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The BMW Z3 2.3 Didn’t Have a 2.3-Liter Engine

Here’s something you’ll probably have trouble believing. In 1999 and 2000, BMW sold a version of its Z3 roadster called the "2.3." This is not, on its face, unusual, but there was one unusual thing about it: it didn’t have a 2.3-liter engine. Indeed, the 1999-2000 BMW Z3 2.3 — which had "2.3" badges on the car, and was officially named the Z3 2.3 — used a 2.5-liter 6-cylinder engine. This may be the only time a European automaker has ever understated the engine used in one of their vehicles.

To understand how this came about, let’s go back to the start of the Z3. The Z3 came out for the 1996 model year, and it initially offered only a 1.9-liter 4-cylinder with a meager 138 horsepower. To placate (lots of) people who said it was underpowered, BMW added a 193-horsepower 2.8-liter 6-cylinder the following year; this model was badged as the Z3 2.8. No big deal.

For the 1999 model year, BMW ditched the 1.9-liter 4-cylinder as the base engine, and instead went to a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 6-cylinder. So now, the non-M Z3 lineup involved a base model with a 170-hp 2.5-liter 6-cylinder, and a top-end version with the 193-hp 2.8-liter 6-cylinder. This created a little bit of a problem: These engines were close in size and in power, and I assume BMW figured it might be difficult to convince customers to pay extra in order to upgrade just 23 hp and 300 cc of engine size.

And so, I suspect, this is where the "2.3" thing came from: In order to distinguish between the 2.5 and the 2.8, BMW decided to call the 2.5 a "2.3." This created a larger gap between the two models, and it mimicked what was already happening with the 3 Series, which was offered in "323" or "328" guise. There was just one problem, though: While "323" and "328" were just numbers that could’ve really meant anything, placing a "2.3" badge on the side of a car is a reeealllly good indication that it has a 2.3-liter engine. Which this one didn’t. It wasn’t an outright lie, but it was a bizarre decision.

Fortunately, this oddity ended quickly. For the 2001 model year, BMW upgraded the top-level engine in the Z3 to a 225-hp 3.0-liter 6-cylinder, dubbed the Z3 3.0, giving the brand freedom to recast the "2.3" as the "2.5" it always was. And so the bizarre 2.5-liter Z3 2.3 only lasted for two model years, 1999 and 2000. But it sure was weird — and now, every time you look at a Z3 and notice the "2.3" badge, you’ll know it’s one of the more bizarre mis-badgings in recent automotive history. Find a BMW Z3 for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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10 COMMENTS

  1. What idiot wrote this article. Bmw never claimed that this vehicle had a smaller engine. And they have fudged horsepower number many times. 335i and m5 are prime examples of cars that actually have More horsepower then they lead onto believe.

  2. The pre-facelift E39 523i and post-facelift 520i both under reported their engine size, the 523i was a 2.5, while the 520i is a 2.2, annoyingly my 528i is only a 2.8 and not a 3.0 like the facelift equivalent.

  3. Are you aware though that the subsequent Z4’s in 23i guise also have a 2.5 204bhp engine under the hood? That only ended around 2010.

  4. Another example of this was selling the foxbody mustang with a 302 as a 5.0 when in actuality it was a 4.9. It’s not much of a difference, but I chuckle when I see 5.0 badges.

    • Claiming a 4.9 is a 5.0 is the inverse of what Doug’s talking about – that’s overstating the displacement. 

      (And 5.0 liters = 305 cubic inches, not 302; 4.9L = 299ci)

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