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BMW Z3: Buying guide and review (1996-2002)

BMW Z3: Buying guide and review (1996-2002) Classic and Performance Car
BMW Z3 BMW Z3 BMW Z3 BMW M Coupe BMW M Coupe
Looking for a usable sportscar that won’t rust, break down and is fun to drive, with top notch parts availability? Then you’ll be needing a BMW Z3, offered with a range of robust and efficient four or six-cylinder powerplants, each equipped with a slick gearbox, beautifully weighted steering and anti-lock brakes which were just one part of a suite of safety features to keep things shiny side up. 
 
Better dynamically than its reputation would have you believe, the Z3’s rear suspension was criticised in period, but offers a surprisingly good amount of grip and consistency – just don’t expect to be cosseted. The front of the car was based around the E36 3 Series’ MacPherson strut set-up, giving a capable overall balance. 
 
The engines are the high spot though, especially the straight-sixes for which BMW is famous. Even the 2.0-litre lump is smooth and muscular, but go for one of the 3.0-litre units and you’ll always have ample power; the M Roadster is even more pokey, and as the ultimate Z3, it’s sure to become the most collectible variant of all. 
 
Styling was charmingly retro, with over-exaggerated bulges, curves and some familiar looking grilles in the front wings. 
 
Which one to buy? 
 
There are many different variants to choose from, making the Z3 an interesting choice. If you’re looking for performance, then we’d advise you stay away from the four-cylinder models. 
 
With a 140bhp 1.9-litre four-cylinder, the entry-level Z4 should have been entertaining. Sadly, the 1164kg kerb weight severely punishes the car’s performance. A four-pot Z3 will be an easier and cheaper car to buy and run, but it’s the big sixes that are more of a joy to drive. 
 
Following on from the 1.9 was an entry-level 1.8-litre, which is seriously underpowered at 116bhp, as well as a more appealing 2.2-litre straight-six. 
 
From launch, the 2.8-litre Z4 was actually quicker than the comparable Boxster, and provided a silky smooth engine note, great power delivery and outright performance the roadster really deserved. Later 2.8 and 3.0 models also got a better version of VANOS. 
 
For genuine performance, then you have the ultimate Z3 – the M Roadster. Being a genuine M-Sport model, it got a more sophisticated rear suspension system and an absolute belter of a 321bhp engine. These are rapidly appreciating classics though, and tracking down a good example is an expensive business (see prices section below). 
 
Sourcing the ‘breadvan’ M Coupe is another option for the drivers out there. It want on sale in 1998, and offered a considerably better driving experience, as well as quirky sporting estate styling. This interesting body style was only available in high-performance M-specification in the UK. 
 
One useful option for anyone wanting to use a Z3 Roadster throughout the winter months is the extremely rare aluminium hard top. It was an expensive when new, and it can be a pain to remove and store (as with most hard tops), but is certainly worth considering. 
 
Performance and specs
 
BMW M Roadster
Engine 3201cc, 6-cylinder DOHC
Power 321bhp @ 7400rpm
Torque 258lb ft @ 3250rpm
Top speed 155mph
0-60mph 5.4sec
Fuel consumption 23mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2446mm
Length 4050mm
Width 1740mm
Height 1293mm
Kerb weight 1360kg
 
Common Problems 
 
• Check the bodywork for corrosion. There shouldn’t be any if the car has been well cared for, but accident damage or neglect can lead to issues. Age is also starting to take its toll on some early cars, with rust most likely to bubble up around the boot lock and mirror bases. Bumpers are plastic, so check for minor knocks and scrapes – although repairs are relatively cheap and easy. 
 
• Under the skin there are some more potential areas for corrosion to take hold, such as the diff and rear subframe mounting points. These have also been known to crack if driven hard throughout its life. Check that the inner wings and boot floor are straight and true, as crumpling probably points towards a minor knock at some point. 
 
• Check with the owner that the car has had new seals around the doors and header rail at some point. If not, look for signs of perishing and a damp interior. It’s unusual for hoods to need replacing, but the plastic rear window can become translucent with age. Polishing it can generally bring it back however. 
 
• Although the six-pot engines are more interesting, the four-cylinder engines are very much the sensible and reliable choice. The most common problem is generally a failing oxygen sensor, which will throw up an engine warning light or fail an MoT emissions test. Also listen out for a noisy timing chain. 
 
• The non-M Six-cylinder engines have a few more issues to be aware of, such as the Nikasil cylinder liners. These caused issues in the 1990s due to high-sulphur fuel supplies, but the majority of engines were fixed under warranty. US cars were fitted with a cast-iron block engine, which doesn’t suffer the same problems. 
 
• Overheating can also be a problem, thanks to an under-specced plastic waterpump, so ensure there are no signs of headgasket failure. 
 
• A strong iron block engine was used in the M Roadster and M Coupe models. Some early engines suffered from big-end cap failure, writing off the engine in the process. This should have been rectified under warranty when new, but be sure to check. 
 
• Clever VANOS system, BMW’s version of variable valve timing, is a known weak spot point. If it is on the way out, you will be able to hear a grumbling sound during acceleration. The power delivery will also feel a little flat. It can be very expensive to replace, although some specialists know the system well and can repair certain parts for considerably less. 
 
• Dual-mass flywheel can and will eventually wear out. Genuine BMW parts are expensive, but aftermarket parts can bring down the cost significantly. 
 
• All cars come with a speed-sensitive PAS system, which is trouble free. Watch out for fluid leaks and torn gaiters. Track rod ends wear out regularly. 
 
• Fitting bigger alloy wheels is a very common modification, but can lead to poor ride quality, especially if the suspension has also been lowered. Sticking with a standard set-up is advisable, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. Look out for poor quality replica wheels, which are often of dangerous quality. 
 
• When checking through the documentation, check to see that the car comes with a spare key, and that it works. If you lose the key it’s an expensive job to reprogram the car to a new set of keys. 
 
Model history 
 
January 1997: The Z3 is launched with a 1.9-litre engine. 
December 1997: 2.8-litre six-cylinder Z3 is offered 
January 1998: The Z3M Roadster arrives, with a muscular M3 engine, wide bodywork and beefed-up suspension. 
September 1998: Tin-top Z3M Coupe, nicknamed ‘Breadvan’, goes on sale. 
April 1999: New 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines are introduced to replace the 1.9-litre unit. Some subtle styling changes are made, including new rear lamps, bumpers and wheel arches. 
June 2000: The 2.8-litre engine is upgraded to 3.0-litres. 
October 2000: Larger 2.2-litre is phased in to replace the 2.0. 
February 2001: Both the 2.2 and 3.0 models can now be bought with sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and upgraded seats. 
June 2001: A new 1.9 Sport Roadster is introduced, with a similar spec to the 2.2 and 3.0 model. 
 
Owners clubs, forums and websites
 
• www.zroadster.net
• zroadster.org
• www.z3mcoupe.com
• www.bmwcarclubgb.co.uk
• www.bimmerforums.com
• www.bmwownersclub.com
 
Summary and prices 
 
If you’re expecting Mazda MX-5 levels of engagement and driver satisfaction, then you might want to look elsewhere, but the BMW Z3 roadster is a classy and interesting weekend cruiser. The M Roadster and M Coupe are an absolute hoot to drive, but are expensive to run and buy. 
 
You will pick up the best normal 2.8 or 3.0-litre six-cylinder cars for around £5000, although there are many on the market for less than £3000. Four-cylinder cars offer the best value. The M-roadster is likely to set you back between £14,000-£18,000, like the M Coupe, but later 2001-2002 models with updated S54 engine are still closer to £30,000.
BMW Z3 BMW Z3 BMW Z3 BMW M Coupe BMW M Coupe
Last updated: 26th Jul 2016
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BMW Z3 cars for sale

9 Search results
BMW Z3
2995 6995 GBP
  • BMW Z3 Roadster 2.8

    £6,995 £6,995

    The Z3 is equipped with the same 2.8-litre straight-six as used in the E36 328i. Producing a healthy 189hp the car reaches sixty in just 6.5 seconds. Power is transferred to the rear wheels via a silken five-speed gearbox and Torsen limited-slip differential. The engine bay itself is wonderfully tidy, with a fresh appearance retained throughout. Having been well maintained from new the car remains in excellent fettle, performing faultlessly on test.

    • Year: 1997
    • Mileage: 43532 mi
    For sale
    4 Star Classics
    01483 274347 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • BMW Z3

    £2,995 £2,995

    P Reg - Boston Green with Full Leather Trim, This exceptionally clean condition Z3 comes with a very high specification which includes: Windbreak, Air Conditioning, Cruise Control, Electric Adjustable Seats, Heated Seats, Full Wood Interior Pack including Wooden Steering Wheel & Gear knob, 16'' Alloy Wheels, Front Fogs, Comes with an amazing Full Service History on the mileage (11 services) and a brand new MOT, really a stunning looking car, exceptionally low mileage and very high specification, drives superbly so any inspection welcome. HPI Clear, Part Exchange up or down welcome. **Debit/Credit Cards Accepted** **Open 7 Days a week** **POOR CREDIT NO PROBLEMS - Finance available (subject to status)**

    • Mileage: 76000 mi
    • Engine size: 1895
    For sale
  • 1997 BMW Z3 Roadster

    POA POA

    The Z3 was the first modern mass-market roadster produced by BMW as well as the first new BMW model to be assembled in the United States. It was introduced as a 1996 model year vehicle, shortly after being featured in the James Bond movie 'Goldeneye'. While the film was number one at the box office, sales of the car peaked and it was sold out by the time the car was launched. The Z3 was designed by Joji Nagashima of the BMW design team and developed from the E36 platform of the 3-Series. The resulting platform is often referred to as the E36/7(roadster) or E36/8(coupé). When launched, only the 1.9 litre straight four engine was offered, but its 138bhp was not up to expectations. A 2.2 litre engine producing 168bhp was made available for the more enthusiastic driver and in 1997 a powerful six cylinder 2.8 litre engine producing 190bhp was an option. This manual 1.9 litre roadster first registered in April 1997 is in lovely condition offered in black with contrasting black and cream leather interior. The history file has a number of old MoT test certificates and a new MoT test certificate will be issued for the sale. Having covered relatively few miles, equating to just 3,700 a year

    • Year: 2017
    For sale
  • BMW Z3

    £3,695 £3,695

    FULL SERVICE HISTORY, Full Leather, Anti-Theft System, Remote Central Locking, Electric Seats, Front Fog Lamps, Premium Cloth soft top, Colour Coded Body, Air Bag, ABS, Stability Control, Power Steering, Electric Mirrors, Electric Windows, Radio, 16'' Alloys, Full service history Surely a classic in the making this very tidy and well serviced BMW Z3 1.9 roadster convertible comes with a full service history comprising of 13 services and is in great condition inside & out and drives very well. Finished in silver metallic with red leather it has 16'' alloys, power steering, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking with alarm, front spots and BMW Audio. All cars are Hpi checked and come with warranty.

    • Mileage: 94000 mi
    • Engine size: 1895
    For sale
  • BMW Z3 2.8

    POA POA

    Absolutely genuine and unmolested Left hand drive. 2 private owners in total from new. Original paint all around. 6.500 genuine kms. Totally original and NO rust underneath. 2 keys and all the manuals are present. Worldwide shipping available.

    • Year: 2000
    • Mileage: 4500 mi
    For sale
  • 2001 BMW z3

    £4,395 £4,395

    This BMW Z3 is the desirable 2.2 6 cylinder engined model, providing spirited performance accompanied by that lovely straight six soundtrack. Finished in gleaming Titan Silver with black leather electrically adjustable seats and black carpets with overmats. Unmarked 16" alloy wheels with excellent tyres, good service history, quality BMW/ Harman Kardon sound system and a lovely smooth drive. What more could you want for the summer?

    • Year: 2001
    • Mileage: 73500 mi
    For sale
  • BMW Z3

    £5,995 £5,995

    Air Conditioning, Full Leather, Power Hood, Excellent Condition, Low Mileage, Electric Seats, ABS, 17'' Alloys, Part service history 1998 BMW Z3 2.8 AUTOMATIC Finished in Metallic Silver. Only 52,000 miles with service history and a new MOT . Excellent specification including full Red leather interior with electric seats , New Red Roof , Unmarked 17 '' Split rim Alloys , Power hood , Air conditioning , Electric windows and mirrors , Central locking , Airbags , ABS Brakes . This car is in superb condition throughout and drives fantastic !! 6 months warranty Part exchange welcome - All cards accepted 01372 278 539 - 07940 007 067

    • Mileage: 52000 mi
    • Engine size: 2793
    For sale
  • BMW Z3

    £2,995 £2,995

    Twin Air Bags, Air Conditioning, Full Leather, Central Locking, Air Bag, Heated Seats, Power Hood, Electric Windows, Electric Mirrors, CD Player, Radio, Alloy wheels, Service history Get ready for some summer with this Affordable luxury BMW Convertible, To be sold with NEW MOT, Three Year WARRANTY Available.

    • Mileage: 97700 mi
    • Engine size: 1895
    For sale
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