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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For It's a compact, good-looking two-seater that loses value slowly

Against Handling is very mediocre - it's certainly not as good as rivals such as the Mazda MX-5

Verdict Buy it for looks and the BMW badge rather than its ability

Go for… 1.9

Avoid… 3.0

BMW Z3 Roadster
  • 1. The soft-top should last, but replacing one costs well into four figures
  • 2. Hard tops, if fitted, sometimes leak
  • 3. Rust is possible on earliest cars, so check the rear wheelarches and sills
  • 4. Driving quickly over speed bumps can damage the fuel tank, which is expensive to replace
  • 5. Watch for excess exhaust smoke on any test drive, which will signal there could be a problem with premature engine wear
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BMW Z3 Roadster full review with expert trade views

This is a handsome two-seat roadster that sells quickly, even at high prices. The upmarket image is everything you'd expect of a BMW, but the same can't be said of the drive: the BMW's suspension set-up is basically a 1980s design, so the Z3 feels stiff and slow-witted compared with a Mazda MX-5 - and a lot less fun.

However, the engines and gearboxes are as good as you'd expect. The most popular 1.9-litre engine found in most Z3s isn't sports car-quick, but it suits the car well enough. The 2.8- and 3.2-litre units are much more powerful, but they show up the limitations of the chassis only too obviously.

Like the suspension, the cabin, too, is showing its age, but at least it's well screwed together. It's well equipped, too, and its terrific seats are very comfy, although they're not great for long-legged drivers and boot space is tight.

Trade view

James Ruppert

1.9 Sport with leather stirs interest as does 2.2 - 3.0 harder to shift

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Go for a model with the 1.9-litre engine. It suits the car well and keeps insurance and other costs sensible. This model outsold its bigger-engined brothers, so it is also the cheapest and easiest to find.

Manual and automatic transmissions are available, and both are good. Alloy wheels, twin airbags, anti-lock brakes and remote locking come as standard, but air-con and a powered hood were options on all but the 2.8 and M models. Cars without them should be several hundred pounds cheaper.

Most first owners indulged in the long list of factory-fit options, so it's rare for two Z3s to have the same spec and it's worth shopping around to find exactly the combination you want.

Lastly, check whether the car you're looking at is a personal import from the Continent. It may not be to UK specification, so watch what you buy and only take one if it's cheap and otherwise in good nick.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Seldom breaks down but when it does the bills are big

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

A Z3 will be dearer to buy and own than a Mazda MX-5, but it shouldn't lose much of its value while you've got it.

As on all BMWs, the Z3's servicing intervals vary according to how and where you drive - an on-dash indicator tells you when work is due. BMW dealers offer discounts for regular work on cars over four years old, but if they're still too dear, use one of the many reputable independent BMW specialists.

Spares are also expensive, but the good news the car's engine and transmission are tough and last well. A new hood will cost a four-figure sum, although they rarely need replacing unless damaged.

Insurance for the 1.9-litre cars is group 14, but the 2.8 and M models fall in groups 18 and 19 respectively. The 1.9 promises up to 35mpg overall, which is reasonable, while the 2.8 can manage up to 30.1mpg and the M 25.4mpg.

Trade view

James Ruppert

1.9 Sport with leather stirs interest as does 2.2 - 3.0 harder to shift

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There are a few important areas to check on any car: driving hard over speed bumps can damage the fuel tank, which is expensive to replace; the soft-top will need renewing if it's torn or mildewed - replacing one costs well into four figures, although going to a hood specialist should save plenty compared to main-dealer prices; hard tops, if fitted, sometimes leak; and, damage to seats is also expensive to fix.

Some 1.9-litre engines fitted to 1990s car suffered premature engine wear. Most will have had their engines fixed or replaced, but watch for excess exhaust smoke on any test drive, which will signal if there's a problem.

The dash indicator showing when the next service is due can be reset easily, so ask to see bills for recent work, rather than trusting what you see.

Rust is also possible on earliest cars, so check the rear wheelarches and sills for bubbling.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Seldom breaks down but when it does the bills are big

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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