1997 BMW Z3

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1997 BMW Z3
Available in 2 styles:  Z3 2dr Roadster shown
Asking Price Range
$3,950–$12,170
Estimated MPG

19–23 city / 25.9–31 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 7

By 

KansasCity.com
BMW's Z3 was the first of the new German roadsters to hit the market, but its 1.9-liter, four-cylinder engine didn't quite have the zip for which BMW is known.

Now comes the Z3 2.8. BMW created an all-aluminum version of its worthy 2.8-liter, 189-horse six-cylinder from the 328i/528i and plopped it under the Z's long, curvaceous hood. The new engine only weighs 40 pounds more than the four-cylinder, and total vehicle weight is up by only 143 pounds. Performance is scintillating, and it hits 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Now the Z3 is more like the car it was intended to be: quick, fun and able to fend off any sand kicked in its face by the Porsche Boxster or Mercedes-Benz SLK. In a stoplight contest, this Miata-sized two-seater is likely to come out on top, although the Porsche is close.

The 1.9-liter four-cylinder starts at $29,425, while the six begins at $35,900. Is the extra power worth the money? That depends on who you are. If you like acceleration that makes your skin tingle with excitement and cornering like a go-kart, pick the six. If, on the other hand, crisp handling, high style and good gas mileage are more important than full-throttle blasts through the gears, the four will suit you quite well. It's a matter of which motivates you more, your wallet or your heart.

For those who feel that too much is never enough, an even hotter M roadster will be available next spring with the 240 horsepower engine of the M3. This road rocket has the potential to be a Corvette killer.

All Z3s have nearly identical styling, and even diehard Bimmerphiles will have a hard time telling one from the other unless they are parked side by side. The 2.8 gets a deeper front spoiler, wider fender flares, round-spoke alloy wheels and a leather interior accented with wood trim. The rear track is more than 2 inches wider, and front disc brakes are vented to reduce fade under hard use. BMW's traction control system not only keeps it firmly hooked up in bad weather, it works on dry pavement if you get too exuberant.

Either model is guaranteed to draw crowds wherever you go. People react to its shape with curiosity and appreciation largely, I think, because the long front end recalls roadsters of the 1930s. If there is any negative to its shape it is that the stubby back end looks disproportionately small.

With a 96.3-inch wheelbase, 16-inch wheels and firm suspension it is attracted to turns like a shop-a-holic is to a sidewalk sale: It just can't seem to get enough. You will find yourself taking crooked streets to work just so you can enjoy its responsiveness.

Over bumpy roads you can feel the body flexing, but it is not excessive.

The cockpit is essentially the same as the 1.9, but the leather seats and wood trim give it a decidedly upscale feel. While some may not like the dotted texture of the leather upholstery, I thought it was attractive. Our test car was equipped with the extended leather package that features leather on the steering wheel, door pulls, upper dash and center console.

As you would expect of a two-seater with an overall length of 158 inches (13 feet), there's not a lot of room inside, and the trunk is fairly tiny.

The dash uses gauges and instruments similar to those of the 3-series. The center console has a tiny storage bin and two cupholders that feel flimsy.

The manual top drops behind the seats after releasing two latches, and one person can easily put it back in place. The Porsche has a power top with a glass window and the Mercedes-Benz SLK has a retractable steel hard top. The top is not padded, which contributes to road noise on the highway.

All Z3s for Europe and America are built in BMW's U.S. plant in Spartanburg, S.C., which is running at capacity to meet demand. With an even hotter version on the horizon, the factory is likely to be running at full tilt for quite some time.

Competition in the $36,000 to $42,000 roadster/sports r segment continues to grow. The Z3 has to contend not only with the Boxster and SLK, but the Plymouth Prowler and Chevrolet Corvette. A Corvette convertible looms just over the horizon.

Who says sports cars are dead?

Price

The base price of our test car was $35,900. Its only option was extended leather upholstery, and that brought the sticker to $37,670.

Warranty

The basic warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles. Scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles is free.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: The six-cylinder Z3 is fast and fun to drive. The manual gearbox is delightfully precise and the agile handling makes you remember why sports cars are such fun.

Counterpoint: The cabin is small and even with the top up there is a fair amount of wind noise at highway speeds. Cowl shake over bumps is moderate.

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE: 2.8-liter, 6-cyl.

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed

WHEELBASE: 96.3 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,844 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $35,900

PRICE AS DRIVEN: $37,670

MPG RATING: 19 city, 27 hwy.




    Expert Reviews 2 of 7

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