Supersprint Exhaust for the 2.8 Z3

Pros: Better Performance, Great Sound, Stainless Steel
Cons: Expensive, Installation
Cost: $614 (from BMP Design)
$563 Straight Tips with free shipping (from HMS)
$649 DTM Tips with free shipping (from HMS)

In the never ending quest to find more power and otherwise tinker with my car, I decided to put a new Supersprint catalyst-back (cat-back) exhaust on my beloved BMW Z3. I have a ’97 model with the M52 2.8 liter engine.

The upgrade had three desired goals/expectations

I was looking to improve the sound of the exhaust. The stock exhaust didn’t sound “bad”, it was just too quiet for my taste. I had previously heard other 2.8 liter Z3s with the Supersprint exhaust so I was quite confident that I would be pleased with the sound.

I was hoping to improve performance of the Z3 as well. This goal was questionable, several had speculated that there wouldn’t be an improvement in performance. However there were even more saying there would be. In order to satisfy my own curiosity I decided to do before and after dynamometer (dyno) runs on the car to measure before and after rear wheel horsepower and torque.

The final expectation was purely cosmetic. I had already added chrome tips to the stock 2.8 exhaust (picture above) but after seeing the larger turned up DTM tips available on the Supersprint exhaust I decided I liked the looks of them much better (right picture).

With these goals in mind I enlisted the help of Robert Leidy, who had already found a reputable dyno shop when he measured the power output from his M roadster. Since Robert and the dyno shop (Alamo Autosports) were both located in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (DFW) area, and I was located in Houston, there was a bit of a logistical problem. Answer: Roadtrip!

To ensure a proper installation, Larry Nissen from Moritz BMW in Arlington was invited. To ensure accurate dyno tests the following “recommended” process was used. We first backed the car onto Alamo’s dyno rack to get a baseline HP for the car. We then used the very same dyno lift to install the supersprint exhaust. Once the exhaust was installed the car was then re-dynoed to measure the change.

Installation

Prior to installing the Supersprint exhaust, three “before” or baseline dyno tests were preformed. The results of those test will be compared to the results from the “after” dyno tests in the next part of this article. But for now let me explain the installation process that took place between the before and after dyno tests.

The keen eye will notice that the pictures on this page are from two different vehicles. Prior to my installation, another Z3 owner had installed a Supersprint exhaust on his Z3 and Robert was there to take pictures of that installation as well. The only difference between the two Supersprint exhausts were the type of exhaust tips. Chris got the straight tips and I got the turned up or DTM style tips. Since the type of tips on the end of the exhaust have very little impact on installation the two sets of pictures could be used together.

The first step was to remove the stock exhaust, problem was we had just completed the first set of dyno tests so the stock exhaust was hot. After the stock exhaust cooled down to a point where we were able to hold it (15 minutes) we were able to remove it.

The exhaust is held in place in four places (pictures below). The first (front most) connection is where the exhaust bolts onto the flange of the catalytic converter via two 2 13mm nuts and bolts. The middle connection is actually just a safety/backup connection, but it uses a rubber belt (attached to the vehicle) around an additional bracket (attached to the exhaust) to catch the exhaust if the rear mounts fail.

Towards the rear bumper, two additional rubber rings support and attach the rear of the exhaust to the vehicle. In order to remove them we sprayed the rubber muffler hangers with lubricant and then popped them loose using a pry-bar. The actual order we used in removing the exhaust was to loosen the front bolts, unbolt/remove the middle bracket. Then with someone holding the front of the exhaust, the rear connections were worked loose. With a person holding either end the removal was easily accomplished, however it would have been rather difficult with only one person. trying to juggle both ends.

After removing the stock exhaust it was time to unpack the Supersprint exhaust. I purchased this exhaust from BMP, it came very well packaged, the entire exhaust was wrapped in thick shrink wrap with additional padding covering the exhaust tips. Not sure if this is something BMP does or if all Supersprint exhausts come this way. The packaging provided a very effective protective layer over the exhaust, however the shrink-wrap was so tight one of the support brackets was bent. We didn’t realize this at the time, but later it was easy to fix by just bending the support back to its normal position, the catch of course being that you won’t know what the “normal” position is until you’ve got the exhaust installed and you’re trying to put the rubber hangers on.

There is one important part I should point out, you better get a friend to carry the new and old exhaust for you. The exhaust is rather large and does not fit in the trunk (not even close). You could carry the new exhaust up front with you but the used/stock exhaust will be very dirty. For this installation Nancy carried my exhaust along with Alan’s two exhausts in her SUV. Once the stock exhausts were removed we wrapped them in trash bags and duct tape for the drive home.

Comparing the stock and Supersprint exhaust side by side was interesting. The Supersprint exhaust looked quite handsome with its black-crackle finish and polished stainless steel tips. It also looked much more svelte and linear than the stock exhaust. The stock exhaust had 4 diameter changes in just the piping alone. The resonator and the garbage-can-sized muffler looked like something off of a truck when compared with the Supersprint. There was a brief moment where I thought BMP had shipped me the wrong exhaust. The muffler part of the exhaust was smaller so the rear support arms were longer (to make up the difference). But what concerned me was how much different the connection from the catalytic converter to the muffler was. The Supersprint still had the crimp in the exhaust but the path seemed much straighter. However my concerns of receiving the wrong exhaust were removed when we stacked the two exhausts on top of each other and noticed the mounting locations were the same.

Mounting the new exhaust was a definite two-man job. The “safety hanger” was reinserted into the rubber hanger/bracket, and the flange-end of the exhaust was fitted to the catalytic converter, loosely fitting the nuts. We then re-popped the muffler hangers on to the Supersprint, and VOILA!, it didn’t fit. We stepped back to analyze the situation and found immediately that the hanger brackets on the Supersprint had been bent somewhere along its route from Italy to Texas. Using the biggest pair of channel-locks we could find, we adjusted the brackets to proper alignment, and VOILA!, it still didn’t fit.

We has been warned by other Z3 exhaust upgraders that the tight fit of the exhaust tail pipes had previously led to some bumper trim scarring/melting. Because of this warning we were paying very close attention to how the tips fit in the cutout. Ahead of time we were warned that the exhaust tips will move towards the drivers side of the cutout when the exhaust gets hot and back towards the passenger side when it cools back down. So our goal was to get the exhaust tips to hang towards the passenger side of the cutout as much as possible (exhaust was cold as we were mounting it).

The problem we ran into was after installing the exhaust we noticed the tips were already off center towards the drivers side. We knew that this was going to be a problem because once the exhaust got hot it would push even further towards the drivers side and probably scar/melt the bumper trim. Further analysis indicated that the “safety hanger” on the Supersprint was too far to the passenger side of the car. After inspecting how the bracket worked we determined that the sides of the bracket serve very little purpose because the support loop uses the top of the bracket. We were also told that this bracket is just a backup bracket in case the rear ones fail.

For a brief moment we considered removing it all together, but then we thought of a better plan. We decided to modify the safety bracket, since it appeared cheaper to replace than the exhaust if we screwed it up (Supersprint has been informed of the problem and is investigating a solution). The bracket pictured to the left is after the modification (compare it to one of the pictures at the top of this page and you will noticed the removed metal). The fine folks at Alamo ground off one side of the bracket, and after we re-installed everything the exhaust was no longer being pushed against the drivers side of the rear bumper apron.

All that remained was to fine-tune placement of the tips within the rear bumper apron. This was accomplished using the aforementioned massive channel-lock pliers to tweak the muffler hanger brackets. We aligned the exhaust to “dress to the right” when cold, as 2.8 Supersprint exhausts are known to shift left about one-half inch at operating temperatures. It looked fantastic.

Update: Supersprint is modifying all current and future 2.8 Z3 exhaust systems to correct for the safety bracket misalignment. Supersprint is also adding side-to-side adjustable hangers to allow for precise fitting of the exhaust tips in the cutout.

Performance

Now that the Supersprint exhaust was installed, it was time to dyno again. When we first ran the car on the dyno, (pre-exhaust) I was nervous to say the least. My car already had the Dinan High Flow Cold Air Intake System and Dinan ECU upgrade (not really a “chip” anymore) and I had heard ad-nauseum about how the adaptive nature of the OBD II ECU software would show no power gains no matter what.

Running your car on a dyno is one of those surreal experiences you have to do once in your life. On a lift dyno, your car is roughly four feet in the air strapped to the lift, going 70+ mph The image of the car shooting off the lift keeps popping up in one’s mind. Anyway, we do three baseline runs. They are all pretty consistent, with the best being 167.6 hp and 175.5 ft lbs of torque. Remember that this it rear-wheel horsepower and torque, not the crankshaft horsepower and torque as quoted by the factory.

After we installed the Supersprint we fired up the engine to warm it up, and it sounded fantastic, too. Stock, the car just didn’t have a sporty-enough sound. With the addition of the Dinan Intake and ECU upgrade, it had a very feral howl, but only on wide-open throttle. The Supersprint exhaust added a “bass track” to the sound, sounding it out nicely. Now, full throttle applications combine the howl with a deep growl, making for a formidable sounding beast.

Below is an amusing animated picture Robert created from a couple still pictures his camcorder recorded. The first frame is from the “before” dyno test with the stock exhaust. The second frame is hours later from the “after” dyno test with the Supersprint exhaust (with turned up DTM style exhaust tips). I’m sure the angle of the exhaust tips had more to do with it than the amount of exhaust, but notice the Dynojet banner in the background. Now that’s what I call a free flowing exhaust 🙂

Once we warmed up the car, it was time to dyno. The sound of the car running up to over 70 mph in what was essentially a one-car garage was a sound not easily forgotten. One alarming note, though, was the plumes of smoke emanating from the rear of the car. Turns out that it was the exhaust burning off coatings, grease, and other contaminants. It had a mighty stench as well, which I was told would linger for about 500 miles. I was glad I had a long roadtrip home.

Once again, we do three runs, and they are again very consistent. This time the best one is 171.7 hp and 181.1 ft lbs of torque. Click on the small portion of the graph to the right to see the full size before and after comparison of the torque curve. At the peak torque values, the Supersprint exhaust gained 5.6 ft/lbs of torque. Looking at the entire RPM torque curve and measuring the differences every 50 RPM the Supersprint exhaust averages a gain of 4.3 ft/lbs of torque between 2000 and 6200 RPM.

It would appear that this is an apples and oranges comparison, and it is somewhat. However, there are correction factors, and the one we’ll use here has been ascribed to a well known Utah-based chip tuner, but I can’t confirm that origin. This correction factor to convert rear wheel HP to crank HP is 1.21, or about a 17.2% loss. Given that, my numbers would work out as follows using the equation RW * CF = C, where RW is rear wheel HP or Torque, CF is the above correction factor, and C is the crank HP or Torque.

Stock 1997 2.8 – factory specs

189 HP

156.2 HP – converted to rear wheel

203 ft-lbs Torque

167.8 ft-lbs Torque – converted to rear wheel

With Chip & Intake:

167.6 * 1.21 = 202.8 HP

175.5 * 1.21 = 212.4 ft-lbs Torque

Chip & Intake gain over stock:

13.8 HP – estimated @ crank

11.4 HP – estimated @ rear wheel

9.4 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ crank

7.7 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ rear wheel

With Chip, Intake & Exhaust:

172.6 * 1.21 = 208.9 HP – estimated @ crank

181.1 * 1.21 = 219.1 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ crank

Chip, Intake & Exhaust gain over stock:

19.9 HP – estimated @ crank

16.4 HP – estimated @ rear wheel

16.1 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ crank

13.2 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ rear wheel

Chip, Intake & Exhaust gain over Chip & Intake:

6.1 HP – estimated @ crank

5.0 HP – measured @ rear wheel

6.8 ft-lbs Torque – estimated @ crank

5.6 ft-lbs Torque – measured @ rear wheel

So what does this tell us? Well, if we believe in rear wheel measurements only, I got a 5 HP, 5.9 ft-lbs, increase in overall power. Examining the dyno curves, this really makes itself known over the 3000 – 5500 rpm range. I am happy, and I can feel a difference.

Sound

Bryan: One month after install

Living with the exhaust has been a pleasant experience. I had to first get over the feeling that someone was following me, as I wasn’t used to the subtle tone of the exhaust coming from the rear at all RMPs. Next, I was worried about the much larger exhaust melting the rear bumper fascia. I’ve seen some exhaust applications that have eaten holes in the fascia, but that hasn’t been a real problem. There has been a little scorching on the inside lips of both sides of the fascia, but nothing to be concerned about. One very unexpected benefit is that my gas mileage has increased by 1-2 miles per gallon. Bottom line: would I do it again? Yes. What would I change? the safety bracket

Chris: 1 month after install

Chris Bull checked the rear apron around his Supersprint exhaust installation with straight tips and reports that no melting or scarring has taken place. He is VERY pleased with the upgrade and highly recommends the Supersprint exhaust to other 2.8 Z3 owners.

Spence: 1 month after install

Chuck Spensor checked the rear apron around his Supersprint exhaust installation with DTM style tips and reports that there is some melting on the drivers side. However the scarred area is not very noticeable and the exhaust tip hides most of the damage. He is VERY pleased with the upgrade and highly recommends the Supersprint exhaust to other 2.8 Z3 owners.

Update from Supersprint:

There are two different 2.8 Z3 exhausts, one for the ’99 on Z3 2.8 coupe and roadster, and one for the ’98 and before Z3 2.8 roadster. The part number for the 99 is 78.67.06 or 78.67.66 (I guess one is straight tips and the other is dtm–don’t know which is which). Supersprint experimented with a ’99 Z3 2.8 coupe and moved the center bracket approximately 6-8 mm towards the driver’s side of the car to give it a perfect fit. They did many runs to get the exhaust up to temperature and verified that it did not come into contact with the apron even under hard cornering. One point to note is that the ’99 models apparently have a bigger cutout in the rear apron than the ones before that. For the ’98 and before 2.8 roadster, Supersprint is modifying all current and future stock to have a side-to-side adjustable hanger to allow for precise fitting.

Supersprint Exhaust for the M Roadster

Pros: Great Sound, Increased Performance, Visually Striking, 100% Stainless Steel
Cons: Cost, Installation
Cost: $1,402 (from BMP Design)
$1,339 with free shipping (from HMS Motorsport)

The M roadster has a fairly impressive stock exhaust–quad polished tips exit from dual mufflers and emit a mellow note. However, like anything in life, even something good can be improved. Supersprint has made aftermarket exhaust systems for BMWs for years, has been making high-quality exhaust systems since 1955, and is highly regarded. In fact, the quality of the exhaust meets TUV standards for construction and is treated as if it were an OEM exhaust in Germany, which typically is very picky about aftermarket modifications to cars.

Supersprint is based in Italy, and their official U.S. Importer is BMP Design, based in Texas. BMP carries the full Supersprint line, including the 100% stainless steel dual M roadster exhaust with quad DTM tips. The exhausts arrived in perfect condition (a feat in itself given that the shipment consisted of two 6-foot-long boxes that had to travel from Italy to BMP in Texas, and then from there to the reviewer). The packaging is first-rate, with the exhausts themselves being sealed in plastic, with special packing around the tips to preserve them, and with plenty of paper padding protecting the exhausts inside the boxes.

The pictures above exhibit the external differences between the Supersprint exhaust (left) and the stock exhaust (right). The tips are larger and upturned, the muffler itself is smaller, and the whole system is bead-polished to a high shine. As the arrow shows, the Supersprint exhaust also features straighter pipe between the fitting (which will be attached just behind the catalytic converter) and the muffler.

A side note: When arranging for a place to install the Supersprint exhaust, it may be best to also arrange for a friend with either a sports utility vehicle or a pickup truck to be available to help you transport the new exhaust to the installation location, and to help you transport the old exhaust home.

Installation

The exhaust is held in place with bolts just aft of the catalytic converters (red arrows), and a set of brackets/rubber attachment points (second picture) at the rear of the car. The the middle there is a safety/backup hanger (blue arrow) which has a rubber belt around the middle of the exhaust.

Some spray silicone lubricant on the middle bracket may make it easier to slide the belt holding the exhaust off the support. Once this middle connection is free you can remove the front bolts to break the connection to the catalytic converter. Lastly remove the bolts attaching the rubber hangers at the rear of the car.

After removing the stock exhausts, it is time to mount the new Supersprint exhausts. The best way to do this is to first guide the main support into the rubber hanger (blue arrow above) and then to loosely fasten the remaining brackets and bolts. Then, with a couple of people helping, you can align the exhaust and tighten the bolts. (Note that in most cases, we do not recommend hanging from the new exhaust as an alignment method.)

Take your time while adjusting the new exhausts. Even when everything looks fine from under the car, you may still want to tweak the alignment. You want to make sure that the tips are not in contact with the plastic of the rear bumper. Maintain about a finger’s width clearance between the tips and the lower lip of the bumper. Also, stand behind the car and check that each side is symmetrical. As you can see from the picture above, the right tips are slightly rotated clockwise, and need to be adjusted for a better match with the left side.

There were only two negatives to the installation. The first is just due to the inexperience of the reviewer–alignment took a long time. If you have an exhaust shop install your exhaust, this is a non-issue. The second negative is that the new exhausts did not come with 4 necessary nuts and washers. The stock exhaust has nuts integrated into its brackets which bolts go into, while the Supersprint exhaust just has holes in its brackets which bolts go through. This necessitated a quick trip to a hardware store, and cost about $1.00. It is not clear if the missing nuts were an oversight or if they must always be purchased separately, but Supersprint has been notified of this slight glitch and is looking into the issue.

Overall, the installation was uneventful, and took about 2 hours–not bad for a do-it-yourself job. A muffler shop would probably knock out the job in less than half the time. The final result is a set of 4 gleaming tips which emit a healthy growl.

Ok, so it looks and sounds great. Now you want to know about the performance:

Performance

Note: Alamo Autosports is recommended to those in the North Texas area for dyno testing. $60 buys you 3 runs on a Dynojet Dynamometer, worth it just for the experience of seeing and hearing your car dynoed. Contact Brice, Steve Pak, or Steve Webb at

Alamo Autosports

1218 Colorado Ln.

Arlington, TX 76015

817-860-4300

There is a lot of discussion over whether you can improve a car’s performance by replacing the stock exhaust with a “free-flow” aftermarket exhaust. How best to come up with a quantitative answer? With before and after dyno runs, of course.

A day on the dyno at Alamo Autosports in Arlington, TX was scheduled.

Three stock dyno runs were done. They were all close, but the best and worst were thrown out for the purposes of this article. The M roadster, with stock exhaust and no performance modifications, reached a peak rear-wheel horsepower of 217 between 6150 and 6250 RPM. Peak rear-wheel torque was measured at 217 ft./lbs. between 4000 and 4150 RPM. At the bottom of this section of the article is a chart with the full numbers, and the full-size graph of the stock HP and torque curves may be seen by clicking on the small graph at right.

How might an aftermarket exhaust improve performance? By freeing the exhaust flow. This picture shows one way the Supersprint exhaust improves over the stock exhaust. The pipes shown go between the connection at the rear of the catalytic converter and the muffler. The Supersprint exhaust is on top, and the stock exhaust is on bottom. Notice how the Supersprint exhaust pipe takes a straighter path. Also notice how the stock exhaust is somewhat crimped in the middle (to clear a chassis cross-member, which the Supersprint avoids by routing the pipe slightly lower).

After the three “before” runs were completed, the car was driven off of the dyno and allowed to cool. After cooldown, the car was put back on the dyno (used as a lift), and the Supersprint exhaust was installed. After installation was complete, three “after” dyno runs were conducted. Peak torque gain was 6 ft./lbs., and peak HP gain was 5 HP. Since the dyno runs were conducted immediately after the exhaust installation, the numbers reported are for a non-broken-in exhaust. A follow-up set of dyno runs is planned to acquire HP and torque curves for the exhaust after break-in.

Click on the left picture below to hear and see one of the dyno runs after the Supersprint exhaust was installed. The video is of the Supersprint run that produced the highest HP value. Please note that the numbers below are from the middle stock dyno and the middle Supersprint dyno, so the peak HP below is 1 less than the peak HP mentioned in the video.

Click on the right graph below to see the full-size comparison of before and after torque curves. As you can see from the graph, there is a definite increase in torque (important for acceleration) in the entire midrange.

Sound

The Supersprint exhaust produces a deeper and slightly louder sound than the stock exhaust. Do not take this to mean that it is overwhelmingly loud. The Supersprint exhaust meets tough European TUV standards for sound levels. The second-best way to describe the sound is that it makes the M roadster sound like it should sound. The best way to describe the sound, of course, is to let you hear it for yourself. You will need the RealPlayer to hear the audio, if you don’t have the RealPlayer the good news is it is free!.

The sound recordings were made during dyno runs of the stock exhaust and the Supersprint exhaust. A Hi8 camcorder was used to capture the audio, and was placed about 6 feet to the side of the car and slightly behind the car. RealAudio is by no means a crystal clear audio media, but comparing the sound files (Stock vs Supersprint) is a really good comparison of the real life difference. Once the Supersprint exhaust is fully broken in, a “run through the gears” sound sample will be added to this page.

Stock M roadster

Supersprint M roadster

A Tale of Three Roadsters

For the 1998 model year, the BMW roadster comes in three distinct configurations.

The Seriously Fun 1.9

The Seriously Quick 2.8

The Seriously Serious 3.2

I had the pleasure of driving a ’97 1.9 Z3 for 18 months, a ’98 2.8 Z3 for just over a week and my new ’98 3.2 MZ3 for four months now. All three of these cars are a ton-of-fun to drive and I would classify each configuration in the roadster/sports car class. I’m not going to get in a debate over the true definition of a roadster or a sports car. Some people hold a very firm definition on those categories, but the vast majority of the population would agree with my general classification.

Each Z3 configuration has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, owners can debate those individual issues for days and never come to agreement as to which configuration is the best. While debates like that can be a lot of fun in the end it is rare that anyone changed their mind. What I am offering is my own personal observations in comparing and contrasting the three different BMW roadster configurations, from an owners point of view.

The “Seriously Fun” 1.9

In October of 1996 I took delivery of a 1.9 liter BMW roadster. At that time car magazines were flocking to review BMW’s newest addition and most of the reviews were similar, “Great handling, very comfortable, but needs more power”. After spending 18 months with the 1.9 my review is slightly different. I think most of the “needs more power” comments came from the expectations people had of the car. To just look at it, it would appear to be a monsterly quick, five second zero to sixty rocket.

The first thing I had to do was learn how to drive it. The BMW 1.9 has power and torque but most of it is in the high RPM range. With the 1.9 you’re not going to squeal the tires at a stoplight, but once you get to 3,500 RPMs in 1st gear the fun really starts. Working the smooth shifting five speed was the trick to unlock the potential of the 1.9. Keeping the RPMs between 3500 and 5500 the 1.9 liter engine really responds. Once I learned this, it was really fun darting around Dallas, working the shifter up and down the gears.

Acceleration is just a small part of this car’s ability. Testing the roadster’s handling capabilities around corners a little faster each time, I started to build an almost invincible attitude. I found that speeding away from a traffic light was boring in comparison to making right hand turns at 30mph without touching the brakes. In fact I got so addicted to the roadsters ability to stick to the ground I started upgrading to 17″ wheels, fatter tires, thicker sway bars, anything I could find to further increase the mind sloshing turning ability.

The car’s design and setup are nothing short of amazing, driving it around town always left a smile across my face. But there were two distinct weak points that started to bug me after a month or two of ownership.

Exhaust: The stock exhaust is tinny and annoying, it was getting better as more miles were being put on it but it was just bugging me too much and I couldn’t put up with it. I visited the dealership to listen to other 1.9 Z3s to see if something was wrong. While mine seemed to have a little extra buzz, I accepted the dealerships point that nothing was wrong with mine. Three months after taking ownership I found myself researching solutions and purchasing an aftermarket exhaust that greatly improved the exhaust note, and gave a slight performance boost.

Stereo: When you buy a $30,000 dollar car you just assume the stereo is good. Well let me tell you that assumption is false. The stock stereo was seriously under powered for a convertible, and the speakers sounded like something you would find at a swap meet. The stock head unit had some neat features like weather band radio and speed sensitive volume (which was very useful in a convertible). But it was confusing to have such a nice feature packaged matched up to such a cheap amp and speakers. Eventually I upgraded the amplifier and speakers to the level of quality you would expect from BMW. But it’s a shame I had to sink another $500 into the roadster to be able to hear CDs with the top down.

Even considering those two weak points the 1.9 liter BMW roadster is simply an amazing car. Before it’s popularity started to increase and the general public learned more about the car, people were asking me “how much”. Most were expecting $40,000 to $50,000 range a few thought it would be over $50,000. It was fun to see their reactions when I told them I paid under $30,000.

BMW will stop producing the 1.9 Z3 at the end of the 1998 model year. A 2.5 liter version will replace it at roughly the same entry price, but the 2.5 will not have as many standard features. The new 2.5 version will undoubtedly have more power than the 1.9, but I wonder if it will handle as well?

The “Seriously Quick” 2.8

Visual inspection of the 2.8 roadster doesn’t give you much indication that it is any different than its smaller brother other than the different wheel style. If you put the 1.9 and 2.8 side by side you will notice the 2.8 has a wider rear end, and a slightly different front spoiler. Really close observation will also reveal two smaller exhaust pipes rather than the 1.9’s single pipe. Inside the cockpit the interior has wood trim and leather seats standard (they were optional on the 1.9). Except for these small visual differences the two models seem nearly identical, well that is until you turn the key.

After starting the 2.8 liter straight six I was pleased to hear a nice “proper” sounding exhaust, a big improvement over the 1.9 exhaust note. Some owners might want a little more sound behind them but at least the current exhaust was not annoying like the 1.9. So BMW had addressed my first complaint with the 1.9, it was time to turn on the stereo and see if they had also addressed the second.

Salesmen are quick to point out that the 2.8 comes with an “HK” stereo. BMW markets that name like I should recognize and respect it but honestly I had never heard of it before. I hear it is made by Harmon Karmon, but for some reason I never see that full name in any BMW literature. This “upgraded” stereo claimed to offer better up front speakers, additional speakers behind each seat and a subwoofer. The subwoofer cost you a couple of storage spaces, one of which I had grown rather fond of. Turning on the stereo I noticed a more pleasant deeper sound. With the top up I could also make out a fuller sound stage with the rear speakers, but as soon as I dropped the top the rear speakers became inaudible.

The real test of the stereo was if I could hear it with the top down at hi-way speeds. After a week of listening to the HK stereo I will say that it is an improvement over the previous stereo, but still not as good as most factory stereos. For me it just crosses the line into the “good enough” range. I was initially let down when I discovered that the speed sensitive volume feature was somehow lost in the move to this HK stereo. However a service bulletin later came out revealing that BMW forgot to hook up the wire to activate that feature. After hearing a fixed HK stereo I remembered how much I truly enjoy the speed sensitive volume feature. Bottom line, if you really enjoy listening to music with the top down it’s probably only a matter of time before you visit an after market stereo shop to ask “how much to fix it”. I’ll let you hear the estimate and make your own decisions.

Despite the visual similarities, the 2.8 is a totally different creature to drive. Pressing the accelerator immediately pushes you back in your seat. It’s off the line acceleration is impressive. However after the first day of driving the 2.8, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I thought I would be. It took me a couple days before I discovered I was driving the 2.8 wrong.

I had grown accustomed to driving the 1.9, where the priority was to get the roadster RPM’s up as soon as possible and keep it between 3500 and 5500 RPM. The torque curve is very different in the 2.8, it favors the lower RPM range. Once I learned this lesson the 2.8 actually became much easier to drive and I discovered how really quick you can get this thing up to 100mph (ah I meant to say 55mph). To some degree this took a little fun out of driving but the increased acceleration more than made up for it. What this lesson taught me is that just like the 1.9, the 2.8 has torque and power but not across the entire RPM range. The 2.8 initially throws you back in your seat pretty hard, but instead of steadily gaining power it seems to go flat after 3500 RPM. I’ve heard reports from 2.8 owners that adding aftermarket exhausts and air intakes increases the power in the higher RPM’s go I guess the stock 2.8 just needed more air. But don’t get me wrong, in either the stock or aftermarket configuration this car is very quick.

In the 1.9 I had become more addicted to handling than acceleration so I was interested to see if BMW had made improvements in this area as well. Strangely enough I don’t think so, the 2.8 does seem a little more solid but I couldn’t feel the road as much. Now don’t get me wrong you can still hopelessly pin your best friend to the passenger door on a hard left but I don’t think the 2.8 sticks as good as the 1.9.

Starting with the 1999 models the 2.8 gets double VANOS, which increases the horse power and moves the peak torque to a lower point on the RPM range. Not sure what kind of results this will transfer to the 0-60 and quarter mile times, but in theory the new 2.8 could be quicker. It will be interesting to see if there is a “seat of the pants” difference, but I doubt there will be. The 2.8 will also get a little more competition from its smaller brother, the 1.9 model is being replaced with a 2.5 double VANOS model that should be much closer to the performance numbers of the 2.8 model. It will be interesting to see which of these configurations sells better in 1999.

But despite what might happen in the future, the bottom line today is that the 2.8 is just a different car than the 1.9, and for different cars there are different drivers. Some will probably prefer the 1.9 with its lower price tag and around town tossability. In some aspects the 1.9 is more fun to drive. Personally, I like the extra kick in the pants the 2.8 offers and I think the price increase is worth it. But if you’re like me and favor the 2.8 over the 1.9, then you might be interested in BMW’s M roadster addition to the Z3 model line.

The “Seriously Serious” 3.2

BMW’s M addition to the Z3 roadster lineup is officially called the ///M roadster, although the name MZ3 seems more appropriate, and oddly enough M Roadster is a name Miata already uses to describe a version of their two seater. Well whatever you want to call it, at the very start of this article I said that when looking at the 1.9 BMW Z3 roadster it would appear it was a “monsterly quick, five second zero to sixty rocket”. Well that is exactly what BMW has delivered with the 3.2 liter Z3.

Visually the M roadster has several differences from its 1.9 and 2.8 siblings. The interior sports a retro two-tone look with lots of chrome. The seats are mega-comfortable wrap around two-color design. The steering wheel is a different design. The center dash/console area houses six chrome-ringed gauges with a chrome-ringed shifter. The instrument cluster also has chrome rings around all the gauges. (If you don’t like chrome this interior is not for you).

The exterior has a few visual clues to indicate it’s the 3.2 version. The front spoiler is slightly different and does not have fog lights. The signature Z3 side gills have been replaced with a different design that is more similar to the original BMW roadster from the 50s (I guess more of that retro look). I don’t mind the loss of fog lights too much, but I think I prefer the original Z3 side gill design, especially after close inspection of the new MZ3 design.

Most of the external visual differences are in the trunk area of the M roadster. Four large exhaust pipes stick out from a slightly shorter rear apron. The license plate is relocated from the bumper to the trunk and the trunk itself had its BMW logo moved from the back to on top of the trunk. The Z3 logo on the trunk has been replaced by a single ///M logo, and the trunk lock was moved from the right to the left side. From this perspective any respectable motor head is going to recognize that this is the M roadster.

Visual difference aside the other way to differentiate the 3.2 from its 1.9 and 2.8 siblings is to slip into the drivers seat and turn the key. The exhaust sound has a lower pitch with a little more “serious” tone to it. It’s still the “quieter than you would expect” BMW exhaust. Initially I was hoping for a little more sound but I knew exhausts notes change after a thousand miles or so. I was expecting a little improvement over time and sure enough I got it (but still want more).

Putting the car into gear the astute roadster owner will notice the shorter throw on the smooth shifting 5 speed shifter. The clutch is not really any heavier than the 2.8 but appears to be a little more sensitive. The brakes have a much different feel to them, and are much more powerful. First couple days I was snapping my head forward every time I touched them (yes they are that sensitive). After I got use to them they were just fine, but then I had a problem driving my wife’s 318i. Switching back and forth between cars is still a problem for me.

But now for the real fun, pressing the throttle down we find out that the 3.2 is quite a bit different than the 2.8. The 2.8 has plenty of torque in the low-end range that can really snap your neck back if you try. To be honest I’m not sure if the 3.2 is any faster than the 2.8 for that first 30/40 yards. But about the time the 2.8 torque starts to peak, the 3.2 torque curve really kicks in and pulls like a freight train. In many ways the appropriate driving style for the 3.2 will more closely resemble the high rev style of the 1.9 then the low rev grunt acceleration of the 2.8. I think for a few seconds several 2.8 owners would feel a little let down in the initial “off the line” performance of the 3.2. But then they would realize they are sinking even deeper in their seat as the 3.2 continues through the RPM range. When my M roadster was new I did my best to follow the break-in procedure, during that break in time I didn’t realize how much more pull the 3.2 engine had over the 2.8 because I didn’t want to rev the engine. But from the few times I cheated I could tell that there was a surprise waiting for me after I had completed the 1,200 mile break in procedure. Now that I’ve got 5000+ miles on the M I get to enjoy that surprise every day.

The suspension setup on the M roadster is quite a bit different than the 1.9 or 2.8 models. They say that an M roadster takes twice as long to build because of all the extra framework and welds they’ve built into the chassis design. This seems to transfer into a very tight and responsive handling convertible. The M roadster doesn’t necessarily handle substantially better than the 2.8 model. I think all the extra framework is to combat the extra power the 3.2 motor can deliver. While tossing the M roadster around a few corners I started to notice it required more precise throttle control. With the extra power you can spin the tires and drift out the rear end without very much effort. So it would appear that the M roadster has better handling potential, but in the hands of an average driver such as myself I can’t make the handling work any better than the 2.8 or 1.9. I think the handling on the M roadster is slightly handicapped by the standard Dunlop SP8080E tires which don’t seem to stick as good as the Michelin tires that come standard on the 1.9 and 2.8 model.

False Advertising: When BMW loans the M roadster to any big car magazine for an official test, it always has the Michelin pilot tires. Yet to my knowledge every M roadster delivered has come with lessor Dunlop tires (something fishy is going on here). There are a couple other areas that the delivered M roadster differed from the advertised, displayed and promised one. BMW proudly displayed an airbag cutoff switch in all the brochures and car shows. Even down to the day I bought mine, my salesman told me it had an airbag cutoff switch in it as standard equipment. But once the car was delivered all that was there was an ugly solid blank plastic disk and the promise “you’ll get it later, I promise”. Latest rumor says all the M owners will be receiving a letter in August updating us on the airbag switch we were all promised and sold, so we’ll just have to wait and see. The other difference involves the “M mobility system”, which apparently is German for “air compressor with fix a flat”. The M roadster does not have a spare tire, to make up for this and to help reassure potential buyers that they wouldn’t get stranded on the side of the road BMW showed us pictures of this mobility system and told us it was standard equipment. Well something happened in between the time I signed the paperwork, and the time I took delivery of the M roadster. The M mobility system had been removed and replaced with a hollow promise of “lifetime roadside assistance”. Lot of good lifetime roadside assistance is going to do me stuck with a nail in my tire half way between Dallas and Little Rock without a cell phone.

Conclusion?

The three different BMW roadster configurations each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Despite the visual similarities, they really are three different automobiles in three distinct price ranges. The price distinction alone might making picking between the three models an easy decision. Just pick the one you can afford, because all three models are worth the money and all three will leave you with a permanent grin on your face no matter which engine you’re sitting behind. But what good is this article if I don’t come up with some kind of conclusion, so here’s my opinion.

Looking at the three from a “price for performance” standpoint, I think most would conclude that the 2.8 is probably the best value. It’s raw, grunt, in-your-face power off the line is very impressive. If the 2.8 has a performance weak spot, it would be its high-end torque. However 2.8 owners are starting to figure out ways to open up the high-end torque with new exhausts, air filters and performance chips. Now with the new double VANOS 2.8 coming out in 1999 it would appear the 2.8 is going to deliver a little more performance for the same price.

Look at the three from a “price for handling” standpoint, and the 1.9 is my clear-cut winner. With just the stock configuration the 1.9 will out perform most vehicles in its class at an autocross. In fact depending on the autocross layout the 1.9 might even beat the 2.8. With just a little aftermarket help the 1.9’s handling breaks into a “race car” like performance range that will have you feeling immune to the affects gravity and inertia. It’s sub $30,000 base price is really hard to beat and with the reports of a 2.5 liter model falling into the same price range I suspect BMW is going to be selling every Z3 it can make.

So where does the M roadster fall in these specific comparisons? Looking at handling I can’t really say its any better than the 1.9 (at least for a driver of my capabilities). Looking at performance I know the 3.2 is faster than the 2.8, but the 2.8 is already pretty darn quick. The real value of the M starts to come into focus when you start adding up all the little extras you get with it. To start with there are the things you can actually put a dollar value on like the 17″ tires ($1125 option on the 2.8), heated sport seats ($900 option on the 2.8), power top ($750 option on the 2.8), metallic paint ($475 option on the 2.8) and the chrome package ($150 option on the 2.8). Add to that some things inside the cabin that are not offered on the 2.8, like the better leather, slightly more leather, and additional chrome gauges. Suddenly the price gap between the two models becomes pretty narrow and when you start to think about the bigger engine, additional chassis framework, and possibly better resale value you start to realize what a bargain the M roadster is in comparison.

So for me it the decision became much easier once I started breaking down all the little things. But that was because I wanted all the little things. There are enough differences between the three models that no one could successfully debate why one model is better than another. Although the debate itself would be fun I doubt that in the end anyone would have changed their mind. Each configuration offers a great value for the price, and it will be interesting to see how BMW tries to keep the separate configurations unique now that the performance gap between the models is narrowing with the new 2.5 and 2.8 double VANOS models.