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The BMW M Roadster and Coupe are like Batman to the Z3/Z4's Bruce Wayne. Sure, Bruce is a nifty guy, with his stately Wayne manor, gazillions of dollars and revolving cast of babes. But if it came down to it, we'd much rather hang out with Batman (just as long as he's not played by Val Kilmer) and his car.
Thanks to a powerful engine, communicative steering and sharp handling, the BMW M has long been one of our favorite tools for tackling serpentine roads. And with its exaggerated long front end and cabin seemingly perched atop the rear wheels, it's about as close as you can actually get to the Batmobile.
The first-generation BMW M was based on the Z3. Unique styling traits, including a sculpted airdam, chrome side gills and aggressively flared rear fenders, made the M look better than its plebian progenitor. It was how the Z3 line should have always looked.
Yet these cars were more than just a cosmetic exercise. BMW's M division (Motorsport) added the M3's 3.2-liter inline-6 engine and stiffened the suspension. A year after the Roadster arrived, the polarizing Coupe debuted with a structure that was 2.5 times stiffer than the convertible, boosting the M's handling capabilities even further. Despite its wild nature (particularly when power was raised by 75 horses), the M Roadster and Coupe remain to this day an entertaining and stylish way to fill that extra spot in your garage.
The same could be said for the Z4-based, second-generation M Coupe and Roadster, but much of its crazy wild-child nature has been replaced with a more mature blend of engine, chassis and design that puts it into the same club as more expensive, elite sports cars. The latest M is head and shoulders above its M predecessor and simply in a different world from the commuting-friendly Z4. In the realm of the Batman metaphor, the current M is a deep-voiced, butt-kicking Christian Bale.
Current BMW M
Introduced for 2006, the current BMW M is available in roadster and coupe body styles. Power comes from a 3.2-liter inline-6 that delivers 330 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. BMW's M division stuck with a "back to basics" approach, forgoing newfangled technologies like SMG automanual transmissions and active steering in favor of a slick-shifting six-speed manual and hydraulic steering system.
There are other performance-minded upgrades as well, such as a sport-tuned suspension, a limited-slip rear differential and more powerful brakes. Inside, you'll find a small-diameter, meaty steering wheel that we'd special order on every sports car if we could. The M Coupe has a fastback roof line, concealing 10.7 cubic feet of cargo space under its hatch. The Roadster holds a decent 7.1 cubic feet with its soft top lowered.
In reviews of the BMW M Coupe and Roadster, we found that its modus operandi is immediacy: quick steering, instant brakes, direct throttle response and caffeinated ride. It feels like the Z4 the BMW engineers and test-drivers originally intended to build before the focus groups electrified the steering, softened its edges and slowed its reflexes to make it less taxing to drive. The M Coupe is much the same story, with a slightly stiffer structure provided by its fixed roof. However, some might find the car's ride quality to be overly stiff for daily use.
Past BMW M Models
The original BMW M was sold from 1998-2002, with the M Coupe arriving in 1999. It initially came equipped with a 3.2-liter inline-6 that produced 240 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The chassis was stiffened and fat 17-inch rubber was added to the Z3 base car. After the redesigned M3 debuted in 2001, BMW shoehorned that car's revised inline-6 into the M Roadster and Coupe, boosting power to 315 hp and 251 lb-ft. Although the M was always a wild child, the new engines put it into Lindsay Lohan territory – but in a better-looking sort of way. A five-speed manual was the only transmission available, which we described as "BMW's best shifter."
A trademark of the M Coupe and Roadster was its selection of eye-catching colors and two-tone leather interiors. The cabin design was largely carried over from the Z3, but a chunky three-spoke M steering wheel and three additional gauges that resided under the manual climate controls differentiated the M model. Legroom was good for even taller drivers, but the non-adjustable steering wheel was lamentable.
Standard features included a limited-slip differential, traction control (starting in 1999), cruise control, heated power seats, power convertible roof with manual tonneau cover, and a Harman Kardon stereo with cassette player. A CD player was optional, as was a sunroof on the Coupe. The Roadster only came with a plastic rear window, which will cloud and need continual replacement.
In road tests, we gushed about the BMW M Roadster and Coupe, even if we found them to be a little unwieldy in their later, more powerful years. Body roll was almost nil, grip nearly excessive and the steering ultraquick for sharp, split-second transitions. The pedals were perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifting and the brakes were easy to modulate and immensely powerful. Aggressive driving was rewarded with harrowing corner speeds, but again, the short wheelbase combined with the massive dose of horsepower to make for some twitchy handling at the limit. Keep it below that limit and you should be able to keep it clear of ditches or the odd mountain precipice.
While the Z3 is a classic in the making, the M Roadster is probably even more so. The M Coupe is likely to be the most collectible of them all, though, since it was produced in very limited numbers. But whether you're piloting yours under the sun or under a hatch, the BMW M will be a supremely fun and stylish sports car for years to come.
BMW Z3 The BMW Z3 knew how to make an entrance. It claimed the gun-barrel-shaped spotlight along with Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond flick GoldenEye shortly before its introduction for model-year 1996. This celebrity-like intro, combined with the fact that the car was BMW's first modern mass-market roadster, gave the Z3 instant popularity. Neiman Marcus' 1995 Christmas catalog showcased the luscious sports car as the perfect Christmas gift, and it launched a sales stampede that resulted in sold-out Z3 numbers for BMW before the first model even hit showroom floors.
The Z3's romance with the public proved to be long-lasting. Although riding on an antiquated semi-trailing-arm rear suspension from the E30 3 Series, the BMW Z3 was nevertheless a stylish, fun roadster that re-energized the affordable sports car market. Initially offered with only a 1.9-liter 138-horsepower inline-4 engine, a 2.8-liter inline-6 making 190 hp became available in 1997. (They could be differentiated by wider rear fenders.) It was the straight-6 engine, with its flawlessly smooth power delivery and distinctive sound, that really made the Z3 come alive. Handling was impeccable. The Z3's ride was taut enough to satisfy enthusiasts, yet agreeable enough to make it a pleasant daily driver. And from a buying and owning perspective, the Z3 neatly straddled the line between entry-level roadsters like the Miata and more out-of-reach models like the 911.
Still, the BMW Z3 had its shortcomings. Some interior materials were subpar and its cabin could seem confining for larger occupants because of the big, non-telescoping steering wheel and oversize rearview mirror. Convertible models were also saddled with a chintzy plastic rear window that sullied the car's luxury image by clouding over time. Finally, the coupe's styling was highly polarizing.
But these imperfections are pretty minor. As a used sports car, its more reasonable prices place it within reach of those who may not have been able to afford its lofty pleasures had they attempted to purchase it years ago as a new vehicle. If you're in the market for a stunning used coupe or convertible that handles even better than it looks, you owe it to yourself to investigate this talented Bimmer.
Most Recent BMW Z3
As one of the first vehicles to roll out from BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant, the Z3 was built from 1996-2002. In its first year on the market, the Z3 came in just one flavor: a base-model convertible powered by a 1.9-liter inline-4 good for 138 hp. Standard features included an AM/FM/cassette player and cruise control. A five-speed manual transmission was also standard, but those seeking a somewhat less interactive driving experience could choose a four-speed automatic. Leather seats and traction control were available options. The following year is when the Z3 truly blossomed, thanks to the addition of another trim, the 2.8. As its name implies, this trim was powered by a 2.8-liter inline-6 – the same lauded 190-hp six-cylinder that powered 3 Series models of the era. The Z3 also got a luxury upgrade, with the addition of a CD changer and heated seats to its options list.
With the 1998 model, this BMW became more readily adaptable to inclement weather, thanks to the introduction of an optional power convertible top. In 1999, the Z3 coupe arrived. Equipped with the 2.8-liter engine only, its hatchback design added extra body stiffness and versatility, but its strange tail drew guffaws of disgust and befuddlement amongst those who felt it was smearing the beautiful Z3. That year, the 1.9-liter four-cylinder bowed out in favor of a new 170-hp inline-6. Despite the 2.5-liter displacement, the model was strangely called a Z3 2.3 for 1999 and 2000. A Harman Kardon stereo became available, and a hardtop roof joined the options list on convertible models. Safety was enhanced with the addition of side airbags to the standard features list of all Z3 sports cars.
Minor exterior and interior refreshes were in store for the BMW Z3 coupe and convertible in 2000, and stability control joined the standard features list. For 2001, the 2.8 trim in both the coupe and convertible became the 3.0i, with the introduction of a 3.0-liter engine good for 225 hp and 214 pound-feet of torque. The logically rechristened 2.5i saw a power increase of 14 horses. Also, the Z3's optional four-speed automatic transmission was replaced with a five-speed automatic with manual shifting capability. For 2002, its final year on the market, the BMW Z3 added a CD player to its standard features list.

Introduced at the 1999 Frankfurt Auto Show, the BMW Z8 sports car was the company's conception of what its famous 507 roadster would have been if built past the 1950s. Stylistically, it offered many of the same cues, such as a long, sloping hood with round headlight blisters, twin-kidney grille, distinctive vents aft of the front wheels and a striking leather interior with a simplistic layout.
Not all was retro, though. The Z8's aluminum space frame was draped with aluminum body panels, and hidden from view was BMW's typical front strut/rear multilink suspension arrangement. For power, the Z8 relied on the same engine used for the third-generation M5 sedan.
The BMW Z8 was always intended to be a "halo" car, designed to draw attention to BMW and lead to increased sales of other BMW vehicles. BMW produced it for just four years with an annual production rate of about 1,500 cars. Naturally, Z8 ownership is an exclusive club. Given that the 507 is coveted by collectors and a good one can fetch more than half a million dollars, a similar future might be in store for the Z8.
Most Recent BMW Z8
The BMW Z8 roadster was produced for the 2000-'03 model years. It possessed all the necessary ingredients of a true sports car: superior performance, outstanding design and rarity.
Its all-aluminum chassis was exceptionally stiff and light, resulting in exemplary road feel. Driving hard, one could feel what was happening -- and, more important, what was going to happen -- better than seeing it. This lent extraordinary confidence when exploring the outer limits of its performance envelope.
Likewise, the steering, suspension and braking systems connected to this super-solid chassis operated with pinpoint precision. Many chassis components were borrowed from BMW's world-class sedans and recalibrated, and the resulting ride wasn't quite as supple as those vehicles but certainly not harsh either.
Under the hood was a 4.9-liter V8 producing 394 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. Power was sent to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission. (The one-year run of the Z8-based BMW Alpina came with an automatic transmission.) Thanks to its electronic variable valve timing system, the Z8 could purr about town, and then let loose with a shriek once pointed down a deserted road. In tests of the time, the Z8 typically posted 0-60-mph times in the mid-4-second range.
In general, the BMW Z8 was a pretty easy car to drive. And thanks to BMW's effective Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, the Z8 was kind to drivers who weren't professionally trained. It combined antilock brakes, traction control and cornering stabilization to ensure that over-eager drivers were appropriately reined in before they completely lost their substantial investment in a smoldering heap.
Due to its stellar performance, early association with James Bond in The World is Not Enough and the reaction of people on the street, there was always a feeling that you were driving a surreal Hollywood creation. When it rolled down the boulevard, people were mesmerized by its stunningly unique styling and the sonorous note of its exhaust system.
Perhaps even more beguiling was its interior. In a nod to the past, BMW moved the speedometer, tachometer and other gauges to the center of the dash. The retro-styled steering wheel also evoked classic sports cars with its three metal-rodded spokes and fat, leather-wrapped rim. What wasn't brushed aluminum was covered in supple leather, including parts of the dash, center console, door skins and even the rollover bars. The final touch was a viscerally black push-button starter located next to the steering wheel. Turn the ignition key to On, depress that button and the muscular V8 roared to life -- a thrill every time.
Though we've raved over nearly every aspect of the BMW Z8, there were several gripes: an outlandish price, a fussy manual tonneau cover and excessive top-down cockpit noise. But these complaints weren't enough to turn us off, for the Z8 provided as much joy to sit in as to drive.

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