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For Daily Driving, the BMW 330i ZHP Is Better Than the M3

The M3 may be fun, but like some of BMW’s other sporty cars, it’s a bit compromised for daily-driving. And older examples can be expensive to maintain. That being said, some older models are not only reliable, they’re also well-regarded. One of those is the E46 3-Series. And, just like Alpina offers luxurious M alternatives, there’s an E46 M3 that’s better suited to the average commute. It’s called the BMW E46 330i ZHP.

What is the BMW E46 330i ZHP?

Black 2003 BMW E46 330i ZHP sedan parked on rocky road
2003 BMW E46 330i ZHP | Bring a Trailer

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Much like the Camaro’s 1LE package, ‘ZHP’ is short-hand for BMW’s ‘Performance Package.’ It was only available in the US, BMWBlog reports, and in Canada under the ‘ZAM’ code. It was an E46 exclusive, sold from 2003-2005 for the BMW 330i sedan and 2004-2006 BMW 330Ci 2-door coupes and convertibles.

2001 BMW E46 M3
2001 BMW E46 M3 | BMW

While the E46 ZHP didn’t have the M3’s engine, it’s not inaccurate to call it a ‘baby M3’, CarBuzz reports. Although Gear Patrol argues a better modern comparison would be the BMW M240i. Not quite an M car, but still upgraded over the standard model.

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Compared to the standard E46, the 330i ZHP’s 3.0-liter six-cylinder made 10 more hp, for a total of 235 hp. It also had a higher redline. On top of that, the ZHP has a retuned suspension, with stiffer springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, and control arms. In addition, it came with an underbody cross-brace in front, and wider, sticker tires. Although a 5-speed automatic was available, the enthusiast choice is the 6-speed manual. Engineers gave it a short-throw shifter and shorter final drive for better acceleration.

Black-and-gray cloth 2003 BMW E46 330i ZHP interior
2003 BMW E46 330i ZHP interior | Bring a Trailer

The 330i ZHP also got some interior upgrades. The standard seats were replaced with sportier bolstered cloth-and-Alcantara ones. Leather upholstery was an option, though. It also got an Alcantara steering wheel.

E46 BMW 330Ci ZHP vs. M3 driving experience

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Obviously, without the E46 M3’s 333-hp 3.2-liter six-cylinder, the 330i ZHP isn’t as fast. However, the transmission upgrades and added horsepower did make it faster than the base version. Car and Driver clocked the ZHP’s 0-60 time at 5.6 seconds, 0.5 seconds faster than the standard 330i.

Where the BMW 330i ZHP really shines, though, is handling and comfort. It’s not as harsh as the contemporary M3, for one. But it rolls less and changes direction better than the base car. Also, unlike the M3, you could get a 330i ZHP with 4 doors. And finally, the ZHP avoided some of the M3’s more costly problems.

Pricing and known issues

The E46 3-Series may be regarded fondly, but it did have some issues. Luckily, by the time the ZHP models came about, most of them were fixed.

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For example, models made after 2003 avoid the dread subframe cracking issue, BMWBlog reports. And because the 330i ZHP didn’t have the M3’s engine, it doesn’t suffer from the latter’s rod bearing and cam gear failure, eEuroParts and Turner Motorsport report. In addition, as with many single-clutch automated-manuals, the M3’s SMG automatic is prone to failure. The ZHP used a completely different, more-conventional automatic.

The stock cooling system, though, can crack over time. And both the VANOS system and the water pump need careful attention.

There is another benefit to getting the BMW 330i ZHP over the E46 M3: price. On Bring a Trailer, the average E46 M3 costs around $25,000. Well-maintained, lower-mileage examples can go from $30k to over $60k, Hagerty reports. In contrast, the ZHP models usually go for $10,000-$15,000 on BaT.

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