The success of the Motorsport derived versions of each generation of the venerable 3-series mean that it’s both easy and a natural choice to concentrate on them in the used market. But BMW has also offered some pretty special non-M models in the 3-series lineup, and the 2003-2006 330i. Much like the M3, the 330i was available in 2-door coupe and convertible no surprise there – but the 330i was also quite popular as a sedan and the E46 M3 never came in that configuration. If you ticked the ZHP Performance Package box, you paid an additional $3,900 on top of the premium for your top-of-the-line 330i. While that was no small amount of change, what that amount resulted in was actually quite a bargain. Developed by BMW Individual, you got a plethora of performance details throughout the package. Outside, M-Tech body pieces adorned the car front, sides and rear and blacked out trim replaced the chrome. So too were M-branded special Style 135 18″ wheels, with tires to match the width of bigger brother M3. Lower and stiffer suspension was met with more negative camber, special reinforcement and control arms. The engine was upgraded too, with unique cams and a revised engine map resulting in 10 more horsepower, but the ZHP was more than 10 hp quicker off the line thanks to a shorter final drive and a 6-speed manual borrowed from M. Performance wise, the ZHP split the difference between the 330i and M3 in acceleration and cornering, so it really was a performance package to live up to its name. Inside, too, many special details adorned the ZHP – from small items like lightly revised gauges with special needles to unique shifter, steering wheel, seat fabric and eggcrate dash trim. Just like the S-Line Titanium Package Audis, these more potent 330is have a cultish following who proudly claim they’re not only special, but one of the most special BMWs made:
While the four-door M3 has been with us for the last two generations of 3 series, you were out of luck if you wanted an M-badged 3 series four-door when it came to the 1999-2005 E46 3er. Or were you? For a short while, BMW offered the ZHP package on E46 sedans, coupes and convertibles. More aggressive cams and modified engine management delivered 235 horsepower. Along with a modified suspension setup, this was a bit of an M3-lite. Whether it’s a standard or ZHP variant, it’s hard to come across mint condition E46 sedans these days, but this example for sale in Maryland looks to have led a pampered life, with under 60,000 miles on the clock.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 BMW 330i ZHP on eBay
It’s always a happy occasion when I come across a ZHP that has been well loved and remains unmolested. In fact I think these cars are more likely to have been left in their original state than an M3 simply because the folks that tended to opt for the ZHP were more “grown up”. All I mean by that is while the E36 3 series was in production there was no four door M3 option so if you were a family man who wanted a go fast BMW, this was your car.
The ZHP only got a 10hp increase over the regular 330i but reprogrammed engine management and a close ratio six speed manual made it feel quite zippy. It’s stiffer and slightly lower too but from what I’ve read the ride quality didn’t suffer and that’s a big plus. I’ve driven a couple of E46 M3s and while they’re fantastic for spirited driving, I don’t cruising around in them on city streets. In this era before adaptive suspension setups you had to decide whether you wanted a performance car that was tolerable in day to day life or a sporty car that was OK when you wanted to get after it a bit. The older I get the more I find myself thinking the latter is the right way to go and I think the 330i ZHP is a near perfect choice for the driver who might go to the track a few times a year but mostly enjoys a spirited canyon run.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 BMW 330i ZHP on Pelican Parts
For practical folks like myself (who also happen to be BMW fans) one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory is the lack of an E46 M3 sedan. I’ve always had a soft spot for the E46 3 Series in nearly all forms but aside from the legendary M3 coupe, it’s the sedan that I’m most drawn to and I’ve always lamented the fact there was no true M version.
However, never the ones to pass up an opportunity to squeeze some extra dough out of Yankee consumers, BMW offered us the “ZHP” package on the 330i from 2003 to 2006. For $3,900 you got a lowered ride height thanks to firmer springs and stiffer dampers. Special control arms, a unique light weight front underbody cross brace, staggered wheel/tire setup further contribute to the enhancement of the car’s handling prowess. Your money also gets you an slight bump in power, 235 hp up from 225 hp as well as a marginally higher redline of 6800 rpm up from 6500 rpm. A special final gear ratio and rear axle make the most of those gains and I’m willing to bet that these cars feel plenty quick but isn’t constantly reminding you that you’re unable to use every ounce of power in day to day driving situations. After all isn’t that what you want in a daily? That’s a question I’m asking myself more and more these days.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: BMW 330i ZHP on CarsDirect
When I wrote up yesterday’s 2002 Dinan S3-R M3, I wanted to find an equivalent model to it for sale for value comparison. Naturally, I…