The Detroit News's view

Get on the BMW Web site and the first thing you see is the German automaker’s new slogan: The eyes are the windows of the soul.

So what is revealed when you peer into the eyes of a person drooling over the 2001 BMW Z3 coupe 3.0i? If it’s Mr. Lienert, you’re likely to see a guy who fashions himself as hard and aggressive, constantly juggling his cell phone and Palm PDA, completely panicked if he doesn’t check his stocks on the hour. And is unfazed by the hatchback coupe’s $37,700 base price.

If it’s Mrs. Lienert, you’re likely to see somebody who still doesn’t understand the appeal of the BMW brand – and considers the Z3 coupe an impractical toy.

He: The week we drove that titanium silver metallic Z3 coupe with the red-and-black leather interior was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I love the throaty purr of the brand-new 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine. And it just doesn’t sound great – it’s got plenty of muscle. The coupe’s workmanship inside and out is exceptional. And the distinctive styling with the long hood and the hatchback rump is a personal favorite. It’s like nothing on the road – daring, even polarizing. You either love it or you hate it. I love it.

She: I don’t. In fact, I have two enduring memories of my time in the Z3 coupe. First, I’m in the grocery store and I bump into Liz Aiken. She’s one of the members of the Detroit News women’s panel. Remember, they recently helped us evaluate the new Chrysler minivans? Well, she said, `Is that your weird car out in the parking lot? It looks EXACTLY like the car that Bud Cort drove in the movie Harold and Maude.’ Wasn’t that the strange character who customized his car to make it look like a hearse? I’m really going to shell out the $40,045 our test car cost to project that kind of an image.

He: Trust me, the Z3 coupe projects the image of a man in control. I don’t know what Liz is talking about.

She: And then there’s my other experience in the BMW. I’m getting into the car and one of the little safety patrol boys who works on our corner comes over and tells me `that’s the coolest car I’ve ever seen.’ So, you and the sixth-graders really have a lot in common.

He: Well, that’s one mature sixth-grader – a lad with exceptional taste. I frankly don’t see how you can argue with the Z3 coupe. Inside and out, the car is worth every penny. Let’s start with safety – a very practical consideration. You get standard front and side air bags, traction and stability-control systems, and four-wheel antilock brakes. From a comfort-and-convenience standpoint, the Z3 is tops. You’re cocooned in this wonderful little environment, soothed with a nine-speaker Harman-Kardon premium sound system, power-adjustable seats, maple wood trim and all that leather. Our test car had some terrific options, including $500 heated seats and mirrors.

She: The Audi TT is still my favorite coupe. But I have to admit that the BMW was easier to drive than I expected. We tested the coupe with the standard five-speed manual transmission – you can also order a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. The new engine does get better fuel economy than the old one, at 21 miles in the city and 28 miles on the highway. But like all coupes, the Z3 is impractical. There’s not much storage, it’s tough getting in and out of and the ride is a little stiff.

He: No guy is going to worry about climbing in and out of the Z3. What this buyer cares about is performance. And I’m happy to report that BMW says this 2,943-pound beauty goes from zero-to-60 miles an hour in just 5.9 seconds. And the looks of the Z3 coupe were tweaked not long ago to include a bit more chrome, a larger liftgate handle and standard 17-inch wheels with performance tires. And if you’re comparing the Z3 to the Audi TT, take it from somebody over 6 feet tall – the BMW is snug, but it has surprisingly good head room. Better than a T in fact.

Anita’s rating: Acceptable

Paul’s rating: World class

Likes: Looks, smells and drives like a real sports car (Paul). Distinctive styling. Punchy new 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder. A sheer pleasure to drive (Paul). Extremely agile and responsive. Improved fuel economy. Good safety features.

Dislikes: Can’t relate to BMW brand (Anita). Pricey for impractical toy (Anita). Not much storage. Tough to climb in and out of. Ride is a little stiff.

Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger hatchback coupe.

Price: Base, $37,700; as tested; $40,045 (inc. $570 destination charge).

Engine: 3.0-liter inline 6; 225-hp at 5,900 rpm; 214 lb-ft torque at 3,500 rpm.

Fuel economy: 21 city/28 highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.): $1,070.

Where built: Spartanburg, S.C.

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