1997 BMW Z3 1.9
Used Car - 1997 BMW Z3 1.9 in Houston, Tx
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1997 BMW Z3 ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Classic style with muscle to match.
When BMW's gorgeous Z3 roadster rolled onto the world sports car stage last year, one small but persistent complaint tarnished its otherwise rave reviews. Dynamite styling, yes. Excellent ride and handling, check. Top quality--from a brand new factory in South Carolina--check. Power? Well...
Frankly, we were surprised at this grumbling. The basic Z3, with its four-cylinder engine, may not have been any faster than a Mazda Miata, but it was a delight to drive nonetheless and a runaway success in the showroom.
But if a perceived power shortage was the only thing that held you back during the Z3's inaugural season, wait no more. As expected, BMW has added a six-cylinder version to the lineup for 1997--the Z3 2.8--and, also as expected, it adds serious go-power to this car's long list of enticements.
From a competitive point of view, this development comes none too soon. Unlike last year, the Z3 faces some very direct and formidable new competitors in the Mercedes SLK--the 1997 North American Car of the Year--and the Porsche Boxster.
But with the addition of 51 horsepower, plus a longer list of standard features and a price that's lower than its Germanic rivals, we think the 2.8 version easily measures up to the challenge.
Although the Z3 is basically unchanged for 1997, the fatter tires and widened rear track that go with the 2.8 version lend an even more purposeful look to this car's classic good looks. And with the $1000 optional 17-inch wheel/tire package--P225/45ZR, P245/40ZR rear--the Z3 2.8 looks as brawny as a small scale Cobra.
That's serious rubber, prescribed to handle the extra thrust of the bigger engine, and it adds up to lots of grip and substantially higher cornering capabilities than the standard Z3, which is no slouch itself.
The essential difference between the basic Z3 1.9 and the 2.8, of course, lies under its long, sculpted hood. The engine is the same aluminum six used in the 328i coupe and sedan--twin overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. An inline six is still the best configuration for quelling primary vibrations--which is why BMW sticks with this design in an age of V6 engines--and the 2.8 is an outstanding representative of this time-honored tradition. It's ultra-smooth at all operating speeds, and it also generates gobs of torque--203 lb.-ft. at 3950 rpm, 70 lb.-ft. more than the 1.9-liter engine.
That's really more important than horsepower, because torque is the low-down grunt that most of us drive most of the time, whether we're making a stoplight launch or a fifth-gear pass on a two-lane highway. The Z3 2.8 is very good at the former--0-to-60 mph takes just over six seconds--and outstanding at the latter. Rowing up and down in the excellent Getrag five-speed transmission is part of the driving fun, but the engine's torque band is so broad that fifth gear can cover a wide range of urban and suburban driving.
The gear ratios for the 2.8 differ substantially from the 1.9, of course, to match its power characteristics. If you must, a four-speed automatic is available with either engine for $975. The automatic operates in three modes--normal, sport, which raises shift points for better acceleration, and winter, which starts the car off in second gear to enhance the traction control system (standard) in slippery going.
BMW did a good job of stuffing the 2.8's extra pair of cylinders under the hood without making a significant change in weight distribution, which is about 52/48 front/rear, a key element in the Z3's exceptional handling response. However, the six-cylinder version is a little wider, to accommodate its extra 2.5 inches of rear track. And as you'd expect, more engine means more mass--143 pounds, to be precise. There's also a fuel economy price. The 1.9 is rated 23/31 mpg city/hwy with the standard transmission, while the 2.8 is 19/27.
More mass and more go requires better stopping power, which the 2.8 supplies with disc brakes all around. They're the same generous diameter as the 1.9, but the 2.8's front rotors are vented for better fade resistance.
There's not much inside the Z3's simple but stylish cockpit to distinguish the 1.9 from the 2.8. We regard that as a good thing, because BMW got it right to begin with. Major controls are exactly where you'd expect them to be, something we reaffirmed with our curbside eyes-closed review, a test you can conduct in the showroom. Hop in, close your eyes and reach for something--the gearshift, for example. We'll bet your hand will make precise contact first time, every time, and that's not something we can say about all cars.
Obviously, the Z3 is a two-seater, and, just as obviously, two-seaters are snug by design, the kind of car you wear like a finely tailored garment. Even so, there's plenty of legroom and enough headroom under the beautifully crafted soft top for drivers well over six feet.
Fit and finish are superb, inside and out, 1.9 or 2.8, and the seats provide the kind of lateral support that's required for enthusiastic cornering as well as the kind of contours and padding that go with all-day comfort.
If there's any fault to be found it's the plastic rear window, which will inevitably become clouded and creased over time, and a diminutive trunk, the price of the Z3's classic sports car styling. It's only fair to note, though, that the rear window zips out for easy replacement, and the smallish trunk is a price we'd gladly pay for one of the best-looking sports cars going.
Speaking of price, the 2.8 starts a hefty $6475 north of the basic 1.9. Even with an above-average list of standard features, that might seem like a lot for two more cylinders, but the price includes leather-clad seats (an $1150 option in the 1.9), as well as heavier-duty rear suspension components and enhanced braking.
The soft top for both cars is manual, and is ultra-simple and ultra-easy. We were able to flip it open from the driver's seat with one hand, and buttoning up is just as simple.
For all its handling precision and quick response, the dynamic trait that impressed us most about the original Z3 was its ride quality. Like all of BMW's recent offerings, it managed to blend sports car reflexes with a supple ride that took the harshness out of small potholes and pavement patches.
Our Z3 2.8 tester exhibited this same quality, but with a slightly harder edge. The suspension components are tuned a click or so tighter, and the whole setup feels a bit firmer underfoot.
But if the 2.8 doesn't smooth out the road quite as well as its milder-mannered stablemate, it will perform feats on a skidpad, slalom course or winding road that the 1.9 can't match. It sticks better in hard turns, with a shade less body roll in quick transitions, and its brakes seem virtually immune to fade, no matter how hard or how often they're applied. The stopping power that went with the upgrade wheel/tire package on our test car was nothing short of raceworthy, even when we found ourselves approaching corners at an eye-widening pace.
There's no question that the 2.8-liter engine makes this a much more entertaining sports car. In addition to its extra punch, it even sounds more authoritative, thanks in part to its dual outlet exhaust system.
If you're not in a big hurry, we still think the basic Z3 1.9 provides a joyous sports car experience, enhanced by excellent quality and seductive good looks. But the new 2.8 version definitely nudges that experience into the realm of fast-forward, and, in our opinion, makes the Z3 one of the most desirable sports cars on the planet, regardless of price.
Having said that, we must add that the Z3 2.8, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster all provide different interpretations on the small two-seater theme, and each has its own set of virtues. With a base price of $36,470, including destination, the Z3 2.8 starts about $3500 lower than its rivals, but we still think that if you're shopping in this realm you should drive them all. Maybe twice.
Options As Tested
17-inch aluminum wheels, heated seats, trip computer.