Used BMW Z3 1997 - 2003 review

Category: Sports car

Buy the BMW Z3 for its looks and the badge on the bonnet, but not for its ability.

BMW Z3 (97 - 03)
  • BMW Z3 (97 - 03)
  • BMW Z3 (97 - 03)
Used BMW Z3 1997 - 2003 review
Star rating

What's the used BMW Z3 sports like?

The BMW Z3 is a handsome two-seat convertible 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 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.


Buy the BMW Z3 for its looks and the badge on the bonnet, but not for its ability.

  • The Z3 is a compact, good-looking two-seater
  • It doesn't handle as well as rivals such as the Mazda MX-5

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 interior, 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. Boot space is tight.

Ownership cost

What used BMW Z3 sports will I get for my budget?

How much does it cost to run a BMW Z3 sports?

A BMW 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 gearbox 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 reasonable, but the 2.8 and the high performance M model will be much pricier. 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.

Our recommendations

Which used BMW Z3 sports should I buy?

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 BMW 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.

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