Premium sporty/performance car; Built in USA
  • 2-door convertible
  • 2-door coupe
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,800 – $14,300*

1997 BMW Z3 2-door convertible

1997 BMW M 2-door convertible

1997 BMW Z3 2-door convertible

1996 BMW Z3 interior

1996 BMW Z3 2-door convertible

  • Acceleration (6-cylinder)
  • Steering/handling
  • Brake performance
  • Acceleration (4-cylinder/auto)
  • Noise
  • Passenger and cargo room

Eye-catching appearance and BMW’s reputation for handling prowess make the Z3 tempting. Still, based on performance or equipment, it’s difficult to justify paying so much more for a Z3 than a Mazda Miata. M-Series models, on the other hand, perform as promised and just might be worth the extra dollars.


Launched in spring of 1996, this was BMW’s first sports car in 40 years. Based on the 3-Series chassis, the racy-looking 2-seater Z3 was produced at BMW’s plant in South Carolina. Wheelbase was shorter than the 3-Series, which lent many drivetrain and other components to the roadster. Only a 4-cylinder engine was available initially. The 1.9-liter dual-cam 4-cylinder engine produced 138 horsepower. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard, with 4-speed automatic and traction control optional. Standard equipment included dual airbags, antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, a limited-slip differential, and 16-inch tires on alloy wheels. The manually operated convertible top had a plastic back window.

Yearly Updates

1997 Z3
Traction control became standard. Later in the season, a more potent Z3 with a 2.8-liter, 6-cylinder dual-cam engine joined the original 4-cylinder Z3 1.9.
1998 Z3
Rollover bars became standard this year, and more heavily bolstered sport seats joined the option list. Wood trim and the power top also were available as separate options.A high-performance M roadster joined its Z3 mates in spring of 1998, packing a 3.2-liter 6-cylinder engine borrowed from the M3 sedan and coupe.
1999 Z3
A hatchback coupe joined the 2-seat convertible and the 4- cylinder engine was replaced by a 2.5-liter inline six for ’99. The new hatchback came as the Z3 Coupe 2.8 and the M Coupe, powered by the 2.8- and 3.2-liter engines. Side airbags were now standard across the board and the 2.8-liter six gained four horsepower.
2000 Z3
Convertibles got revised tail styling and some new standard features, going on sale in spring 1999 as early 2000 models. Convertibles also gained an inner top liner and a new center console. All models got upgraded interior materials and a 3-spoke steering wheel.
2001 Z3
All models had more power for 2001. The Z3 2.5i convertible got a 184-hp 2.5 liter in place of a 170-hp 2.3. The 3.0i convertible and hatchback got a 225-hp 3.0 in place of a 193-hp 2.8. The high-performance M Series models’ 315-hp 3.2 liter replaced a 240-hp 3.2. Optional on 2.5i and 3.0i models was a 5-speed automatic in place of a 4-speed. All Zs got redesigned wheels for 2001, plus BMW’s Dynamic Brake Control. M models now included a low-tire-pressure warning system.
2002 Z3
An in-dash CD player was newly standard for 2002. BMW’s Z4 would replace Z3 for 2003.


longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

For its first season and a half, only a 4-cylinder engine was available, with a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The dual-overhead-cam four produced 138 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque. A Z3 2.8 with a dual-cam inline 6-cylinder engine arrived during 1997, rated at 189 horsepower and 203 pound-feet. During the 1998 model year, a high-performance M roadster arrived in limited numbers, carrying a 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that produced 240 horsepower. Only manual shift was available in the M roadster. The 4-cylinder was dropped in ’99 in favor of a 2.5-liter inline six. This engine made 170 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. For 2001, a 3.0-liter I6 was added, and both 2.5-liter and 3.2-liter I6s gained horsepower.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.9/116
Engine HP 138
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 133
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 170-184
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 175-181
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.8/170
Engine HP 193
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 206
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/182
Engine HP 225
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 214
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic
5-speed manual
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/192
Engine HP 240-315
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 225-251
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual



Road Test

Even though horsepower and torque are greater in a 4-cylinder Z3 than in Mazda’s Miata, the BMW roadster does not feel any swifter–partly because it carries more pounds. Automatic is slower yet. Because the Z3’s 4-cylinder engine does not develop much power below 3500 rpm, it cannot get an eager jump off the line when you push the gas pedal hard. Past 3500 rpm, acceleration becomes brisk. Performance is better with the 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine. It doesn’t set any records either, however. The 6-cylinder’s extra torque is most beneficial because it reduces the amount of shifting when driving in town. A test manual-transmission 2.5i did 0-60 mph in a brisk 7.0 sec and had ample midrange passing punch. The 3.0i/manual hatchback felt more muscular–BMW lists 0-60 at 5.9 sec–but didn’t present significantly more usable acceleration on the street than the 2.5i. M-Series roadsters and hatchbacks have exhilarating performance–almost reminiscent of a Corvette.

Refinement is where BMW has the edge over the Miata. BMW’s 4-cylinder engine is far smoother and quieter than Mazda’s. It gets noisy only when working hard. The 6-cylinder engine is quieter yet.

Wind noise is intrusive at highway speeds, making it hard for the two occupants to converse in normal tones. Because these are sports cars, noises from the engine, road, and wind increase markedly with speed. Firm suspensions allow little lean in turns, and the Z3 corners as if it’s on rails. For a car with such high cornering limits, the ride is supple–more comfortable than the Miata’s. Still, it gets jiggly on anything other than glass-smooth surfaces. All told, the Z3 lags behind Mercedes’ SLK in smothering bumps. Braking is straight and short. A “panic” stop from 60 mph took about 105 feet.

Space is adequate for medium-size adults, but large folks might feel cramped. Trunk space is meager by anything other than sports-car standards. The manual folding top is fairly easy to raise and lower, but the plastic back window is subject to easy wrinkling and scratches, especially if not cared for properly. Like most convertibles, the top’s rear quarters are wide enough to restrict visibility over the driver’s shoulders. Inside, you’ll find a no-frills, Teutonic design–not inappropriate for a sports car. Standard “leatherette” upholstery on the 1.9, however, with its odd pebble-grain pattern, looks rather cheap for a car of this caliber.


Model Tested: 2001 BMW Z3 2.5i

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 7
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 4
Steering/Handling - 7
Quietness - 2


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 3
Room/Comfort Rear - 0
Cargo Room - 1


Value - 2

Total: 37


2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
96.3 158.5 66.6 50.7
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
5.0 13.5 2
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.6 41.8
2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
96.3 158.5 68.5 51.4
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
9.0 13.5 2
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.6 41.8
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Z3 Roadster 2-door convertible


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 104
Injury 61
Theft 110

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: Loss of refrigerant could cause air conditioner to fail. Cause may be a rub between the A/C condenser rubs with the transmission cooler. (1999)
Vehicle noise
Description: The fuel tank may rattle when it is full because the mounting strap is loose. Additional foam pads must be installed. (1996-97)
Vehicle noise
Description: Incorrect installation or the wrong mount causes rattles from the rear shock mount. (1996)
Water leak
Description: Water may leak between the convertible top and door windows due to a poor fitting seal. (1996)
Water leak
Description: A leak may develop between the fabric top and the plastic seal that holds the rear window. (1996-99)
Description: The black tape on the windshield trim buckles and peels in hot weather. (1996-97)

Recall History

Description: Plastic bushing for cruise-control and throttle cables could break, causing throttle valve to remain partially open; car then might not decelerate as expected.
Description: Nut that secures positive cable to battery terminal clamp on some cars was not tightened properly, allowing cable to loosen over time; ultimately, engine could stop or lighting might be shut off.
Description: Ring-gear bolts in differential on some cars were incorrectly torqued and could loosen, leading to noise; if a bolt worked loose fully, rear-axle lockup could occur.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.