Design News editors are supposed to concentrate on technology in reviewing the latest auto offerings. But more than with any other car I've ever had for a test drive, "Nice car" is the one comment continually heard from friends and strangers about the BMW Z3 roadster I had for several days. (The best comment: "Are you undercover?") Perhaps it was the combination of pale metallic blue paint, like the color of a pretty girl's eyes (or if you're of that bent, Paul Newman's eyes) and beige leather boot, that I seemed to spend most of my time just driving folks around the neighborhood.
But a trip to Upstate New York allowed the car's fun nature to come out. While the example I drove had the 2.5-liter 6-cylinder engine with 184 hp and 175 ft-lb of torque, as opposed to the larger 3.0-liter version of the engine available with 225 hp and 214 ft-lb torque, it was still responsive to drive (or perhaps I just didn't know what I was missing). Standard on both versions is a fully electronic throttle system that smoothes operation and tunes throttle action to driving conditions. BMW says this permits better integration of systems that affect throttle operations such as traction, dynamic stability, and cruise control.
On some familiar roads with good sight lines, I was able to check out the DSC (dynamic stability control) as I turned onto a road freshly "paved" with oil and stones. Once, the right side brakes were automatically tapped to keep a smooth line without skidding. Pushing it more the next time, the system stopped a ditch-bound slide.
For a car called "The Ultimate Driving Machine," the 5-speed Getrag manual transmission on this model (the 3.0-liter has a ZF gearbox) is its Achilles heel—it has an inappropriate, clunky feel in transitioning between gears. Lest the reader thinks it might be a one-off trait, the longer-throw version on my own BMW 528 is even worse, a real "box o'rocks." The Bavarian folk might look into the way Ford has done manuals for Jaguar's new X-Type or Saab's gearboxes, both with smoother, more positive action.
A singular fault was probably our car's in-dash rattle near the steering column. But, on the improvement side, unlike the example we drove, the Z3 now comes standard with an in-dash CD player.
Base price (incl. destination)
Price as driven
2.5-liter incl. special paint, heated seats, power top, sport wheels and seats, etc.
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