1996 BMW Z3 Review
A thoroughly modern classic that's made in America.
We did our test driving on a collection of Texas back roads that left us with a positive impression of the Z3's athleticism, which we expected, and an even more positive impression of its ride quality, which was a pleasant surprise.
With its firm suspension, quick steering and meaty 16-in. tires, the Z3 can change directions quicker than a politician and grips the road in high speed corners like a race car. The only surprise that emerged was just how high this car's absolute cornering limits are. There's more grip here than most of us will ever use, a nice reserve for emergency maneuvers and a big plus for hard braking.
Considering the Z3's basic sports car capabilities, its ride quality verges on amazing. Yes, it's firm, as you'd expect of a car with this kind of character from this particular company. But BMW has discovered that taut doesn't necessarily have to mean harsh. Although those Texas backroads were an endless collection of small lumps, bumps and pavement patches, the Z3 took the hard edge off what was going on underfoot, to the benefit of both comfort and control.
Thanks to the large tire contact patches and oversize front brake rotors, the Z3's braking performance also qualifies as outstanding. This car will stop as safely--and as quickly--as any car on the road today.
Engine performance is generally in step with the rest of the Z3's dynamic traits. Acceleration falls short of eyeball-flattening territory, but it's brisk, about 8 seconds or so to 60 mph, and midrange response is satisfying. Top speed is electronically limited to 116 mph. For those who want more, a more potent Z3, probably equipped with the 328's 190-hp 6-cyl. engine, is about a year down the road.
The final impression to emerge from our Texas barnstorming foray was one of overall quality. The Z3 conveys a stronger sense of solidity than the Miata, and we'll be surprised if it falls prey to the buzzes, squeaks and rattles that show up in a lot of other convertibles.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 1996 BMW Z3, click here: 1996 BMW Z3.