BMW Z3 Review

The BMW Z3 is a two-seat sports car sold between 1995 and 2002.

£5,157
Average price
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1
Out of 5

Pros

  • Cool styling
  • Good to drive
  • Relatively comfortable

Cons

  • Underwhelming entry-level engines
  • Interior quality isn’t great
  • Small boot
  • MPG

    0 - 0

  • CO2

    0 - 0 g/km

Model review

Though the Z3 wasn’t BMW’s first ‘Z’ model, it was the first to sell in large numbers and joined the popular (at the time) affordable sports car market in 1995. 

It was the first BMW to be solely produced outside of Germany, with the Z3 being made at a plant in South Carolina, USA. It didn’t actually come to the UK until January 1997, though, and was introduced initially with a 1.9-litre petrol engine, though buyers considered the unit quite underpowered. 

BMW corrected this with the launch of a larger 2.8-litre petrol engine soon after, which ruled the roost for some time.

Latest model

But with BMW buyers craving an even more powerful Z3 model, an ‘M’ version was introduced in 1998, bringing the brand’s famous M-Technik straight-six petrol engine, and increasing the power to 321bhp. While up until now the Z3 has purely been sold as a roadster, a Z3M Coupe was announced in 1999, bringing additional versatility and a unique design. Its distinctive shape has seen it be referred to as a ‘clown shoe’. 

A facelift version also arrived in 1999, though the changes didn’t extend to the M model. This updated car got a tweaked rear end, including new lights, bumpers and a recontoured bootlid. The engine line-up was also rejigged, with the 1.9-litre engine being replaced, while the 2.8-litre engine was superseded by an excellent 3.0-litre engine. 

Production of the Z3 ended in June 2002, with it being replaced in 2004 by the Z4, which has remained in production ever since. 

Value for money

When new, there was quite a difference between the most attainable Z3s and the most expensive, with prices starting from as little as £18,835 and rising to £35,845 for a top Z3 M model. 

But today, the Z3 is a very appealing option for those wanting a low-cost sports car, with prices starting from as little as £1,500 for usable, high-mileage examples. But even low-mileage cars are available from around £3,000. These low-cost options will use the less desirable 1.9-litre engine, though. If you want the more powerful 2.8- or 3.0-litre model, you’ll pay noticeably more, with these available from around £5,000. The most desirable of the lot are the ‘M’ versions, and are quite expensive by comparison – starting from around £16,000 and rising to up to £50,000 for the most-coveted Coupe models. 

Looks and image

Even by modern standards, the Z3 still looks the part, and it nails the traditional ‘roadster’ style, with its long, extended bonnet and bulbous wings really making it look the part. The traditional kidney grille is present and correct too, while the car’s appearance in the James Bond film Goldeneye helped to enhance the appeal – though it’s no legendary Aston Martin DB5. 

Jump inside the Z3 and it doesn’t deliver in the ways you’d hope. The seating position can seem oddly high, while the steering wheel is a bit big for a car of such small dimensions. Though many models come with a leather interior, the quality is a bit poor in places, and falls short of the standards you expect from a BMW. 

It’s good fun behind the wheel, feeling light and involving and ideal for a summer’s day or weekend drive. The larger capacity engines are more appealing, but even the less powerful options are satisfactory if you’re not in too much of a hurry. It’s pretty comfortable too, while the fabric roof helps to keep the cabin relatively quiet, even at speed. The M models are noticeably more involving, not just because of the extra performance, and are fun and lively behind the wheel. 

Space and practicality

You’re unlikely to buy the Z3 for its practicality, but should you want to use it every day for two people, it should prove roomy enough. The cabin is relatively compact, though taller drivers should still be able to get comfortable, and though the boot is small, it should still prove ample for a couple of weekend away bags. With the roof up, there’s additional storage space behind the front seats too. 

Early examples just came with a single airbag for the driver, with 1999 cars gaining an airbag for the passenger. 

Engines

The Z3’s engine line-up is quite a confusing one, simply because of how often BMW chopped and changed it. 

The 1.9-litre unit is the most popular choice on the used market, with its modest 140bhp power output allowing for a 0-60mph time of 9.5 seconds. 

If you want extra poke, check out the 193bhp 2.8-litre option, which reduces the 0-60mph time down to 6.9 seconds. Right at the top of the range is the ‘M’ model, which uses a 321bhp 3.2-litre unit capable of taking the Z3 to 60mph in just 5.2 seconds – a stat that’s impressive, even by modern standards. 

Running costs

None of the Z3’s engines are particularly efficient, but it’s the 1.9-litre petrol that’s the most economical (returning 35mpg) and the M model that’s the least, with BMW claiming just 25mpg for this. 

High CO2 emissions mean it can cost up to £360 per year in car tax too, while insurance groups sit between 29 and 38. 

Things to look out for

BMW has a pretty solid reputation for reliability, but not surprisingly considering the Z3’s age, there are a few things to look out for. As with any convertible, check the electric roof folds as it should, and for any signs of tears or damage in the roof. They’re prone to rust around the bottom of the doors too, while you should also listen for any knocks and rattles from the engine or suspension, as this could point towards expensive issues. 

Rivals

Small roadster rivals for the BMW Z3 include the Honda S2000, Mazda MX-5 and Toyota MR2, while the Audi TT Roadster and Mercedes SLK are worth a look if you want something more upmarket. A more budget choice is the MG TF, too. 

Depreciation

As the BMW Z3 hasn’t been sold for 20 years, values have likely dropped as low as they will go, with well looked after and low-mileage examples already appreciating, and they’re only likely to continue doing so. Though ‘M’ models are by far the most expensive, they’re also the ones likely to rise the most in value. 

Trims explained

Only two main trim levels are offered on the BMW Z3, with equipment highlights and pricing as follows.

Z3 Roadster –

Standard equipment on the Z3 includes 15-inch alloy wheels, electric mirrors, an electric roof with tonneau cover and a leather steering wheel.

from £1,500 (used)

Z3 M –

Upgrade to the ‘M’ and it brings the far more powerful engine, various mechanical tweaks and also 17-inch alloy wheels and electric sports seats.

from £17,000 (used)

Summary

  1. Small convertible sold between 1997 and 2002 in the UK
  2. Coupe version offered purely in ‘M’ guise
  3. Broad range of engines available
  4. Good fun to drive
  5. Smart styling…
  6. Though the interior feels a bit cheap
  7. Prices start from as little as £1,500
  8. 1.9-litre engine can feel a bit underpowered
  9. Replaced by the Z4
  10. A credible choice for those wanting a fun convertible on a budget

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