BMW Z3 Roadster 1996-2002

BMW Z3 Roadster 1996-2002

Review by it
Monday, May 16, 2016


  • A true head-turner
  • Available both as a roadster and shooting brake coupe
  • Excellent comfort and driveability
  • Superb performance with larger engines


  • Leaking roof
  • The 4-cylinder engines are lifeless


The BMW Z3 is the Bavarian's second attempt at conquering the mass market of small roadsters. The first attempt that resulted in the 1989 Z1 was a good experiment from a designer's point of view, but the car failed to make a splash. The worldwide success for the Z3 is attributed to Golden Eye - the Bond movie that featured one of the nippy roadsters. Soon after, everybody wanted one. The car was especially popular in the USA, where it was decided to locate the manufacturing base of the roadster. It is based on a shortened wheel base of a BMW 3 Series (the E36 generation).

Exterior and Interior

It does look fishy, but not in a bad way. Simply the curvy downward-pointing front end with the ostentatious gills makes it look like a baby shark. Don't be fooled though - the Z3 is anything but a baby. Two years after the Roadster was featured in the Bond movie, an even more unconventional Coupe version was offered. It's a gentleman's car resembling the popular 60s shooting brakes. Although hunting is prohibited in many countries, the beautiful Z3 Coupe was nevertheless a popular bachelor's choice. It's a handsome car built to compete with Mazda MX5 and MG F but on its own terms. Yes, the BMW Z3 is much more expensive but it has so much more to offer. Unlike other small roadsters, the BMW's cabin is very comfortable. The seating position reminds of a proper sports car. It is very well equipped and built using only the best materials. Considering it was so big in the USA and it was actually assembled in California, there is something unmistakably American about this car (no, it's certainly not the size) but it's probably the furthest you can go from that authentic BMW look and feel. Although the seats can be adjusted, the car is not suitable for people with long legs.

Performance and Economy

Anything less than 2.8-litre V6 makes the car a good fun run-about. There's nothing wrong with driving a low-spec Z3 and many people, mainly because of the price constraints, chose to do so. If your goal is to get a car that looks good and doesn't break the bank, a smaller-engine Z3 might be a frugal choice, although, I don't know if 30mpg+ from a BMW that cannot reach 60mph in under 10 seconds could be considered a good choice. The 2.8-litre V6 can provide a comparable mileage, but is so much more fun. It ensures the 0-60mph acceleration takes less than 7 seconds. The limited edition M model achieves the same speed in around 5 seconds and its top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. Considering it's only a V6, the fuel consumption is better than with larger M type BMWs at around 25mpg.

Like to Drive

Depending on the engine displacement the fun factor is measured anywhere between moderate enjoyment and sheer excitement. The car is very responsive to steering and other controls, it handles perfectly and the low driving position makes you feel like a racing driver.

Faults and Repairs

The car will have gone through two levels of quality control, one at California and another one in Germany before it gets shipped to the customer. This has helped to ensure the main mechanical parts of the Z3 are top-quality. It's a pity they didn't check the soft roof for leaks though as sooner or later you'll have to fix the roof unless you've gone for the less popular (but not inferior in any way) Coupe modification. Both the Roadster and the Coupe can suffer from faulty hydraulic struts of the tailgate and a faulty handbrake.