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Thread: Steering/Handling - Z3 vs E46

  1. #1
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    Steering/Handling - Z3 vs E46

    I love the handling of my E46 330Ci.
    I really love small cars.
    I thought the Z3 2.8 I got this summer would be like a smaller E46 - the best of both worlds.

    Not so much.

    I like the handling of the Z - it's small.
    But it feels like normal small car dynamics.
    The steering on the E feels better even with the 500 pound disadvantage.

    I don't mean to be dumping on the Z - I really like the car. I'm asking this question as a prelude to seeing what I can improve.
    I know my Z's tires, shocks and tie-rods all need replacement to begin with. Other stuff can probably be upgraded too.
    I'm just not sure those things will do it.


    The main thing I'm asking is - what others familar with both cars think?
    A number of posters seem to have both cars, and I'm sure many more have driven both.
    How do those with experience compare the handling and steering?

    The second is technical insights
    I know the 2003 E is maybe five years more advanced than the 1997 Z. Are the two different in suspension design?
    Within Z's, did the suspension geometry change any from 1996 to 2002, or are all years the same?
    Would something like a steering box upgrade, or anything else, from 1997 to say 2002 make a big difference?
    How about something improved by aftermarket?
    I don't want the harshness of M springs. The E isn't harsh. I just want the Z to steer like a lighter E.
    ...

    In summary, E vs Z steering & handling:
    - general feelings
    - technical insights

    All thoughts appreciated.

  2. #2
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  3. #3
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    I have a 98 Z3M. I've had a couple of Supras and 300ZX's with minor handling mods. I can't imagine a car handling better than this Z3M, but I know there are many, including the E46. The Z has an inferior rear suspension, from the previous E30, but can be made to handle well. I think all Z3s have the same suspension, with some minor mods on the M roadsters. All "those things" you mention will make a world of difference. Also, if you have not gone to poly subframe bushings, your Z has an unfair disadvantage. That mod changes the car's personality; makes it a much better handler. I also put on Koni shocks and ContiSport tires, and it is wonderful to drive; far better than when I bought it. I also don't want to lower it or stiffen it. I want sway bars, but am having trouble pulling the trigger, given that it handles so well now. And, M springs are not harsh. I had a 97 2.8 and the ride is similar.

  4. #4
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    Well....

    I have an M Roadie and am on my second E46 (touring this time). I don't know if the M and the regular Z3 have the same or different steering, but certainly the M is more direct and has better feedback.

    As for handling, I trust the E46 more. The problem with the Z3 roadsters is chassis flex IMHO. It just does not feel as stable to me.
    George Roffe
    98 M Roadster
    01 325iT


  5. #5
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    I can't comment on the E46 comparison, but replacing worn out suspension and steering components should make a huge difference. Unless you know something has been replaced you would have to assume that everything needs to be replaced at this point (all bushings, ball joints, tie rods, end links, etc...). I've done this to my car over the last few years and it made a world of difference.

    I would not get Bilstein shocks again, I wish I had gone with Koni oil shocks.

    Check your steering shaft flex disc. It's a wear item and when it gets old it causes numb/vague on center steering feel.

    Get a front end alignment to your own specs. I had a reputable local BMW shop align my car and they set it up with zero toe in. Many people prefer this for faster turn in, but it made the car seem light and floaty to me. I ended up getting some toe plates and set the car to factory spec myself. I much prefer the steering feel with the factory specs.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the great response zellamay.

    Interesting how I have a '97 2.8 and you had a '97 2.8.
    While you have a '98 M and I was looking mostly at '98 M's when I got this.
    The deciding factor: I wanted an automatic transmission.


    You suggest poly sub-frame bushings for noticeably better handling. Two questions:
    1 - do these increase the stress on the sub-frame weld tearing that I hear so many talking about?
    2 - how much do they affect ride harshness? The roads here in the Northeast are not always that smooth.

    (My E doesn't have poly bushings.)


    Also, what has you hesitant about a sway bar?
    I've always thought of swaybars, and tower-braces at the other end,
    as being relatively low-compromise handling enhancers. Not so?


  7. #7
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    The Z3M and Non M Z3 have different steering and front suspension setups. The non M Z3 has a 2.7 turns lock to lock steering rack, one of the fastest in modern cars. The Z3M has a slower rack.

    I have a 2.0L and 3.0L Z3's plus a E46 323. To me the E46 is numb and slow in steering and handling compared to the Z3's. That may be just the 323 which could well be different to the E46 330.
    2000 2.0L Z3 Roadster, Mora Red, Individual, Originally from UK, daily drive.
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    There is only one thing more pleasurable than working on a Z3, that's driving it top down on a fine day.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Muzz258 View Post
    The Z3M and Non M Z3 have different steering and front suspension setups. The non M Z3 has a 2.7 turns lock to lock steering rack, one of the fastest in modern cars. The Z3M has a slower rack.

    I have a 2.0L and 3.0L Z3's plus a E46 323. To me the E46 is numb and slow in steering and handling compared to the Z3's. That may be just the 323 which could well be different to the E46 330.
    I think you've described it well. I don't much care for the low level of feedback in the E46. It's too "disconnected." Something in between the two for the E46 would be MUCH better, at least for my tastes.
    George Roffe
    98 M Roadster
    01 325iT


  9. #9
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    Thanks for the great response zellamay.


    Interesting how I have a '97 2.8 and you had a '97 2.8. While you have a '98 M and I was looking mostly at '98 M's when I got this.
    The deciding factor: I wanted an automatic transmission.


    You suggest poly sub-frame bushings for noticeably better handling. Two questions:
    1 - do these increase the stress on the sub-frame weld tearing that I hear so many talking about?
    2 - how much do they affect ride harshness? The roads here in the Northeast are not always that smooth.


    (My E doesn't have poly bushings.)




    Also, what has you hesitant about a sway bar?
    I've always thought of swaybars, and tower-braces at the other end,
    as being relatively low-compromise handling enhancers. Not so?

  10. #10
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    Geo, chassis flex seems right. Convertible.

    But the E46 convertible still seems tight - firm, stable, predictable, ... whatever.
    Maybe the basic E46 platform is just more rigid. I don't know.
    I'd like to know.

    But I've gotten some good advice on making the Z better than it is,
    even if it doesn't get to E46. That will be enough for me.


    You said you like the M steering better than basic Z.
    Someone else said the M is slower steering.
    Maybe an M rack would help.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geo31 View Post
    I think you've described it well. I don't much care for the low level of feedback in the E46. It's too "disconnected." Something in between the two for the E46 would be MUCH better, at least for my tastes.
    So an E36?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by opposite lock View Post
    Thanks for the great response zellamay.


    Interesting how I have a '97 2.8 and you had a '97 2.8. While you have a '98 M and I was looking mostly at '98 M's when I got this.
    The deciding factor: I wanted an automatic transmission.


    You suggest poly sub-frame bushings for noticeably better handling. Two questions:
    1 - do these increase the stress on the sub-frame weld tearing that I hear so many talking about?
    2 - how much do they affect ride harshness? The roads here in the Northeast are not always that smooth.


    (My E doesn't have poly bushings.)




    Also, what has you hesitant about a sway bar?
    I've always thought of swaybars, and tower-braces at the other end,
    as being relatively low-compromise handling enhancers. Not so?
    The poly bushings actually help prevent weld tears. Those tears come from the subframe moving and the poly bushings stop that.
    It is recommended by those who know more than I do to put in poly bushings, if you have no tears, as a preventative measure.
    The ride is not affected, except that the car feels more sure in all situations.
    Money is my only hesitation in sway bars. I'm retired, so I have justify spending money. I've read up on them, on these cars, and I want them.
    Problem is, when I have one of the best handling cars around, how do I justify making it just a little better for $500 ?
    I've been through enough cars and cycles to know it never ends. After I get used to the sway bars, I'll want something else.
    Last edited by zellamay; 11-08-2018 at 11:52 PM.

  13. #13
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    Swaybars are not without compromise. Some believe in them as a major item in the suspension, and some see them as “trim” in terms of slight adjustment. Swaybars are basically a torsion bar that is neutralized when both sides of the suspension are doing the same thing. When each side is doing something different, they effectively add spring rate. Too much additional spring rate and you can quickly over power the dampers. Then there is the issue of bumps on one side of the car affecting the other side, making the suspension somewhat less independent.

    I personally am from the camp that likes somewhat “lighter” swaybars. Too heavy a hand and they introduce other issues.
    George Roffe
    98 M Roadster
    01 325iT


  14. #14
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    Depending on how tight the course is, don't some people tracking z3's remove the rear sway bar altogether?

    On our trailing arm suspensions it always seemed to me that tightening up stuff too much in back just makes it skitter along the pavement...

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by zellamay View Post
    The poly bushings actually help prevent weld tears..
    I'll 2nd that. My Coupe was an automatic until ~140k miles, so didn't see much spirited driving. It was converted to a manual and IE poly RSFB were installed at the same time. 12k later with my driving, sub frame still looks good as new.

    On the flip side, my Z3M was supercharged at 47.5k miles. When I bought it at 52k miles, two of the spot welds had just started to give. It's now got a Randy Forbes kit (along with the IE bushings).

    Both cars feel great in the rear. Steering feel was greatly improved when I did fresh suspension, tie rods, control arms and FCA bushings. I didn't touch the steering rack in either. My Z3 (Coupe) does run M springs and swaybars though, so I guess I don't have a base Z3 comparison.
    Last edited by s8ilver; 11-09-2018 at 12:33 PM.
    Nathan in Denver

    1999 M Roadster, VFE V3 S/C, Randy Forbes Reinforced, Hardtop, H&R/Bilstein, Apex PS-7, Supersprint
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  16. #16
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    I'm no expert, but ignorance has never prevented me from having an opinion. My sense of it is that using bigger sway bars depends on where and how you drive. It seems that track guys don't like them much, preferring stiff springs. So it seems that in ultimate handling situations, bigger sway bars are not the answer. But we can't do that on the street (or at least shouldn't). I don't track, but do some spirited driving when I can. I've added bigger sway bars to 3 or 4 cars and always liked the results. I like the car flat when going around corners, and bigger sway bars accomplish that. They also feel like they quicken the steering response. I've got those 275-40 Conti Sports on the back, and it's hard to get them to give at all.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by zellamay View Post
    I'm no expert, but ignorance has never prevented me from having an opinion. My sense of it is that using bigger sway bars depends on where and how you drive. It seems that track guys don't like them much, preferring stiff springs. So it seems that in ultimate handling situations, bigger sway bars are not the answer. But we can't do that on the street (or at least shouldn't). I don't track, but do some spirited driving when I can. I've added bigger sway bars to 3 or 4 cars and always liked the results. I like the car flat when going around corners, and bigger sway bars accomplish that. They also feel like they quicken the steering response. I've got those 275-40 Conti Sports on the back, and it's hard to get them to give at all.
    Harshness of heavier springs is more an issue of damper choice/setting than the spring itself (until you get into a much more hard core track level, but even then). I used to have a Sentra SE-R and one of my buddies had one with spring rates close to what people were using for racing, but he also had some DA Konis and another friend (race engineer) got them dialed in great. FAR less harsh than you would think, especially on such a light car. The flip side is my SE-R had Eibach ProKits, but dampers that were just too weak (all that was readily available for the car at that time) and the ride was just as harsh, but in a slightly different way.

    All that prattling on is to say you can definitely go stiffer on the springs on the street IF you have well matched dampers. On my own E46 touring I have STX coilovers and lowered 0.75-1.00" from factory sport suspension and I get no bottoming and great ride and handling. Just another datapoint here. In fact, my dampers are about shot on my Roadie and I'm thinking STX for it since I don't track it and have had such great success with my E46.

    And for yet another datapoint (generally) I also have ECS swaybars on my E46 and like them as well, but they are a modest upgrade from stock. I think any more and they would start compromising other areas of the suspension. BTW bigger bars keep the body lean relatively flat on fairly smooth pavement. When the pavement gets less smooth, the bigger bars will induce undamped responses to the bumps.

    Please don't take any of this as an admonishion. It's not. Simple discussion and your datapoint is as valid as mine. One thing I would like to correct though is that swaybars (or stiffer springs) do not quicken the steering response. They speed up the lateral load transfer and stabilize much more quickly. That feels like quicker steering because you aren't waiting for the car to settle. This is especially noticeable in quick transitions.
    Last edited by Geo31; 11-09-2018 at 02:21 PM.
    George Roffe
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    01 325iT


  18. #18
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    Buy a M with a S-54
    /Done

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by E.Hands View Post
    Buy a M with a S-54
    /Done
    I had no idea the S54 solved all handling issues. Great reply. Thanks.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geo31 View Post
    Harshness of heavier springs is more an issue of damper choice/setting than the spring itself (until you get into a much more hard core track level, but even then). I used to have a Sentra SE-R and one of my buddies had one with spring rates close to what people were using for racing, but he also had some DA Konis and another friend (race engineer) got them dialed in great. FAR less harsh than you would think, especially on such a light car. The flip side is my SE-R had Eibach ProKits, but dampers that were just too weak (all that was readily available for the car at that time) and the ride was just as harsh, but in a slightly different way.

    All that prattling on is to say you can definitely go stiffer on the springs on the street IF you have well matched dampers. On my own E46 touring I have STX coilovers and lowered 0.75-1.00" from factory sport suspension and I get no bottoming and great ride and handling. Just another datapoint here. In fact, my dampers are about shot on my Roadie and I'm thinking STX for it since I don't track it and have had such great success with my E46.

    And for yet another datapoint (generally) I also have ECS swaybars on my E46 and like them as well, but they are a modest upgrade from stock. I think any more and they would start compromising other areas of the suspension. BTW bigger bars keep the body lean relatively flat on fairly smooth pavement. When the pavement gets less smooth, the bigger bars will induce undamped responses to the bumps.

    Please don't take any of this as an admonishion. It's not. Simple discussion and your datapoint is as valid as mine. One thing I would like to correct though is that swaybars (or stiffer springs) do not quicken the steering response. They speed up the lateral load transfer and stabilize much more quickly. That feels like quicker steering because you aren't waiting for the car to settle. This is especially noticeable in quick transitions.
    I agree on the sway bars' feel/actual effect on steering. Thanks for the input on springs/sway bars. I do drive mostly on smoother roads, with only slightly larger bars, so that could be one reason I haven't experienced the negatives of bigger sway bars. I have new Koni shocks, so I can adjust as needed. ... Now, in considering stiffer springs: I don't want to deal with suspension mods/tire wear that comes with lowering. I've done that on another car. Are there any stiffer springs that don't lower the car. Also, my poor memory tells me that some pundit on this site said the HR springs (apparently the only ones available) are not so great. So, what springs to consider?

  21. #21
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    Lowering the car should only add to tire wear if you cannot get your alignment in spec. The rears of our cars require a little modification to do that, but it's not that bad. A good alignment is key. After lowering my E46 I had a really good alignment done and tire wear is same as always.
    George Roffe
    98 M Roadster
    01 325iT


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