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BMW Z3 2.8

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BMW attempt to spread their wings into the sports car sector. OK, is it a tacit admission that the M3 coupe is not really a sports car, but a 3 series saloon in drag in the same way that a Capri was related to a Cortina?
Only trouble, is the 3 series is so highly regarded that the Z3 has barely troubled the sales chart
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This is slightly strange as ever since Mazda's re-invention of the sports car genre every new sports car has been jumped on with great glee by everyone. BMW owned Rover at the time of inception so many hoped this would be the Austin-Healey for the new millennium.

 

People seem to either love the Z3 or hate it. Me, being so contrary, cannot quite make my mind up. It's not quite stunningly classical looking, it's not quite lithe and pretty like an MX5 and it's not quite as steroid-infused and muscular as, say, a TVR. It attempts to tread a sort of middle line and, frankly, it does it quite well. 

I would guess that most people want it to go one way or the other and its relative conservativeness is what they rail against. Still, it would be churlish to describe it as ugly, as it certainly is not. From a distance it looks quite large and menacing, all taut, restrained, bulging curves like a bodybuilder straining in a tight jacket. Getting closer, it shrinks and shrinks (well, the back end does, at least). When up real close with its roof close to your hip, the size of it (or lack of it) becomes apparent. The bonnet now looks 100 miles long like an e-Type which is not really that bad but with the seats placed well back towards the rear axle and a short boot, it harks back to the sports cars of yesteryear. Is it a touch retro? Yes, I think it probably is. Put it next to an Elise and it becomes positively time warp material.

Still, the big alloys and fat rubber sitting under the arches suggest that it can back its looks up with matching performance. Bend to open the door and make a mental note of the lack of ground clearance, then squat down deep and contort your body into the seat. Sitting, as it feels like, on the ground, your legs disappear into the dark chasm beneath the wheel. A quick toe poke around assures you that three pedals are packed a little tightly down there. The dash is simple - a touch overly so for this pricey piece of motoring enthusiasm. Dark wood trims the consoles, it looks like quality and is perfectly executed but looks way to middle aged for this car.  Let's have something a little more entertaining please. Despite the perfection of its trimmings and leather and wood, the interior is a little disappointing. 

Do you remember as a little lad peering through a sports car window and being wowed by the rows of dials and switches? Do you still look fondly back on those cars and makes? I don't think that little boys will look back fondly on this in twenty years. It's just too boring, too normal, too bland. The headlamp switch caused some entertainment, doubling up as a rheostat for the dash and defeating my efforts to turn off the lights. The chrome dome also looks a little lonely all by itself and would look more at home on top of a can of spray paint. Ah well, Lotus sell a little box of nothing based on its driving entertainment value, so maybe BMW are doing the same and we should reserve judgement.

 

 


From the moment I attempted to squeeze into to cockpit and eased my passage with liberal use of the electric seat I could see this was no stripped out track day special. Technical advancements like traction control and ABS are fitted to help you keep the bodywork pristine, electric mirrors and windows match the seats and stop the experience of owning being too raw. The sound system pumps out enough to kill wind noise with the optional hard top on. Bit the car looks better in soft top guise

 

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
10000 16 Not Available N/A
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
6 Cylinder 24 Valve DOHC 194 2793 Yes
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
6 Double 4 None
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
135mph 7.1seconds 156
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
20.3mpg 38.7mpg 29.1mpg Unleaded

Ohhh, the BMW straight six with double vanos or whatever its called, 24 valves and DOHC of pure heaven. It might be long and tall but it sure is sweet. With a torque curve that must prescribe the straightest of lines from tickover to red line. Oh, and it sounds great too. Are there really any better volume production engines than this? I doubt it.

Close on 200bhp is blasted out of the under stressed 2.8 it can pump out much more. But this is just about more than enough for British Roads. It can get the wheels spinning beyond the traction control's limits and squawk the traction control through corners at will. But its top end is nothing compared to the turbine thrust which allows it to pick up from low revs, jump forward and howl around the long rev range. The only thing, apart from speed, that you sense is the exhaust noise growing ever more urgent and drilling into the back of your brain.  Vibration is not on the menu.

The power will drill you on to a conservative 135mph top end but will zap to 60mph in around 7 seconds, quick but not excessive.

The gearbox is BMW's usual slightly notchy mechanical device that really makes you feel an important part of the drive chain. Its throw is neither short nor long, heavy nor light just about user perfect for the enthusiastic driver. Though perhaps a little to much effort for commuting and other such tedious driving.

The pedals are nicely weighted and sprung. The throttle is long in travel to allow better control of the engine's output, the brakes solid and the ABS does not intrude without serious provoking.

The clutch is very controllable and needs to be as the engine has little flywheel effect and rev rise and fall very sharply, the car needs a few more revs than you would imagine of a small 2.8 engined device to get it off the line. Feels very sporty once on the move though.

Fast, hard changes from first to second when charging proved quite difficult to to get smooth, though the kick-up-the -backside response as second smacked home was so fantastic that you took to doing it on purpose just to feel the rush.

This is not the 1.8/1.9/2.0 litre job so berated by the press.  This has the full majesty of the BMW six and it's a wonderful beast.

 

Alloy Wheels
Alloy Wheels
Catalytic Converter
Catalytic Converter
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Halogen Head Lights
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Limited Slip Differential
Limited Slip Differential
Power Assisted Steering
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter
Rev Counter
Service Level Indicator
Service Level Indicator
Traction Control
Traction Control

The suspension set up that makes the M3 and its ilk King of the Road finds itself repeated in the little Z3 so it should all be sweetness and light. I was expecting a fairly teeth chattering ride but am delighted to report a perfectly comfortable one with ride quality well up to acceptable levels. But if you buy something like a Z3 for its silken ride then you are truly mad. Cornering, grip and steering is what it's all about which it does plenty well enough for most of us mere mortals.

On Autumn roads I was loath to push it too far but could still illicit a groan from the traction control pushing the Go pedal deeper whilst engaged mid corner. For the most part the big tyres hung on grimly to their task, the car held neutrally around corners both sweeping ones and tight-flick-of-the-wheel ones. Body roll seems well contained, though sitting low down enhances that feeling as well as exaggerating the speed.

 


Special mention must go to the steering, unlike many others the wheel slowly writhes in your hands with little well damped twitches feeding road surface information directly back to you. Its high geared rack allows minimal movement for a given cornering radius. At slow speed it's just about assisted enough to stay light, firming up to a quite robust level at speed..

I have to admit the car did feel a little front heavy, whether it's due to the big, long engine not allowing much adjustment space in the little body or just a feeling produced by the steering I don’t really know. That said, it is not tail endy either so no dodgy old BMW traits there. The tyres did not squeal with even with the traction control helping out so it's probably well within itself. The thought of turning off the traction control on slippery Autumn roads did not enter my head.

If you bear in mind the limited slip differential transferring power to both rear wheels and allow the traction system to control wheel spin, then you can achieve impressive take offs from a standing start every time.  If you think the power is a touch limited (you megalomaniac, you) then at least you know you can exploit it all with aplomb without excessive wheel spin spoiling your launches.

Come to think of it, the LSD could have been what made the front end feel a little heavy, maybe.

 

 

Antilock Braking System
Antilock Braking System
Central Locking
Central Locking
Deadlocks
Deadlocks
Engine Immobiliser
Engine Immobiliser
Front Twin Airbags
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap
Locking Fuel Cap
Side Impact Protection
Side Impact Protection
Visible Identification Number
Visible Identification Number
Remote central locking is great but not when the soft top's on. The alarm is much more important and this one is OK, thanks. Air bags will help out if the traction control and ABS can't. There are two roll hoops should it get worse and land on the roof (or lack of) which should keep your head on. It would look more racy with one chrome item rather than two black ones.

With the hard top on, security improves to that of a more normal tin top and you get a heated rear window, too, for the depths of winter.

 

Despite the small boot, the Z3 is fairly practical within the limitations of its size. Unique storage bins are fitted but are as tiny as the boot itself.
The hard top is great for Winter and quiet to boot. The soft top is elegant in design, stows easily and is simple and quick to put up should the heavens open. Inside, it accommodates two fairly flexible adults with ease but makes no pretence at any stupid rear seating.

 

It's well equipped enough for the daily grind and exciting enough for the weekend jaunts but, crucially, in twenty to thirty years time will it be the new big Healey.

Although frankly, no, I don’t think it will be despite its bruising pretentions as it has two things that will stop it being an all time classic. One - the looks do not quite cut it. It's not bad looking, just not great looking. Two, the smaller engined models have somewhat diminished its image, giving it a somewhat unwarranted hairdressers tag. This is a shame because, for what it is, it's a really nicely executed car.

If you can afford one and can ignore other people's bigotry, then you will end up with a neat, exciting little sportster that will light up your days as well as the traffic lights. Just don’t keep it forever unless you can stretch to an M version which, with its crushing, rather than just plain quick performance, will always attract attention.


Its all fairly roomy inside with plenty of leg and head room all round. The cut back dash gives a feeling of space to the front. Rear seat passengers are also fairly w

 

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