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BMW Z3 Best Performance Upgrades

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Table of Contents


The BMW Z3 made its grand entrance to the automotive world in 1995 as a classically styled roadster that would later evolve into a sports coupe.

Succeeding the Z1, the Z3 fast became a popular choice among car enthusiasts. And it wasn’t long before owners were already looking for ways to further enhance the performance of the car through power, braking and handling upgrades.

Due to the affordability and popularity of the Z3’s now, there is a large aftermarket scene for the cars. This means an abundance of mods and upgrades made to extract the most from this fantastic car.

In this guide we’ll go over all the best proven and reliable ways to extract as much performance as possible from your Z3, regardless of what year or model you own. 

Before we jump right into it, let’s take a quick look at the various model variants available. It’s worth noting some engines will respond better to upgrades than others. 

The first generation Z3 roadster debuted with six engine options:

  • Z3 1.8 (1995-1998): A 1.8L inline-4 producing 115 hp
  • Z3 1.9 (1996-1999): A 1.9L inline-4 and 118 hp
  • Z3 2.8 (1996-2000): A 2.8L inline-6 engine with 190 hp
  • Z3 2.2 (1999-2002): A 2.2 inline-6 producing 168 hp
  • Z3 2.5 (2000-2002): A 2.5L inline-6 with 184 hp
  • Z3 3.0 (2000-2002): A 3.0L inline-6 delivering 225 hp

The Z3 Coupe offered 3 engine variations, with a particularly high powered variant for the Z3M!

  • Z3 2.8 (1999-2000): A 2.8L inline-6 with 190 hp
  • Z3 3.0 (2000-2002): A 3.0L inline-6 outputting 225 hp
  • Z3 M Coupé (1998-2002): The high-performance model, powered by a 3.2L inline-6 with 321 hp (Euro-spec) or 240 hp (US-spec)

Now we’ve covered the different models, let’s get into looking at the best ways to boost the power, braking and handling of the Z3!


BMW Z3 on Coilovers

Coilovers excel in providing improved handling.

The dampers are often of superior quality and can reduce unnecessary suspension movement.

A car with coilovers installed usually feels more planted during cornering and at high speeds, making it much less likely to lose traction, especially in a rear-wheel-drive fun machine like a Z3.

One of the great features about coilovers is their adjustability.

Being able to adjust both the ride height and settings like the damping, you can modify the car to behave you want whether it’s for the street or the track. 

Aside from the performance edge, coilovers visibly transform your Z3, giving it a more aggressive and stylish stance. This can help enlarge the perception of the wheels and give it a sleeker profile. 

If you daily drive your Z3, you will want to opt for a set of coilovers that deliver performance whilst also providing good ride quality. 

There are a variety of great sets from brands like BC Racing, V-Maxx and Yellowspeed. There are also options on the budget end of the spectrum such as the set from Maxspeedingrods.

BMW Z3 Yellowspeed Coilovers

Yellowspeed Coilovers

For the BMW Z3

BMW Z3 Maxspeedingrods Coilovers

Maxspeedingrods Coilovers

For the BMW Z3

Stiffer Anti-Roll Bars

Upgrading the anti-roll bars, also known as sway bars, on your BMW Z3 can drastically improve its handling performance and stability through the corners.

When upgrading the anti-roll bars, you can choose to either upgrade the front anti-roll bar, the rear anti-roll bar or both. Understanding how each anti-roll bar effects the handling dynamics of the car will help you decide what upgrades to go for. 

The front anti-roll bar’s primary function is to control the car’s understeer. A stiffer front sway bar will reduce your car’s tendency to understeer, resulting in a more balanced ride.

Contrary to the front anti-roll bar, the rear one mainly controls oversteer. Thus by upgrading your rear anti-roll bar to be stiffer, you would increase your car’s tendency to oversteer.

With a tighter rear suspension, the car becomes more agile and responsive during quick manoeuvres, offering spirited drivers lots of fun.

Most owners prioritise upgrading the rear anti-roll bar to a stiffer aftermarket variant as it can make the car more dynamic on the limit.

There aren’t an awful lot of options on the market for a stiffer aftermarket anti-roll bar. The H&R adjustable front and rear bars are your best bet if you are serious about performance which you can get from eBay below.

BMW Z3 H&R Anti-Roll Bars

H&R Front & Rear Anti-Roll Bars

For the BMW Z3

Upgraded Bushings

Z3 with upgraded control arm bushings

Considering the age of the Z3, the bushes, which serve as crucial components in the suspension setup, are likely to be worn out.

As time and usage take their toll, the bushes degrade, leading to poorer handling and sloppier gear shifts.

Upgrading these worn bushes can bring a significant improvement to your car’s handling dynamics.

With new bushes, you can expect a more direct steering response, a snappier turn-in, and an overall poised and composed ride.

If you own a manual Z3, you will find that the gear shifts are more precise and direct with upgraded bushes, allowing you to shift faster with more confidence.

Typically, the most commonly updated bushes on the Z3 are the control arm bushes as well as the anti-roll bar/sway bar bushes.

The control arm (or wishbone) bushes take a lot of strain, especially under heavy braking or during sharp turns. Upgrading these bushes can drastically enhance the stability of the car.

The sway bar bushes, or anti-roll bar bushes, on the other hand, have the important task of reducing body roll during cornering. As these wear out over time, the car might lean excessively while turning, thus reducing its stability and cornering speeds.

Upgraded Bushes For The BMW Z3 

When it comes to deciding the type of bushes for your Z3, the common options are usually polyurethane (poly) bushes and rubber bushes.

Rubber bushes are generally the standard choice for most manufacturers due to their cost-effectiveness, and the quiet and comfortable ride they provide. The majority of OEM bushes are rubber.

For those seeking maximum performance, polyurethane bushes are a popular choice. They are stiffer than the rubber counterparts, providing the car with more precise handling, more responsive steering, and reduced body roll.

However, the trade-off is a slightly harsher ride compared to the softer rubber bushes as they transmit more road noise and vibrations to the cabin. It’s a trade-off many owners are happy to make for enhanced performance. 

Aftermarket Strut Brace

Z3 Strut Brace

Craving sharper handling and a nicer looking engine bay?

What you need is an aftermarket strut brace!

The primary purpose of a strut brace, or strut tower brace, is to increase a Z3’s structural rigidity by bracing the front strut towers together.

This prevents the chassis from flexing during cornering, leading to more precise steering input and response.

For the BMW Z3, a stiffer aftermarket strut brace means tighter handling and a more communicative ride – vital for those twisty back roads or the occasional track day.

The visual improvement of installing a strut brace is also often underappreciated.

A shinier, well-crafted brace can transform a cluttered engine bay into a more organised and performance-focused space. Many owners also opt to paint or wrap it based around a colour scheme they may going on with their car.

BMW Z3 Strut Brace Inline 6 engines

QMS Performance Strut Brace

For the BMW Z3 (Inline 6)

BMW Z3 Strut Brace Inline 4 engines

QMS Performance Strut Brace

For the BMW Z3 (Inline 4)

Performance Exhaust

Z3 Exhaust Tips

For all you enthusiast Z3 owners, the thrill of the open road can be made even better by boosting both the car’s performance and its unforgettable sound signature.

One way to achieve this improvement is by upgrading to a performance exhaust.

Performance exhaust systems are designed to improve exhaust flow, reducing backpressure and boosting power. While the gains you get from a performance exhaust on this car aren’t as good as you would typically get from a turbo’d car, you will definitely notice a sharper throttle response with the right exhaust system.

Of course it isn’t all about performance. Many owners will opt for a performance exhaust simply for the acoustics. 

Performance exhausts create a deeper and more aggressive exhaust note, very much suited to the sporty persona of the BMW Z3.

The most common section to upgrade is the “cat-back” section of the exhaust. This section is made up of the muffler/backbox which is responsible for controlling the noise of the exhaust.

Upgrading this section will give you that lovely exhaust note you desire and can even slightly boost performance.

Aside from the cat-back section, some owners who are intent on extracting as much power as they can from the naturally aspirated engine add aftermarket headers. 

Unlike the restrictive design of many stock exhaust manifolds, aftermarket headers are engineered to reduce backpressure through optimised pipe lengths and smoother bends, allowing the engine to breathe more easily.

This reduction in backpressure directly correlates to an improved exhaust gas flow, which can lead to increased horsepower, torque, and an enhanced throttle response. The gains will be most noticeable on the inline-6 engines. 

Cobra Cat-back Exhaust

For the BMW Z3 1.9

Performance Intake/Filter

When it comes to upgrading the intake on the Z3, you have 2 main options. 

You can opt for a performance cold air intake or a performance panel filer.

While these mods don’t necessarily provide significant power gains, they can definitely provide a nicer sound – especially the cold air intakes. Some owners do report mild power gains and a slight improvement in throttle response with intake mods.

The area the cold air intake shines is the sound enhancement. When installed, it offers a deeper and sometimes louder induction roar when you put the foot down. These also jazz up your engine bay with a flair of performance. 

On the other side of the ring, we have performance panel filters.

Performance panel filters are unlikely to give your Z3 a major power increase. But thanks to their more efficient airflow, they may improve your Z3’s throttle response slightly.

Panel filters simply replace the standard paper filter in the stock airbox, so keep your engine bay looking OEM and are extremely easy to install. Plus. they are washable and reusable unlike the standard filters which typically get replaced at services.

If you aren’t too focused on boosting the sound, then a panel filter is your best option. You can get a fantastic quality performance panel filter from Pipercross.

BMW Z3 Pipercross Panel Filter

Pipercross Panel Filter

Fits the BMW Z3

Brake Upgrades

We’ve spoke about increasing power and handling performance on the BMW Z3, but what about stopping power?

Let’s talk brake upgrades!

The first port of call when it comes to brake upgrades is often the brake pads. 

Brake pads provide the friction needed to slow and stop the car. Changing to high-performance brake pads can offer superior stopping power due to their ability to handle more heat without fading. If you daily your Z3, we would recommend EBC Yellowstuff pads.

Upgrading the brakes doesn’t always mean going aftermarket though.

For example, some owners opt to upgrade to the 3.0 Z3 brakes which have 300mm discs. 

You can also run M3 brakes, although you will need to ensure you have at least 17 inch wheels for clearance. 

If you are serious about your braking performance and like to track your Z3, then you will undoubtedly want braided brake lines and high temperature brake fluid to compliment your other brake upgrades.

Braided brake lines are a lot more durable than the stock rubber lines which can expand under repeated heavy braking. This expansion can cause a loss of pedal feel and a significant drop in braking performance. This can actually be dangerous on track so braided brake lines are always advised in this scenario.

The high temperature brake fluid is always recommended with braided brake lines. With an elevated boiling point, high temperature brake fluid ensures a consistent brake pedal feel and consistent and predictable braking.

EBC Yellowstuff Brake Pads

For the BMW Z3

BMW Z3 Braided Brake Lines

Stainless Steel Braided Brake Lines

For the BMW Z3

Short Shifter

Z3 Short Shifter

A popular upgrade to achieve a more precise, quicker shifting experience is the installation of a short shifter. This upgrade only applies to manual versions of the Z3.

A short shifter is designed to reduce the throw length between gears. This results in a shorter distance for the gear knob to travel while shifting, allowing drivers to change gears quicker and more efficiently with more accuracy.

This is a very useful mod if you like to drive your Z3 hard on the road or on the track. With it’s increased precision for gear changes, it reduces the chance of any mis-shifts or gear crunching when you are slamming through the gears at a fast pace.

The shortened throw distances also provide a more mechanical and direct sensation through the gearshift, which is very satisfying!

Considering the low cost of a good short shifter kit, this is definitely an underrated mod.

Adjustable Short Shifter With Black Gear Knob

For the BMW Z3

BMW Z3 Short Shifter Kit

Short Shifter Kit 

For the BMW Z3

Finishing Thoughts

When it comes to tuning the Z3 for power, you won’t get massive power gains without forced induction. 

While there are turbo and supercharger kits out there on the market, they can be quite expensive and can require a fair amount of work to install. If you are after maximum power, you will want to go down this route though.

For keeping your Z3 naturally aspirated, the mods and upgrades mentioned in this guide will get you decent bang for your buck. 

Remember it isn’t all about straight line power!

Upgrading the handling of the car and the braking can increase the fun factor tenfold, especially if you love a blast down country roads or on the track.

Happy modding!