1998 BMW Z3 Roadster (Convertible) (181)


This week I had the opportunity to revisit a man’s Miata, the BMW Z3. I drove the first year (1996) model and it looks pretty much the same. Not so surprising for cars that come to us from Europe. I’ve driven most of what BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) has to offer and I suspect I love BMW partly because they retain the same look and feel from year to year plus they are different from other cars on the road. Jag has that same quality. Cars like this stand out in our memories because they are faithfully recognizable. Like an old friend or your favorite slippers, sweats or dog spot sitting next to that couch potato you call your spouse. They are tried and true.

The changes since ’96 have been refinements mostly except the 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine that was sorely needed. The larger engine is accompanied by a 2.5-inch wider rear track and 3.4 inch wider body stance. The 1.9-liter engine just didn’t put it in the performance class it needed to be in, and thus the comparison with the Miata. Some of the other refinements for ’98 include roll bars, power soft top or removable hard top options and improved seats.

You know, life can be boring enough without settling for “cookie cutter cars” that all blend together and are all too abundant on America’s roads. Think about it. You simply can’t miss a Mercedes Benz, BMW or a Jag coming down the road. Unique and exciting cars like Acura’s NSX and the new Porsche Boxster renew my hope for sports car enthusiasts. I have to say I’ve warmed up to this Z3 since I contrasted the ’96 model to the Mazda Miata. American consumers obviously did too as they bought a whopping 29,000 of them, since 1996. They were manufactured in Spartanburg, South Carolina…say what? Yep, right here in America, and 70% of that facilities production was exported in the same period. Hold on here – does that mean wages are less here than in Europe. Moving right along, this time I found myself comparing the Z3 to the NSX and Boxster. This maturing Z3 is more than an upscale Miata. Handling characteristics of these three emerging competitors is unmistakably similar and I expect BMW will push even harder to be a player in this portion of their market. My opinion changed mostly because of the Boxster where the comparison was especially apparent on the demanding conditions of Angeles Crest Highway and Willow Springs racetrack. The Z3 stood proud at the end of the road.

Ilona wonders why I drive the way I do. I don’t know Ilona. Perhaps it’s because guys have different genes than women. They have that age-old need to perform. They have deeper voices, grow hair where they shouldn’t, grunt, spit and scratch in places gals only do in private. Perhaps I just love driving and I especially love driving BMW’s because they are great performers. They love to handle the curves as much as I do.


Distinctive styling, recognizable badge, classy, great performance, comfortable, lots of features and fun to drive.


Past history of high frequency of needed repairs and higher cost of parts than logic would dictate, high price tag for that badge and I just can’t warm up to the red instrumentation.

Standard Equipment

Most everything is standard and the same on both the 1.9-liter 4-cylinder and 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine. 5-speed manual trans, anti-lock braking system, dual airbags, 4-wheel power disc brakes, theft protection, central locking system, engine speed sensitive variable assist rack and pinion power steering, cruise control, foglights, air conditioning, anti-theft AM/FM stereo cassette radio, 4-way driver and 2-way passenger power seats, power windows and outside mirrors.

Gas Stats:

23/19 city and 32/26 highway mpg on the 1.9 and 2.8 liter engines, respectively.


MSRP for is $29,425 for the 1.9 and $35,900 for the 2.8 liter. What do you get for the extra six grand? 6-cylinder engine, 3.4 inch wider rear body, 4-way power passenger seat, leather, upgraded radio, ventilated front discs, limited slip differential and front spoiler with grid air intake. Let’s see, $6 K over 36 months…..


Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

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