Buyer's Guide 1996


Instead of an exotic Lotus or Aston Martin, the latest James Bond drives one of these, an inexpensive BMW roadster. Well, Bond's cars were actually more expensive than the $29,320 we have listed here, and that's because he got them specially prepared for his movie project before BMW began producing the cars at its new factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the only plant in the world that will build the roadsters.

However, the first batches of Z3s to be built in Spartanburg were shipped off to Europe last fall, and U.S. versions had been expected to begin production a few months later.

The new Z3 is what we call a "grownup Miata." It's a conventional front-engine, rear-drive two-seat convertible, but it's designed with cleverness and feels sophisticated to drive. It is not much bigger than the diminutive Miata, only three inches longer and 2.5 inches taller, and it only weighs 200 pounds more. The BMW's wheelbase is a longish 96.3 inches for this class, seven inches longer than that in a Miata or a Fiat Barchetta (a swoopy little front-drive roadster unavailable in the U.S.). It is 3.7 inches shorter than Alfa's wild-looking new Spider (also unavailable here). The extra wheelbase length gives the BMW more interior space for tall drivers than you'll find in a Miata, though we would still describe the cockpit of the Z3 as intimate.

The seats are higher from the ground than you'd expect, and that makes the car a bit more comfortable and easier to get into and out of. As in the Miata, there is no room behind the seats to store a briefcase, so commuters may feel left out. Trunk space is surprisingly large, a result of the Z3 using the compact rear suspension of the previous version of 3-series sedan. The Z3 is powered by the same 1.9-liter four-cylinder you'll find in the 318i sedan, and it makes 138 hp in the Z3. The car feels energetic, but not fast. We estimate that it will get to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, and BMW says it will reach 127 mph. The engine runs smoothly and revs freely, and the shifter and gears are perfectly matched to the power band of the engine. When driving the Z3 quickly, we found that there's just a hint of trailing-throttle oversteer, the much-publicized trait of older Porsche 911s, and this makes the car fun to toss around on little roads. Under power, the handling is neutral and the car plows a bit. A power soft top will be available next year, as will a removable hardtop. Larger engines, however, are only a rumor at this time.

navigation map
Copyright © 1995, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines Produced by