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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

12 Search results
BMW Z3
1995 24995 GBP
  • BMW Z3 BMW Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo

    £13,990 £13,990

    Type: Used Year: 2010 Make: BMW Model: Z3 Trim: BMW Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo Body: Coupe Trans: Manual Mileage: 9400 Engine Size: 1995 Ext Color: Red

    • Mileage: 9400 mi
    • Engine size: 1995
    For sale
    Steel City Sport & Prestige
    01142055814 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • BMW Z3

    £3,995 £3,995

    A Bond spec Z3 in immaculate condition. Our Z3 was first registered in December 1997 and imported from Japan in January 2005. It was SVA/IVA certified in December 2004 and has had 6 owners in total since new. It shows 113,500kms on the clock (70,500 miles). It is in Atlantic blue with tan interior just like the car in the James Bond movie, Goldeneye. All 4 wheels have recently been refurbished to perfection, the roof is in excellent shape and the rear window is new. It has Uniroyal tyres all round, the rears being new and the fronts having plenty of tread. The interior is unmarked and the exterior is equally good with no visible rust at all (a common issue with these cars) with no dings, dents or scratches. It has an MOT until 13 March 2018 and passed with no advisories. This car comes with factory air conditioning, a nice rare feature and it blows ice-cold after a recent re-gas. The car has recently had new oil and filter, air filter, HT leads, dampers, discs and pads front and back, v-belts and an alternator. She is now fighting fit and ready to enjoy! • New MOT • Lots of recent money spent • Immaculate inside and out • Rare air conditioning We are 30 seconds from junction 2a off the M26 and 5 minutes from junction 2 off the M20. Viewing strictly by appointment. Call us on ANYTIME 07711 645 465 to view. Part exchange considered. Credit and debit cards accepted.

    • Year: 1997
    • Mileage: 70500 mi
    • Engine size: 1.9
    For sale
    Wayne Lamport
  • BMW Z3 1997 87525 Manual Petrol Black

    £2,795 £2,795

    BMW Z3 Z3 ROADSTER finished in Black (Manual), 87,525 miles with black leather interior only 6 previous owners from new.,,Features include Passenger Airbag, 3 Month Warranty, Front Fog Lights, Sports Seats, CD Player, MOT, Electric Mirrors, Service Indicator, Alloy Wheels, Leather Interior, Drivers Electric Seat, Radio, Alarm, Immobiliser, Warranted Mileage, Driver Airbag, Power Assisted Steering, ABS, HPI Clear, V5 Reg Doc, Colour Coded.,,Only and pound;2,795,,All GO-Kars come with a minimum 3 months warranty* and MOT, for you extra peace of mind.;;* Allwarranties offered can be extended at a nominal cost.

    • Mileage: 87525 mi
    • Engine size: 1.895
    For sale
  • BMW Z3 1.9 ROADSTER 1999

    £1,995 £1,995

    FULL SERVICE HISTORY, LOVELY CAR;12 MONTHS MoT, Seats Electric (Driver/Passenger), Alarm, Electric Windows (Front), In Car Entertainment (Radio/Cassette). 8 YEARS WITH LAST OWNER, 2 seats, Silver ;PRIVATE NUMBER PLATE NOT INCLUDED.

    • Engine size: 1.895
    For sale
  • BMW Z3 M 3.2 321 BHP ROADSTER. LOW MILEAGE GOOD INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY . 1998

    £24,995 £24,995

    Premier GT is delighted to offer this exceptional 1998 BMW Z3 M 3.2 Roadster that has covered only 44,000 Miles and comes with the BMW Hardtop. ;;It is offered for sale in fantastic condition inside and out and comes with with an excellent service history consisting of a fully stamped service book as well as a detailed history file of old MOT's dating back to 2001 and a large stack of maintenance receipts. ;;It is a stunning example presented in Estoril Blue Metallic with a recently replaced Blue Mohair Roof. The Interior is finished in the very desirable Two-Tone Blue and Black Fine Nappa Full Leather Upholstery with the Chrome Line Interior Pack. ;;The vehicle has a wonderful specification which includes: ;;17" M Roadster Light Alloy Wheels;Air Conditioning;Drivers Information System;Two-Tone Leather Sports Seats;Electric Adjustable Seats;Limited Slip Differential;Chrome Line Interior Trim;Chrome Line Exterior Trim;Heated Front Seats;3 Spoke Leather Sports Steering Wheel;CD Multi Changer;Original BMW Stereo System;Electric Retractable Roof;Heated Rear Screen;M-Sport Metal Peddles;Remote Central Locking;Cup Holders;Electric Windows;Electric Door Mirrors;Fitted M-Sport Carpet Mats;;The vehicle has a great service history including its all important running in service at Fairfield BMW at 1,221 miles and was then serviced at 8,911 miles, 14,771 miles, 22,690 miles, 29,690 miles, 37,162 miles, 39,936 miles, 43,907 miles and lastly at 44,592 miles. ;;The vehicle is fully HPI clear, supplied with all the original remote fobs along with the owners manuals, leather wallet and a large detailed history file.

    • Mileage: 44000 mi
    • Engine size: 3.201
    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
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