Home » Jet-Black Germans: 2000 BMW Z3 vs 2009 VW GTI

Jet-Black Germans: 2000 BMW Z3 vs 2009 VW GTI

Sbsd 11 30 2023

Good morning, Autopians! Today we’re taking a look at things that are German, a little bit ridiculous, and dressed all in black. No, not Sprockets; there are no monkeys involved. Well, there’s a little bit of monkey business, but you’ll see what I mean when we get there.

First, though, let’s take a quick look at yesterday’s results. The expected barrage of K-car animosity showed up in the comments. Good, good – let the hate flow through you. You’re all wrong, of course, but that is your right. Not that I begrudge anyone voting for the Cutlass; it’s a fine automobile, and one I’d be proud to own. But so is the LeBaron.

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Also, I want to clarify my statements about the Cutlass’s 3.1 liter V6 engine. I meant no disrespect or ill will towards it; it’s actually a great engine. But it’s low-key great. Nobody sang its praises back when it was being stuffed under the hood of everything GM made, but in hindsight, it ended up being a reliable, durable powerplant. It’s just not something anyone can really have strong feelings about, like a Hemi or a 2JZ. It’s just sort of there. That’s all I meant.

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All right; on to ze Germans. Yes, we have another convertible today, but it’s at least a fun sporty one. And it’s up against the archetypal hot hatch, albeit in slightly diluted four-door form. Lovers of low maintenance bills, I apologize; I’ll do some Toyotas and Hondas next week to make up for it. Here we go.


2000 BMW Z3 2.8 – $4,999

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 6, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Odometer reading: 86,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!


BMW’s Z3 was introduced in 1995. Originally powered by the 1.9 liter four-cylinder from the 318i, later versions including this one were powered by an inline six. The Z3 was a successor to the Z1, a limited-production roadster most notable for its doors – they slid downward into the rocker panels to open. It was really cool, but prohibitively expensive. The Z3, a much simpler design, had regular doors.

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Or at least, it did when it left the factory. This one has since been modified with that most ostentatious of mods: the so-called “Lambo doors,” so named for their resemblance to the upward-opening doors on some Lamborghini models. These are popular among the tuner crowd, attention-seekers, and those who have to park in particularly narrow spaces. Some of these conversions can be undone easily; I don’t know if this is one of them.

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If you can look past the silly doors, and the tacked-on rear spoiler, and the pile of junk in the passenger’s footwell, this Z3 is in pretty decent shape. It has only 86,000 miles on the odometer, the paint is shiny, and the registration is up to date. We aren’t given much more information about its mechanical condition, other than the fact that it’s faster than the one James Bond drove in Goldeneye, presumably because it’s a 2.8 instead of a 1.9. It’s a weird brag to make in a Craigslist ad, but then again, Lambo doors.


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Z3s are neat little cars, sort of like Miatas on steroids. They aren’t typically this tacky, though. But they also aren’t usually this nice for this cheap. How much of what has been done to it can be undone is a mystery, and I suppose you don’t actually have to undo any of it.

2009 Volkswagen Golf GTI – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed manual, FWD

Location: Carpinteria, CA


Odometer reading: 206,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed

Take one run-of-the-mill economy hatchback, give it tighter suspension, bigger wheels, and an infusion of horsepower, and what do you get? A legend. Volkswagen’s GTI has been available in the US since 1983, way back in the Rabbit days. It’s gotten bigger and more powerful over the years, as well as way more complex, but VW has tried to keep the GTI true to its roots. And that includes its interior fabric.

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Not all GTI generations had plaid seats; I seem to remember the MkII switching to stripey seats, but by the time this MkV rolled around, the plaid was back, and better than ever. This generation of GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0 liter twincam four, putting 197 horsepower to the front wheels through a six-speed manual. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the old trademark golf-ball-styled shift knob made the jump to the six-speed.


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This GTI runs and drives well, and unlike so many of them, has remained stock except for an aftermarket touch-screen stereo. It has a lot of miles on it – over 200,000 – but this generation of Golf is nowhere near as fragile as the Mk3 and 4 were. It still has some issues, primarily water pump failures (why can’t anyone in the whole country of Germany design a decent water pump?) and ignition coils going out, but as long as you keep up on the maintenance, and keep it stock, word is that these are actually pretty reliable.

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Cosmetically, it looks good for 206,000 miles. It’s straight, shiny, and not ripped up inside. I’m sure there are some things that don’t work – it’s still a VW – and there’s a little wear and tear, but generally, it looks all right, at least in the photos.

A lot of people are afraid of German cars, after hearing countless horror stories on the internet, but they really are great cars to drive, and they’re not really unreliable – just particular. When the maintenance schedule says you need to do something, you need to do it, not postpone it until something acts up. Otherwise, they will bite you in the ass, and if you can’t tackle the resulting repairs yourself, you will pay someone else, dearly. But learn to live with them on their own terms, and these cars will reward you with excellent handling, and a steadiness and surefootedness on the road that has to be felt to be believed. So what’ll it be: the roadster with the questionable modifications, or the hot hatch with the cool upholstery?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
4 months ago

+1 pts for usage of “Sprockets“. Bravo, Mark!

4 months ago

I was going to vote for the Z3. Then, I saw the doors. I threw up in my mouth. So I voted for the GTI

4 months ago

Neither – I’m walking.
I know I will get there and back, without injury.

Wc Jeep
Wc Jeep
4 months ago

Unreliable BMW seems redundant to say. High mileage German car not a great choice. GTI this time.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
4 months ago

The Z3 all day long. That M52TUB28 is pretty rugged and easily tuned, it is low mileage, and the doors and janky spoiler would be a relatively easy fix (assuming you are comfortable with wrenching and/or pick & pulls).

4 months ago

I’d love a Z3 one day, but not one with hacked doors. Not ever that.

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