The Car Connection BMW Z3 Overview
Bayerische Motoren Werke, or, as we Americans know it, BMW, has a long history as a producer of fine sports cars. The BMW Z3 was an extension of that tradition, drawing on its own past to present a fun, stylish two-seater with almost universal appeal upon its launch in 1995 as a 1996 model-year vehicle.
Based on the E36 platform, with the rear suspension of the E30, the Z3 was built from the ground up with BMW's proven performance DNA. The Z3 was also one of the first models to be built in BMW's Greer, South Carolina plant, giving it an American story as well.
Under the hood of the Z3, a range of engines lived over the course of its run from 1995-2002, including four- and six-cylinder engines, all in-lines--naturally. In the U.S., the car was initally offered only with a 138-horsepower 1.9-liter four-cylinder, which left the Z3 feeling a bit pokey despite its fairly svelte 2,700-pound curb weight. A 2.8-liter in-line six-cylinder was made available the next year, raising output to 189 horsepower and boosting performance noticeably. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder was later added as the base specification, raising output to 170 horsepower, nearly a rival for the 2.8, which was uprated to 193 horsepower in 1999.
Also new for 1999 was the Z3 Coupe, a shooting brake-style two-door hatchback that wore its unusual proportions with an elan that produced polarizing feelings--some loved it, some couldn't stand it.
A higher-performance version of the Z3, the Z3 M, or M Roadster, was also offered, from 1999 until the end of the Z3's run in 2002. With an upgarded engine displacing 3.2-liters, Z3 M models from 1998-2000 used the same engine used in the E36 M3, which produced 240 horsepower in North American specification. The 2001-2002 Z3 M upgraded to the E46 M3's 3.2-liter engine, rated at 315 horsepower, significantly improving performance. Both coupe and roadster versions of the BMW Z3 M were produced.
If there was an area where the BMW Z3 range came up short, it was in the cabin, particularly at the start of the model's run, but persisting throughout its tenure. Materials, design, and equipment weren't up to the standards of BMW's other models. Despite its shortfalls in creature comforts and interior design, the BMW Z3 won many fans--and keeps them even today.
The Z3 was succeeded by the BMW Z4, a somewhat larger and more expensive vehicle but also a more luxurious and well-rounded sports car. For some, however, the allure of the Z3--particularly the Z3 M Coupe--remains impossible to resist.