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BMW Z3 (1997 - 2003)

SPARTANBURGER KING (some text hidden)

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introductionword count: 116

In Spartanburg, South Carolina, BMW has built a high-tech Bavarian outpost. In this sparkling factory built on the site of an old plantation, the Z3 range of cars is built. Whilst embodying all of the virtues that BMW has come to stand for, the Z3 also throws a simple, fun-loving American feel into the mix. There have been a bewildering array of variants, but the Z3 has proved a favourite in the used arena. With almost 20,000 roadsters sold per year in the UK, compared to 1300 in 1993, this is a burgeoning market sector and the Z3 is a major player. Find out here how to enjoy the Deep South without landing in deep trouble.

Modelsword count: 17

Models Covered: (2 dr roadster, 3dr coupe 1.9, 2.0, 2.2, 2.8, 3.0, 3.2 petrol [base, M-Roadster, M-Coupe])

Historyword count: 263

The BMW Z3 was launched in the UK in January 1997, the modestly powered 140bhp 1.9-litre model being the sole variant available. Reaction was generally favourable, although many considered it underpowered. BMW rectified this issue in April 1997 with the launch of the Z3 2.8, which used the same engine as the BMW 328i, generating a healthy 193bhp. This model ruled the roost until the very special M roadster variant was released in January 1998. Powered by the famous M-Technik straight six, in this form developing 321bhp, the M roadster delivered massive acceleration and a muscle car feel. The following September, a fully-enclosed but mechanically similar coupe model was unleashed. The M coupe served up even better handling and some quite outlandish styling to an astonished public. April 1999 saw the Z3 range benefit from a facelift. The wheel arches were recontoured and the bootlid, bumpers and rear lights were revised to try to alleviate the accusation that whereas the front end was very aggressive looking, the rear of the Z3 roadster was slightly apologetic. These changes weren't applied to the already testosterone-charged M models. At the same time as the facelift was announced, BMW effectively replaced the 140bhp Z3 1.9 with two different models, a detuned 118bhp 'budget' Z3 1.8 and a 150bhp Z3 2.0-litre model. The Z3 2.0 proved to be short-lived, being replaced in April 2000 by the 173bhp Z3 2.2. The Z3 2.8 was also pensioned off, superseded by the excellent 231bhp Z3 3.0. The Z3 range was finally replaced in 2004 by the vastly more modern Z4 series.

What You Getword count: 241

The Z3 is a relatively simple BMW. The trick Z-axle rear suspension used on the 3-series doesn't fit, neither does the 6-speed gearbox. Not that this spoils the enjoyment a great deal. What amazes is that within 23 months, a green field in Spartanburg, South Carolina had been transformed into a factory turning out Z3 models to Bavarian quality standards. In truth, the Z3 could afford to be nothing less. Its job is as an image-maker for cars like the 3 Series Compact, many of whose mechanicals it still shares. Incremental changes have been ongoing throughout the model's existence. For instance, the latest incarnation has been subtly tweaked again. Inside, the centre console has improved heating and electric window controls. There's also a new lining for the fabric roof which makes the car a lot quieter with the hood up. Otherwise, the Z3 recipe is well known - which means positive steering, a snappy five-speed manual gearbox and excellent roadholding, aided by BMW's ASC+T traction control system which is standard on late 1997 onward cars. There's no more space inside than before of course - but then practicalities aren't much of an issue when you're considering a roadster. This is, after all, hardly the most logical means of conveyance. Roadsters are evocative, nostalgic and emotional. But they're also cramped, noisy and short of any kind of serious carrying capacity, although the Z3 is far from the worst culprit in this instance.

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Scoring (subset of scores)

Category: Convertibles

Performance
70%
Handling
40%
Comfort
70%
Space
50%
Styling, Build, Value, Equipment, Depreciation, Handling, Insurance and Total scores are available with our full data feed.

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