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The BMW Z3 knew how to make an entrance. It claimed the gun-barrel-shaped spotlight along with Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond flick GoldenEye shortly before its introduction for model-year 1996. This celebrity-like intro, combined with the fact that the car was BMW's first modern mass-market roadster, gave the Z3 instant popularity. Neiman Marcus' 1995 Christmas catalog showcased the luscious sports car as the perfect Christmas gift, and it launched a sales stampede that resulted in sold-out Z3 numbers for BMW before the first model even hit showroom floors.
The Z3's romance with the public proved to be long-lasting. Although riding on an antiquated semi-trailing-arm rear suspension from the E30 3 Series, the BMW Z3 was nevertheless a stylish, fun roadster that re-energized the affordable sports car market. Initially offered with only a 1.9-liter 138-horsepower inline-4 engine, a 2.8-liter inline-6 making 190 hp became available in 1997. (They could be differentiated by wider rear fenders.) It was the straight-6 engine, with its flawlessly smooth power delivery and distinctive sound, that really made the Z3 come alive. Handling was impeccable. The Z3's ride was taut enough to satisfy enthusiasts, yet agreeable enough to make it a pleasant daily driver. And from a buying and owning perspective, the Z3 neatly straddled the line between entry-level roadsters like the Miata and more out-of-reach models like the 911.
Still, the BMW Z3 had its shortcomings. Some interior materials were subpar and its cabin could seem confining for larger occupants because of the big, non-telescoping steering wheel and oversize rearview mirror. Convertible models were also saddled with a chintzy plastic rear window that sullied the car's luxury image by clouding over time. Finally, the coupe's styling was highly polarizing.
But these imperfections are pretty minor. As a used sports car, its more reasonable prices place it within reach of those who may not have been able to afford its lofty pleasures had they attempted to purchase it years ago as a new vehicle. If you're in the market for a stunning used coupe or convertible that handles even better than it looks, you owe it to yourself to investigate this talented Bimmer.
Most Recent BMW Z3
As one of the first vehicles to roll out from BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant, the Z3 was built from 1996-2002. In its first year on the market, the Z3 came in just one flavor: a base-model convertible powered by a 1.9-liter inline-4 good for 138 hp. Standard features included an AM/FM/cassette player and cruise control. A five-speed manual transmission was also standard, but those seeking a somewhat less interactive driving experience could choose a four-speed automatic. Leather seats and traction control were available options. The following year is when the Z3 truly blossomed, thanks to the addition of another trim, the 2.8. As its name implies, this trim was powered by a 2.8-liter inline-6 – the same lauded 190-hp six-cylinder that powered 3 Series models of the era. The Z3 also got a luxury upgrade, with the addition of a CD changer and heated seats to its options list.
With the 1998 model, this BMW became more readily adaptable to inclement weather, thanks to the introduction of an optional power convertible top. In 1999, the Z3 coupe arrived. Equipped with the 2.8-liter engine only, its hatchback design added extra body stiffness and versatility, but its strange tail drew guffaws of disgust and befuddlement amongst those who felt it was smearing the beautiful Z3. That year, the 1.9-liter four-cylinder bowed out in favor of a new 170-hp inline-6. Despite the 2.5-liter displacement, the model was strangely called a Z3 2.3 for 1999 and 2000. A Harman Kardon stereo became available, and a hardtop roof joined the options list on convertible models. Safety was enhanced with the addition of side airbags to the standard features list of all Z3 sports cars.
Minor exterior and interior refreshes were in store for the BMW Z3 coupe and convertible in 2000, and stability control joined the standard features list. For 2001, the 2.8 trim in both the coupe and convertible became the 3.0i, with the introduction of a 3.0-liter engine good for 225 hp and 214 pound-feet of torque. The logically rechristened 2.5i saw a power increase of 14 horses. Also, the Z3's optional four-speed automatic transmission was replaced with a five-speed automatic with manual shifting capability. For 2002, its final year on the market, the BMW Z3 added a CD player to its standard features list.