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The BMW Z3 Roadster 3.0i (2001)

SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide

By Larry Weitzman

James Bond would love this new Bimmer. It may be the ultimate Z3, first used by Bond in the movie Goldeneye. But that Z3 was a 1.9L four banger that could only muster 138 hp and would have been overrun by nearly every other sports car in its class, even a Miata.

BMW fixed that anemia problem by installing the super smooth 2.5L six in its place and voila, a real BMW with performance finally equal to its impressive handling. The 2.5, with only 170 horses could scoot to 60 in under seven seconds and had the flexibility and mid range punch that made it a pure pleasure in the twisties and the open road. The next model up was a 2.8L version with 193 hp, but the performance differential was so small, it hardly seemed worth the extra $3,000 or $4,000. But BMW has the right answer.

Enter the new Z3 3.0i. BMW created the 3.0 by simply stretching the stroke of the 2.8L engine .22 inches. In fact the 2.5L, 2.8L and the new 3.0L engine are all releated and use the same bore diameter. The differerences is in the stroke or the distance the pistion moves up and down in the cylinder. In the 2.5 engine the bore and stroke was 3.31X2.95, the 2.8 engine dimensions were 3.31X3.31 and the new 3.0 engine those numbers are 3.31X3.53. The relationship is clear and the installation easy. No modifications were required.

The transmission ratios remain exactly the same and more importantly the weight of the new 3.0L is exactly the same as the prior 2.8L at 2,910 pounds. Other dimensions also remain exactly the same with length, wheelbase, width and height being 159.4, 96.3, 68.5 and 50.9 inches. The body is curvaceously beautiful. The addition of a raised buldge over the rear fenders (added in 1999) enhances this gorgeous body. The smooth front end and hood create some of the best wheel well flares in the industry. The same treatment is given to the rear wheel wells which creates a coke bottle effect. The only ridge lines start to the sides of the twin kidney grilles and extend into the hood and continue to actually encircle the cockpit. It is a superb styling touch.

The newly enlarged engine still maintains 4 valve technology with variable valve timing. Horsepower is up from 193 to 225. The engine has to spin a little faster to get the extra ponies, but the inline six is so smooth, you will never know the difference except by the fact of new found flexibility and power. Torque is also up from 206 pounds to 214 pounds at the same 3,500 rpm.

In the 2.5 motor horsepower is also up from 170 to 184 but again at a higher rpm, 6,000 (versus 5,500 rpm), but torque is down to 175 pounds from 184 pounds at the same 3,500 rpm. But although the tranny and its ratios are the same, BMW increased the numerical ratio of the rear axle from 3.15 to 3.46, so performance should be improved, with 0-60 times dropping be a couple of tenths into the mid sixes.

In the new 3.0 the rear axle ratio was lowered from 3.15 to 3.07. The new power and torque could easily handle the drop which was done to improve the fuel economy, create a more relaxed vehicle at speed, extend the range of each gear and further quiet highway cruise.

Performance tests show that this new 3.0 is significantly quicker than the 2.8. In several runs from a standstill to 60 mph the BMW averaged 5.69 seconds, with one run at 5.31 seconds backed up with a 5.45. That's a half a second quicker than the 2.8. Using only third gear, the 3.0 could run from 50-70 mph in just 3.34 seconds and up a steep grade only slowed the 3.0 to 4.59 seconds. Using second and third gear would have cut these times by at least two tenths of a second. The new 3.0 performance levels are near identical (it's only a couple of ticks behind) to the M version which uses a 3.2L engine of 240 hp.

The tranny is a quick shifting 5 speed manual. A six speed would make highway cruising more relaxed, but the throws are short, precise and very quick. Cog swapping can be done in nanoseconds. There is a five speed automatic option for $1,275 with Steptronic. But this Z3 cries out for the manual. It's so easy to drive and it's oh so much fun.

But with more speed comes more fuel economy. The 2.8L was EPA rated at 19/26 mpg city/highway. The new 3.0 is rated at 21/28 mpg city/highway. That is nearly a 10 percent improvement. More horsepower, more performance and more economy. During the test cycle, the BMW averaged 23.5 mpg, but the tach needle seemed to be stuck between the big 5 and big 6. It may have had something to do with the fuel economy. Imagine a car that can run 0-60 in less than 6 seconds and pull down mileage in the mid twenties. Al Gore will try to pass a law against it. Fuel capacity is only 13.5 gallons which means even at 28 mpg range is limited to less than 400 miles.

Cars that go fast need to stop fast. The new 3.0L stops very fast. It posted the best stopping distances of any car I have tested. From 40 mph the Z3 came to rest in between 35-37 feet. It was like the Road Runner coming to a stop in a cartoon. Step on the brakes and boing ABS is standard and the four wheel ventilated discs are huge with the front rotors having a diameter of 300 mm (11.8 inches).

Suspension is state of the art four wheel independent. Up front are struts, with specially designed lower control arms, coil springs, twin tube gas pressure shocks and an antiroll bar. In the rear are semi-trailing arms, coils, twin tube gas pressure shocks and another antiroll bar. Steering is engine speed sensitive rack and pinion. This year the 3.0 gets the gorgeous two piece cast alloys that are the same size as last years M. They measure 7.5X17 inches in front and 8.5X17 inches in the rear. Super high performance Z rated tires are fitted, 225/45s in front and 245/40s in the rear.

The ride is firm but Ponderosa Road was a reasonable experience. The body was tight and most of the washboard was left on the road. In the two tight 90 degree corners, the Bimmer stayed planted like a giant sequoia at a speed. The body was tighter than a bank vault while keeping most of the lumps and bumps outisde.

Accurate steering, brilliant suspension design, huge tires and wheels and a near 50/50 weight distribution (51.1/48.9) contribute to impeccable road manners in the twisties. Roads like Green Valley, Cold Springs, Latrobe were no match for the Z3. Grip is tenacious and the vehicle attitude remains flat and composed at any speed. It could be hustled effortlessly through the curves at maximum legal speeds without reaching what felt like even half of the Bimmer's ability. The Z3 is made for top down motoring through the Mother Lode. Wind noise below 70 mph is not bothersome especially with the optional rear wind deflector.

Standard on the Z3 is switchable Dynamic Stability Control. It uses a computer to sense steering imputs, direction, wheel slippage, lateral acceleration and vehicle yaw. It then makes sure the vehicle goes where it is pointed by reducing power and applying brakes at the appropriate wheel to bring the car back in line. A light in the binnacle tells you it is functioning. As hard as I pushed the Z3, I never could get the system to operate. It didn't need it. Turning it off allows the ability to get the rear end out and use throttle steer which may be more fun. But the grip is so strong and the car so balanced, you would have to be a real klutz to make it work. But it is a reassuring safety device and could come in handy in the winter in El Dorado County when snow and ice can become a problem.

When doing the performance testing, the DSC was switched off, otherwise as soon as the rear wheels starting burning some rubber, the throttle was shut off by the computer. With the DSC off, it took some real judicious use of the throttle and clutch not to get too much wheel spin and get a good hook up, as this motor makes some serious power. Several runs were aborted because of laying too much rubber. With a good hook up, the 3.0 Z3 gets to what ever speed you desire in a New York heartbeat.

On the highway, the Bimmer does a nice job of quelling any tar strips or minor irregularities. The ride is very well controlled. The engine spins a 3,050 at 70 mph and that's where a six gear would be nice. It would be more relaxed at 2,500 rpm. With the power top up, it becomes a cacoon of sorts. There is some noise around the top seal, but it is lined which gives it a snug feeling. Operating the optional power top ($750) is by a switch in the rear of the console. It's very easy to use. The only negative is the plastic rear window.

Inside the Z3 leather is standard with a choice of Oregon leather or classic leather. The Oregon leather has the look of pigskin. The seats are true buckets intended to hold the driver and passenger in their places. The are shaped to fit my average size extremely well. The fit is snug,

The dash binnacle contains a large speedo and tach left and right with flanking fuel and temp gauges. The tach is redlined at about 6,400, but the rev limiter sometimes didn't interrupt the fun until much later as the engine pulled very strongly until the computer intervened. The speedo was also a wee bit optimistic. At 70 mph the speedo was reading 76-77 mph. You can feel a bit uneasy when the speedo reads 80 mph and you are getting run over by traffic. Get the speedo more accurate.

The vertical center stack came with a terrific sound system with a subwoofer located behind and between the seats and a single play CD is a $200 option. The easy to use manual rotary AC controls. The clock is analog and a nice touch. There were switches for two stage seat heaters (the greatest advance since the internal combustion engine) and the DSC. The feel of the materials make the cockpit very tasty.

The storage is at a minimum. The trunk is 5 cubic feet, maybe fitting a couple of sets of small golf bags. It will certainly handle enough luggage for several days in the wine country. The console has two cupholders with a small rectangular shape box for pens, notes and a stopwatch.

Pricing starts at $37,900 plus $570 for the trucker. Although a base car would make most anyone happy, there are a few choice options starting with the convenience of a power top ($750) the CD ($200), the sport package which includes sport seats and composite wheels ($600) and heated front seats ($500 and a must). The test car had optional Atlanta Blue metallic paint which is $475. But unless you like black, red or white, all the other colors are optional. The total was $40,995.

Niello has several new 2001 in stock even during their renovation. Driving one will create an insatiable desire to drive one every day. If you take a test drive, promise to give it back unless you write them an acceptable check.


Price                $37,900 to about $42,000

3.0L DOHC 24 valve
inline six           225 hp @ 6,000 rpm
                     214 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm

5 speed manual

5 speed electronically controlled
Steptronic automatic

longitudinally mounted front engine
rear wheel drive

Wheelbase             96.3   inches
Length                159.4 inches
Width                 68.5   inches
Height                50.9   inches
Weight                2,910/2,998 pounds manual/automatic   
Weight Distribution   51.1/48.9 percent
Track   f/r           55.6/58.8 inches
Wheels f/r            7.5X17, 8.5X17 inches
Tires    f/r          225/45, 245/40
Turning Circle        32.8   feet
Fuel Capacity         13.5   gallons   
Trunk Capacity        5.0     Cubic feet   
Coefficient of drag   0.42   

0-60              5.69 seconds
50-70             3.34 seconds
50-70 uphill      4.59 seconds
Top Speed         Way faster than any sane person wants to go
Fuel Economy      EPA rated 21/28 mpg city/highway.
                    Expect 23-25 mpg in El Dorado County
                    and 28-30 mpg on the highway