The first thing to consider is the capacity – in spite of the comments of most journalists and other entertainers that the 1.9 is grossly underpowered, it is a very nice car. It must however be judged as a 1.9 litre 140 bhp car; it is fruitless to compare it to an M Roadster, for example. In terms of performance and fuel consumption the engine is streets ahead of the VW 1.8 16 valve equivalent, as was used in the Golf GTI or Corrado. In terms of performance it goes like most modern 140 bhp cars, and up to 100 mph will probably leave a lot of them, thanks to sensible gearing, as it has a non-overdrive fifth gear and fairly low final drive ratio. It also handles really well, and has good brakes. The same comments apply to its replacement, the 2 litre model.

The 2.2 litre model offers a very god package of performance and economy, and has the advantage that it is newer than the 2.8, which is now getting a bit long in the tooth in terms of a used buy. However, the important thang is to look at the condition, rather than the mileage.BMW Z3 M Roadster

If looking for a 2.8 or any six-cylinder model do not worry about the old BMW problem with Nicasil bores – these engines were never fitted to a Z3. Likewise, do not worry about the problem with premature wear of the VANOS unit – this problem applies only to the earlier M Roadster (with the S52 engine) usually costing about £2000 per 40,000 miles – or more frequently if you are unlucky!

Compared tothe 1.9 and 2.2 litre models, the 2.8 has more power, an incredible level of torque, surprisingly good fuel consumption, power hood, leather seats and door trim, and often other ‘essentials’ such as air conditioning, passenger air bag (yes- it was an extra!) roll-over bars, seventeen-inch wheels etc. All 2.8 models have 2.5 inches more rear track, the pre-2000 models having the wings ‘stretched’ outwards and downwards across the tyres.

The later 2.8 (built from Sept 98) has the double-VANOS engine – meaning automatic timing adjustment of both camshafts, whereas the earlier engines had VANOS on the inlet cam only. These can quickly be identified by the use of smaller tail pipes with circular trims – the later engine has larger slightly ‘squashed’ tailpipes.

The 2.8 will be just out-accelerated by the 2.5 litre Boxster of the period, when run to peak revs, but will easily leave the Porsche when accelerating in any given gear. For example, even Autocar (notorious Porsche lovers!) found that when using fifth gear the 2.8 would go from 20-40 mph in 8.8 seconds, relative to the Boxster (12.2) with a similar edge up to 80-100 mph in 9.9 seconds (Boxster 13.4). The later 3 litre Z3 is even better, and can be surprisingly economic.

Handling is good, but is compromised for grip rather than comfort, as a penalty for using the old semi-trailing arm rear suspension from the E30 M3. It works well, however, and suits the car. The general handling characteristic is slight understeer, changing to neutrality as power is applied – the ordinary Z3 is not a tail-happy car, which is why journalists hate it! They love to show how – being real men(?) – they can control a tail slide. In the real world it is better to have a car with bags of grip, which simply goes where the driver points it, does not argue, and gives lots of warning to lift off before gently breaking away. You could happily send your wife or daughter etc off on a long run on a wet day, knowing that the car will be with them all the way.

Reversing is an acquired skill, as with the roll-over bars and mesh wind deflector rear three-quarter vision is not as good as one would expect in a small sports car, but the rear window is a decent size. Generally speaking, rear vision (roof up) is better than the Audi TT in convertible form.

BMW Z3 Mora Individual Practicality is also fine – we have regularly gone for a two-month European tour every summer, mostly camping, and found that we could fit everything (tent, table, chairs, stove, laptop, DVD movies etc) into the car – but we are experts!

The driving position is fine for me – about six feet high – and the seats are OK for up to 200 miles at a time. We have done 500/600 mile days, and could still walk afterwards, so the ergonomics cannot be that bad.

In terms of running costs, my 2.8 double VANOS model is the cheapest car I have ever owned, the only replacements in 85,000 miles being a clutch switch (under guarantee) a thermostat (£50) and a viscous fan coupling (£70) and a screenwasher pump, which I replaced myself. I used to get around 30-32 mpg, with up to 38 on holiday – usually 32 to 36. Since having the engine remapped by Superchips both mid-range torque and fuel consumption have improved markedly, with up to 30% better mpg at 55/65 mph. (Chipped UK seems to be the current favoured company for remapping, being effective and cheap)

Expect dampers to last for at least 80,000 miles (my choice of replacements were Bilstein Sprintline dampers with Eibach front springs and the standard rears) clutches for ever (subject to sympathetic use) and thermostats (that is, the original item on pre-April 2000 double-VANOS engines) about 60,000 miles and viscous fan couplings 80,000.

Tyres are an emotive subject, many owners claiming that the Goodyear Eagle F1 is the only tyre to have, but at £150 or so for a 245-40X17 rear it is expensive. I have always used Falken FK-451, which are now very popular, and find that they are a really good choice. Maybe the F1 is better, but on this side of a race track I doubt if anyone would really know the difference, and at £85 for the above rear size it helps to keep running costs at a sensible level. If running on sixteen-inch wheels the cost difference is slightly less. I generally get a life of at least 20,000 miles from the rear tyres, and 30,000 from the fronts.

I use Ultraseal in all our cars, which will usually effect a permanent seal of any hole made by an object up to 6 mm in diameter. In the Z3 it also prevents my wife from giving me a bad time as she would otherwise have to carry the ‘dead’ tyre on her lap! Even if the boot were empty, neither wheel would fit into it, and the narrow ‘emergency’ spare is not be fun to drive on – though I have driven 550 miles on it in a day, from Calais to the Dordogne.

Servicing costs depend on if you do it yourself (my choice) which is easy and cheap, use a BMW specialist, or a BMW dealer. Many Z3 owners are terrified of losing the string of dealer stamps in their service record, and so pay up to £400 for an Inspection 2 (little more than an oil change, as are all the services). Many again pay £800 per year for BMW extended warranty, which forces them to use BMW dealers for servicing, so adding mightily to the running costs. These factors combine to reduce their annual mileage, so making a used Z3 one of the best buys.

A new soft top could be expensive, but excelent replicas can be obtained for about £700 (see I would guess a life of around 10 years if lowered and raised a lot, but as too many Z3 owners never lower their roofs, they should usually last longer. Rear windows can be unzipped and replaced, but it is a job best left to someone who has done it before! Again, a well cared for rear window will last for at least 10 years.

My criticism of the Z3? Only the usual BMW problems – the steering wheel is too large and has a hard rim of odd shape, the mirror is too large and too low, obscuring vision to the left, while the fuel and temperature gauges are devoid of proper calibrations. Nothing shocking.

The 2.8 engine has lots of torque, but has really too much at very low speeds, betraying its pedigree as being intended to lug a ‘Seven’ series saloon around, driven by a lazy driver in fifth gear all the time, or with an automatic box. I would trade some of the 800 rpm torque for a real kick in the back at about 3,000 rpm.

My advice? If you can afford insurance at a reasonable rate, go for a 2.8 or 3 litre, but otherwise you will be happy with a 1.9 or 2.2. As they are now a very good buy, service it yourself, and keep it for a long time. After twelve years I don’t have any thoughts of replacing mine, and there is nothing even slightly unaffordable which would tempt me, when compared with the Z3’s combination of performance, handling, build quality, spare parts backup, low running costs, and practicality.