Bring a Trailer Bargain of the Week: 2004 E46 BMW 330i ZHP

2004 E46 BMW 330i ZHP on Bring a Trailer article highlights:

  • It doesn’t have the E46 M3’s S54 engine, but the 2003-2005 BMW 330i ZHP is a comfier, more practical sports car that’s just as fun to drive
  • A well-maintained manual 2004 BMW 330i ZHP is currently listed on Bring a Trailer
  • At its current $14,250 price it’s below the current market average

You pay a lot to get into a new BMW M3, but you do get a lot of performance—arguably too much for most roads. And while older models, particularly the E46 M3, dial back the horsepower but dial up the legal-speed enjoyment, they’re not always cheap, either. However, there are other sporty and fun Bimmers, not to mention more affordable ones. And there’s one available this week on Bring a Trailer: a 2004 E46 BMW 330i ZHP.

The BMW 330i ZHP is the closest thing to a four-door E46 M3

A red E46 BMW 330i ZHP on a desert road
E46 BMW 330i ZHP | BMW
2003-2005 ‘E46’ BMW 330i ZHP
Engine3.0-liter ‘M54’ inline-six
Horsepower235 hp
Torque222 lb-ft
TransmissionsSix-speed manual
Five-speed automatic
Curb weight3370 lbs
0-60 mph time5.6 seconds

As incredible as the E46 M3 is to drive, it has a few flaws. Firstly, it only came in coupe or convertible form. Secondly, its ride is on the stiff side, even for an M3. And while its S54 inline-six rips gloriously to 7900 rpm, it needs regular valve adjustments (and sometimes rod bearings). But there is an alternative: the E46 BMW 330i ZHP.

Officially called ‘BMW 330i with Performance Package,’ the ‘ZHP’ part comes from the package’s U.S. order code. And unlike some other sporty BMWs, this one was a North American exclusive. Plus, while the E46 M3 is exclusively a two-door car, you could get a 330i ZHP in sedan, convertible, and coupe form. The sedan was only available from 2003-2005, though.

Now, the BMW 330i ZHP isn’t as fast or as powerful as the E46 M3. However, it’s also the only other non-M E46 with a six-speed manual—with a short-throw shifter, no less. Furthermore, thanks to hotter cams and a re-tuned ECU, it’s more powerful and revs higher than a regular 330i. Hence why, combined with the shorter axle ratio, the ZHP version hits 60 mph 0.5 seconds ahead of the standard version.

In addition, BMW gave the 330i ZHP a few handling upgrades. Some, like the lower ride height and firmer springs, also came with the contemporary Sport Package, CarBibles reports. However, the ZHP does have some unique suspension components, as well as sportier lower-profile tires and Alcantara-covered sports seats. Regardless, these changes make the ZHP more agile and responsive in the corners than a base BMW 330i, which is already a well-regarded sports sedan. And, more importantly, it handles much like an M3 without the ride penalty.

You can score this well-kept manual 2004 330i ZHP on Bring a Trailer

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Besides the drivetrain and suspension work, BMW also gave the 330i ZHP some bodywork mods. The 2004 example currently listed on Bring a Trailer has those modifications: a deeper front air dam, different side skirts, and 18” alloy wheels. And it has some choice features and aftermarket mods, too.

Besides those heated Alcantara seats, this 2004 BMW 330i ZHP has a decklid spoiler, fog lights, M-Sport Alcantara steering wheel, and a Harman Kardon audio system. It also has rain-sensing wipers, Dynamic Stability Control, automatic climate control, and black aluminum interior trim. In addition, it has a Kenwood head unit as well as a suede headliner and pillar trim. Those are the only non-factory features, by the way.

Apart from some scattered side-fender and C-pillar dings, this E46 BMW 330i ZHP is also in solid shape, especially given its near-98,000-mile odometer. It has a clean Carfax history, too, as well as plenty of service records. And after the seller acquired the car in 2021, they replaced the following items, which include several known BMW wear items:

  • Spark plugs
  • Ignition coils
  • Valve cover gasket
  • Oil filter housing gasket
  • Crankcase vent valve
  • Radiator
  • Water pump
  • Thermostat
  • Coolant tank and hoses
  • Front suspension bushings

Is an affordable E46 BMW 330i ZHP like this reliable?

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As of this writing, this 2004 E46 BMW 330i ZHP is listed at $14,250 with three days left in the auction. For comparison, it originally stickered at $43,070—that’s the equivalent of $67,560 in today’s money. Also, the equivalent 2022 3 Series would cost almost $57,000. And over the last few years, the average E46 ZHP has climbed to over $20,000 on Bring a Trailer. In short, this car is a solid sports sedan bargain.

Since this is a used BMW, a pre-purchase inspection is recommended. However, it’s worth noting that the E46 ZHP has fewer maintenance needs than the E46 M3, which is already one of the more reliable M cars. In addition, because BMW put thread-locker on the ZHP’s oil pump gear nut, its M54 has one fewer problem area, CarBibles explains. And as noted earlier, the seller’s recent maintenance addressed several other used BMW failure points.

So, if you want a more practical, less-maintenance-intensive version of the one of highest-rated sports sedans ever, this 330i ZHP might be worth a look.  

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