In yesterday’s feature I talked about the thought that went into my recent car purchase and the process of elimination I went through before narrowing the search. I had gone through the list of possibilities from the MazdaSpeed 3 to used M5s. What I needed was four doors with plenty of luggage space combined with great performance, good efficiency, and (above all) something that was “interesting”. Basically I didn’t want to see myself coming and going every five miles.

So let me pick up where I left off…

Part 2

So the current (E90) 3 series BMW just doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective and doesn’t rank high in the “interesting” category. Of course I could splurge for a new E90 3 Series (with the M Sport pack and everything under the sun) but my whole point was to find something slightly used that costs less to go along with some new priorities I have.

Then there’s the E46 (3 Series from 1999 to 2005)? I’ve owned a couple of them and they’re probably my favorite used BMW platform outside of the E30. The E90 is a better car sure. But the E46 just feels a little more connected to the spirit of the old-school BMW ideals. But is it truly special enough?


The ultimate E46 of course was the M3. But due to some Munich bean-counting oversight there was no four door M3 for the E46 generation. And I’ve already decided I need four real doors and the room that goes along with it. Then it hit me. The 330i with the much sought after Performance Package (also known as the ZHP). It was created for the US market (who were clamoring for a four door M3 at the time) to be the ultimate four door E46.

Sure it doesn’t have the power of the M3 at 235 hp (around 240 bhp for those across the pond). But it has many of the intangibles found only in M cars. Let’s take a quick look at the list (and yes this is long):

– Engine mods (new camshafts, electronics, & lighter flywheel) for 10HP & 8 ft/lb of torque increase & 6800 max RPM (from 6500) designed and built by Alpina.
– 6 speed short throw shifter with unique shift knob
– 3.07:1 Final drive ratio (instead of 2.91:1)
– Max Speed Limiter set to 155 mph (instead of 128)
– M suspension, more aggressive than standard sport package: Firmer springs (front +6%, rear +8%) and firmer shocks (Jounce: front +50%, rear +20%), (Rebound: front +35%, rear -8%)
– Larger diameter anti-roll bars: 23.5 mm front (v. 23.0), 18.5 mm rear (v. 18.0)
– More rigid front bushings
– Lower ride height by 15 mm (.6 inches) utilizing shorter auxiliary springs
– -.5 degrees of camber
– BMW M Aero Kit (front & rear fascia, side sills, & trunk lid spoiler)
– BMW individual exterior trim: Anthracite (charcoal) headlight & foglight surrounds, High-Gloss Shadowline (black gloss) trim
– Large diameter stainless steel dual exhaust outlets
– Extra thick M Alcantra steering wheel
– Sport Seats
– “Black Cube” or “Silver Cube” M trim
– M Anthracite headliner
– M Red needles on the instrument cluster
– Optional Imola Red (unique M only color)
– Unique M division 18″ Wheels (style 135M), 18×8.0″ front, 18×8.5″ rear
– Wider Tires: 225/40ZR-18 in front and 255/35ZR-18 in the rear.

The ZHP (as it is known among enthusiasts) was offered on sedans from ’03 through ’05 and on coupes and convertibles from ’04 though ’06. So that meant I’d have only three years of production to find my ideal used car if I went this route.

So let’s take a look at how it stacks up to my initial criteria for my next car. Four doors – check. Fun – check. Rare and interesting – a big check. And that’s where it really wins over the E90 325i. In fact digging into the story about the ZHP and how it came about really started to sell me on the car.

From my sources here’s how it all started. BMW USA went back to BMW AG in Munch and said we need something, anything that we can offer our enthusiast owners who want a four door M3. So BMW AG finally relented and handed off the project to BMW Individual to head-up. They then went out to Alpina who donated hotter cams, lighter flywheel and the engine software that added the extra 10 hp. From there they handed it over to BMW’s M Division who completely reworked the suspension, added a six-speed short throw manual transmission, M aero-kit, unique 18″ wheels and all kinds of interior trim to give the car the unique M feel. Finally BMW Individual added the high-gloss Shadowline and anthracite trim.

It all made the idea of a E90 325i seem a little pedestrian. But how does the ZHP stack up against the E34 or E39 M5? It’s a mixed bag in terms rarity (the E34 of course being quite rare) and it’s certainly not quite as exotic without the high-revving M powerplant. But when it comes to all out speed the ZHP is as fast as the E34 M5 and not too far behind the E39 M5 with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds. And with the car weighing several hundred pounds less, it’s quite a bit more toss-able than either.

So it was settled right? I mean it all makes sense. It’s a late model E46 that has everything I’m looking for. It’ll be fairly efficient, fun to drive and rare. But the real work was just starting; could I even find a low mile ZHP (preferably with Nav and of course a manual) within my price-range. A quick search on, Autotrader and BMWCCA classifieds gave me some pause. There was really nothing on the market with less than 40,000 miles let alone something with Navigation. Next up, eBay.

Finding “the” Car

And there it was. A 2004 330i ZHP four door in Imola Red with navigation and somehow only 19,000 miles. And as luck would have it, the car was only 10 miles away in a Chicago suburb. For the moment, it was also well within my price-range. It had five days left on the auction and there was a good chance it would be bid up just out of my $24,000 self imposed threshold. So I had to act immediately.

Within hours I was behind the wheel putting it through it’s paces. In a word, perfect. It had 19,000 miles on it and it felt basically new. The tires were in need of replacing but otherwise it was like buying a well cared for BMW corporate car. In fact the owner told me the car had never even seen rain in four years since it was new. And it was easy to believe with the mileage and the general condition of the car.

After a sleeping on it for a night it was an easy decision. I agreed on a price over the phone (not ideal but time was limited), sent over a deposit via Paypal and the current owner pulled the auction that day. The total ended up being just a hair over $20,000. An incredible deal considering it was a $46,000 car a few years and miles ago.

And here it is. I’ve had it for awhile now and have to say it’s truly been one of the best ownership experiences I’ve ever had. Look for a full review on BimmerFile in the coming weeks.

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Thanks to my friend Sam for some of the info on this page and for letting me drive his almost identical ZHP awhile back. It certainly left a lasting impression.