 3.2-litre six-cylinder it shared with the M3 coupe. The M Coupe was a hardtop version, with a nifty (or ugly, depending on who you ask) hatchback rear; fans of the M Coupe affectionately refer to it as the “clown shoe.” In 2001, the M models got a new engine, shared, again, with the M3. Despite an identical displacement, horsepower rose significantly to 315. In 2003, the controversially-styled Z4 arrived to replace the Z3.

With the

BMW Z3 M Coupe
BMW Z3 M Coupe. Click image to enlarge

exception of four-cylinder and M models, fuel consumption actually gets better the bigger the engine is. Natural Resources Canada’s ratings for the 2.5-litre model are 11.9 L/100 km city and 8 L/100 km highway; for 2.8-litre models, the numbers are 11.9 L/100 km city and 7.6 L/100 km highway; and for 3.0-litre versions, consumption is rated at 11.2 L/100 km city and 7.6 L/100 km highway. Four-cylinder versions are rated at 10.3 L/100 km city and 6.9 L/100 km highway, while M models are rated 12.1 L/100 km city and 8.1 L/100 km highway.

Things to look out for with the Z3 are mostly minor and mostly related to electrical components, which are typically prone to become problematic in aging German cars. While the Z3 is structurally a mish-mash of the E36 (1992-1999) and E30 (1983-1991) 3-series, its drivetrains and electrical systems are most similar to those of the E36, so expect trouble spots between it and the Z3 two to be similar.

The only major issue affecting the Z3 and M Coupe and Roadster is one that, again, is shared with the E36 3-series. There are documented cases of rear suspension mounts tearing away from the car’s rear suspension subframe (a structural piece attached to the body of the car, to which the rear suspension is, in turn, bolted). For more information as the issue relates to the Z3, check out these links, one to a thread at www.TheCarLounge.net, and another at www.BimmerForums.com. This link leads to another discussion on BimmerForums.com about the problem in the E36 3-series.

According to these discussions, incidences of subframe damage are rare, but they do happen, particularly in higher-powered versions of these cars, and/or those with modified suspensions. There are fixes, including aftermarket reinforcement kits, but it seems that a skilled body shop can craft a fix by reinforcing the existing welds.

There are also accounts of engine failures in the M Coupe and Roadster, with most failing before the cars hit 80,000 km.

Safety-wise, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash-tested the Z3. All Z3s offered ABS as standard equipment. Traction control first appeared as an option in 1997, and became standard in 1999. Side airbags were standard in all M Coupes, but no Z3 soft-top got them until the 2002 M Roadster.

The allure of a convertible manifests itself in the Z3’s Canadian Red Book values, at least regarding older models. A 1996 model is worth $14,050, more than the potent M3 from the same year. By 1999, though, the M3’s values catch up, coming in above the $17,600 and $19,875 that Z3 2.3 and 2.8 models, respectively, command. At the high-end of the Z3 range, a 2002 Z3 3.0i is worth $35,600, while the lesser 2.5i carries a value of $30,150. Of the M models, the Roadster is more expensive, with values ranging from $22,475 for a 1999 to $39,625 for a 2002, while M Coupe values start at $17,200 for a ’99 to $34,175 for a 2002. The 3.0-litre inline six is a gem, so a Z3 so equipped would be our first choice. The cheapest of these is a 2001 model, worth $29,475. If you’re willing to give up some power to save a significant amount of cash, try for a 1999 Z3 2.8, with a Canadian Red Book value of $19,875. While the older four-cylinder models are appealing due to their low prices, we’d recommend against one due to the engine’s modest power output.

Price-wise, a Mazda Miata is a better deal for a small roadster with four cylinders, plus its more predictable reliability offsets its lesser straight-line performance compared to a six-cylinder Z3. For comparison’s sake, a 2005 Miata GT is worth $28,575, and the short-lived turbocharged MazdaSpeed Miata is worth only about $100 more. Even allowing for some inflated real-world prices, a nearly new Miata could be found for less than a mid-range Z3 from 2002, that car’s last year of production.

Miatas are cool, but there’s something to be said for the experience of driving an open air BMW powered by one of the company’s wonderful six-cylinder engines. While reliability, as with many German cars, can be hit and miss, we think that’s a worthwhile trade-off for a car that offers so much driving fun.


Online resources

www.bimmerforums.com – this is one of the most comprehensive BMW enthusiast sites on the web. The forums here are a veritable encyclopedia of BMW knowledge with sections dedicated to the company’s many models, past and present. Membership is free.

www.dtmpower.net – DTMPower calls itself “the future of BMW tuning.” As such, it caters to BMW owners interested in modifying their cars. Like BimmerForums, this site’s discussion area is split up into sections for each BMW model, plus sections dedicated to other car-related talk. Membership is free.

www.hotbimmer.net – HotBimmer.net features a polished layout and gives more attention to general BMW news and updates than some other BMW sites. Despite a smaller member base, there’s still a lot of good information here. Membership is free.

www.mwerks.com – The membership statistics for Mwerks.com are deceiving, listing more than 200,000 members. This site is run by Vortex Media Group, which also manages VWVortex.com, a huge Volkswagen enthusiast community. Mwerks.com is actually one of the lesser-populated sites in the Vortex empire, but a free membership here also gets you access to The Car Lounge, a very active general automotive interest community that’s full of knowledgeable members.

http://bimmer.roadfly.com/bmw/forums/z3/ and http://bimmer.roadfly.com/bmw/forums/z3-coupe – these URLs take you to RoadFly.org’s Z3 and M Roadster, and M coupe discussion forums. The layout is simple, and the forums use an antiquated style of displaying member’s posts and threads, but there’s lots of information here. Membership is free.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997173; Units affected: 17,879

1996-1997: The cruise control and throttle cable are attached to the same throttle valve actuating lever at the throttle housing. It is possible that the plastic bushing on either cable could break causing the outer cable housing to separate from the bushing. Throttle pedal application without cruise control engagement could cause the outer tube to catch on the edge of the broken bushing resulting in the throttle valve remaining partially open. If this were to occur, the car might not decelerate as expected and a crash could occur. Correction: a spring clip will be installed on the outer tube of each cable to prevent dislodgment from the bushing.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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