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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
2695 16950 GBP
  • BMW Z3 Z3 ROADSTER SPECIAL EDITION 1999

    £5,950 £5,950

    Fiji Green with Blue leather/Green piping and Blue power hood.;Only 70,000 mls with full service history.;This is a very rare Special edition Z3 in gorgeous Fiji Green.;Full specification includes:;Blue +Green leather with Green piping,Blue Mohair hood,Air conditioning,Electric Heated seats,17in alloys,M Sport s/wheel and gearknob,Electric windows/mirrors,Traction control.;If you want to stand out from the crowd then this is the one for you!;Sold with all books/manuals,toolkit,service history file,old MOT certificates,two keys and our own 3 month mechanical breakdown warranty.

    • Mileage: 70000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.895
    For sale
    £5,950 £5,950
    Adrian Blyth
    01428 608255 View contact number
  • BMW Z3

    £2,695 £2,695

    Air Conditioning, Half Leather, Power Steering, Traction Control, Electric Mirrors, Electric Windows, CD Player, Metallic Paintwork, Front Fog Lamps, 16'' Alloys, Full service history Full Up To Date Service History (12 Stamps In Book 7 Main Dealer BMW + Some Specialist) 12 Months New MOT - Hpi Clear 2 Remote Locking Keys. This Really Is A Stunning Car In Every Way. Must Be Seen + Driven To Fully Appreciate. This Car Is Also A Future Classic Being In Such Original Condition., Alarm, Alloy Wheels (15in), Electric Windows (Front), In Car Entertainment (Radio/CD). 2 seats, Red, ** GENUINE LOW MILEAGE ** It Has Just Been Fully Valeted + Is Ready To Drive Away Today. This Is Going To Make Someone An Excellent Car. ANY INSPECTION WELCOME. Please Call Us Today To Book Your Test Drive. You Won't Be Disapointed.

    • Mileage: 80000 mi
    • Engine size: 1895
    For sale
    £2,695 £2,695
  • BMW Z3 2.8i Roadster 1998

    £5,995 £5,995

    1998/S BMW Z3 2.8i Roadster;Manual;Petrol;76,000 Miles;Full Service History;;This car still looks incredible since the day it was first released! Our stunning Z3 is back in stock and ready for the Spring.;;This little gem is finished in Arctic Silver metallic bodywork with black soft top and comes draped in Black Oregon Leather with matching door panels and floor mats. ;;It comes very well appointed for a modern classic, for comfort you have heated seats with electric adjustment, air conditioning, an M-Sport multi-function steering wheel and a contrasting Chrome Line interior trim.;;Other unique features include a body coloured factory hard top with heated rear window, hard top stand and cover, Automatic Stability Control and the Z3 signature Z Star alloy wheels.;;The car is in exceptional condition and is very low mileage for its age.

    • Mileage: 76000 mi
    • Engine size: 2.793
    For sale
    £5,995 £5,995
  • BMW Z3 Z3 ROADSTER 1999

    £5,950 £5,950

    Cosmos Black metallic with Black leather and Black hood.;One Owner and only 45000 mls from new with full BMW main dealer service history( 9 service stamps).;Full specification includes:;M Sport s/wheel,Alloy wheels,BMW Business CD/Radio,Electric windows/mirrors,Remote alarm,Front fog lights,hood cover and triangle/first aid kit.;Exceptionally well maintained and in first class condition for its year!;An unmolested One owner Z3 sold with all original books/manuals,extensive history file,two keys,toolkit,HPI report and our own 3 month mechanical breakdown warranty.

    • Mileage: 45000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.895
    For sale
    £5,950 £5,950
  • BMW Z3 3.0i SPORT AUTO 2003

    £12,950 £12,950

    Titan Silver metallic with Blue Chameleon leather and Black power hood.;An original UK supplied car....not a Japanese import!;Only 35000 mls from new with a detailed service history file and all books/manuals.;Excellent specification includes:;Auto transmission,M Sport suspension,M Sport multi function s/wheel,17in multi-spoke alloys(all refurbished),Chrome line interior trim,Air conditioning,Traction control,Limited slip diff,Heated Sports seats,Headlight washers,On board computer,BMW Business CD/Radio with Hi-Fi speaker system,Electric windows/mirrors and Wind deflector.;A lovely example of these rare Z3 3.0 Roadsters and one of the very last produced.;Sold with all books/manuals,history file,two keys,HPI report,12m MOT and our own 3m mechanical breakdown warranty.

    • Mileage: 35000 mi
    • Engine size: 2.979
    For sale
    £12,950 £12,950
  • 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
    POA POA
  • BMW Z3

    £6,995 £6,995

    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
    £6,995 £6,995