Secondhand Saint: 1996-2002 BMW Z3, M

The Z3 from Goldeneye. Very cool car, despite not being the quickest thing in the world at the time.

Back in 1994, James Bond’s Goldeneye introduced the entire world to a brand-new way to drive a roadster.  The BMW Z3 had landed, and thanks to the movie placement, it was a hit right from the start.  BMW’s replacement for the offbeat little Z1 roadster hit the market in 1996, and enjoyed various improvements throughout its seven-year lifespan.

BMW Z3 in a crowd.

In 1996, BMW started putting the Z3 1.9 on sale in the United States with a 1.9L I4 (138HP).  A year later, the Z3 2.8 was gifted with the BMW M52B28 inline-six (193HP), and the four-cylinder (with a 0-60 time of around 10 seconds, not really an ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’) eventually got replaced in 1999 by the 2.3i, with the M52B25 engine out of the 323i (170HP).  BMW replaced the M52 engines with the new M54 powerplants in 2001 (2.5 and 3.0), right before the car got replaced by the Z4 in 2003.  The M-Roadster, meanwhile, hit the market in 1998 with the USA-spec E36 M3’s engine, the S52B32 with 240HP.  In 2001, the M Roadster recieved an upgrade to the E46 M3’s engine (S54B32), with 320HP on tap.

BMW M Coupe and Roadster. No matter what engine you get, prepare for some serious fun.

A coupe was also produced for a short period of time, from 1999-2002.  Both the M version and a standard one were offered, while the standard cars only had the largest engines available.  The distinctive “shooting-brake” styling has  received both thumbs-up and thumbs down from various sources, but I happen to like it a lot.  On all models, a manual transmission came standard, with an automatic optional on all but the Z3M.

BMW M Coupe. Some love it, some hate it. Consider me in the "love it" camp--it's like a hot hatchback that's been drinking steroids.

Prices are literally all over the place for the Z3.  The M Roadster is obviously the most expensive of the lineup, with the later models fetching over $20K for anything with the S54 engine installed–the S52-equipped Z3M is significantly cheaper, usually between 15 and 20K–I would probably go get one of these instead of a 3.0i, which can be had for about the same amount..  The base Z3s, however, are far easier to find and of course less money.  While a 3.0i looks great next to the similarly-priced S52 M, I’d go for the M any day.  The older M52 engine cars can be easily had for under 10 grand, and are a very good value at that price as well. Overall, as long as you avoid the underpowered 1.9, the Z3 makes for a very pretty and fun to drive little roadster.  Plus, if it’s light blue, you can be James Bond.

-Al

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