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Keywords: BMW Z-3

Description: Read Motor Trend's BMW Z3 review. Find BMW Z3 pricing, specs, and photos.

BMW just couldn’t sit still and let Mazda have all the fun, so for 1996 it introduced the much-hyped (and James Bond-driven) Z3. Logically, BMW concluded this segment was intensely price-driven–the Miata is a consummate bang-for-the-buck player–so the Z3 used as many bits and pieces as it could from the 3 Series parts bin (including engines), all wrapped in a steel bodyshell more classically sporty than cuddly cute.

Heeding Miata critics who said that car was too small, BMW made the Z3 a half-size larger, with a wheelbase 7.1 inches greater, an additional 3.1 inches in overall length, and some 400 pounds more curb weight. As a result, the Z3 is the equivalent of relaxed-fit jeans–cozy but not confining–though don’t expect the Z3 to have a huge trunk.

First appearing with a 1.9-liter, 138-horsepower DOHC inline-four, the Z3 looked a lot faster than it was. However, BMW closed the performance gap by offering the excellent 2.8-liter, 189-horsepower DOHC inline-six for 1997 (power rose to 193 in 1999). Two years later, the four was gone, replaced by a 2.5-liter, 170-horse DOHC six as the base engine–then confusingly labeled the Z3 2.3.

The big news was the M Roadster, introduced in limited numbers for 1998, which borrowed the then-current M3‘s 240-horsepower engine and manual trans. (BMW also conjured a hatchback version of the Z, but that’s another story.)

For 2001, all Z3 models got a power boost. The Z3 2.5 got 14 more ponies, the 2.8 became the 3.0 with 225 horsepower, and the M Roadster grew to an arm-stretching 315 horsepower. Automatics–four-speeds up to the 3.0, which had five–were available all years, except in the M. A fine five-speed manual was standard. Bottom line: More power is better, so the M is the one to have, but the midline cars–2.8 or 3.0–are steamy enough for most drop-top devotees.

Maintenance worries seem far away, with no major recalls in evidence and a reassuringly quiet Technical Service Bulletin scene. Note, though, that the Z3’s plastic rear window will need frequent care and periodic replacement, and there are reports of leaky tops on the earlier cars. If a sprightly drop-top with more room than a Miata is on your summer menu, give the Z3 a taste.

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