Column: Is ZHP a special BMW?

3-Series, Featured Posts | April 21st, 2012 by 47
bmw zhp e46 011 750x500

Alright, I am gonna go out there and say it. The ZHP is a special BMW. The Performance Package, option code “ZHP,” created by BMW …

Alright, I am gonna go out there and say it. The ZHP is a special BMW. The Performance Package, option code “ZHP,” created by BMW Individual was available only in the United States as a $3,900 option package on the 2003-2006 BMW 330i. This outfitted the 330i with many BMW Performance Parts as part of a comprehensive application that changed to overall performance and handling as well as enhanced its looks.

BMW proclaimed that the ZHP “brings track-inspired excitement to your daily drive.” I can definitely attest to the accuracy of that statement as I own a six speed ’05 Imola Red ZHP. It works great as a daily driver and can handle itself quite well at an autocross or on track. I had the good fortune to attend BMWCCAʼs Octoberfest at Barber Motorsports Park last fall and had a blast autocrossing as well as driving on track in my ZHP. At the autocross there were no less than 5 ZHPs out there!

bmw zhp e46 07 655x489

I wasnʼt the fastest out there but found the ZHP provides a track capable blend of the patented solid BMW feel, great feedback through its steering rack and yet still offers four door year round practicality. How about winters, you ask? Well I live in the snow belt and have dedicated snow tires and wheels and picked a ZHP with heated seats, so no problem.

For the ZHP, changes hit nearly every aspect of the 330i. The exterior has the M-Tech II body kit complete with small deck lid spoiler. The ZHP was the only option package in the 3 series to offer the Motorsport color, Imola Red. BMW lowered the ride height by giving it a modified suspension with firmer springs, special control arms and stiffer dampers as well as -0.5 degree negative camber. It even has a unique light weight front underbody cross brace. The ZHP has distinctive 18” M-badged 135 style double-spoke wheels with 225/40 fronts, 255/35 rears which are beautiful to look at but a pain to clean.

bmw zhp e46 06 655x491

Interior upgrades include an Alcantara clad M badged sport steering wheel, a much copied ZHP shifter knob and shifter. By that, I mean you will find that many other BMW enthusiasts buy the ZHP shift knob and install it in their BMW. For late 2005 production models BMW fitted the steering wheel with perforated leather instead of Alcantara. My 05ʻs Alcantara wheel has held up quite well in its 55k miles. BMW put an anthracite headline to help reduce glare and gave the ZHP exclusive silver or black cube trim. Alcantara covered side bolsters with cloth seating surface interior was standard, however, leather interior was available for $1,450. The ZHP even has special orange colored gauges needles as opposed to standard white.

As far as the motivation goes, BMW fitted special cam shafts and a different DME to the M54 motor. This combination raised the power output 10 hp to 235hp and gave it a 300 rpm higher redline at 6800 rpm. The ZHP has a special shortened final gear ratio and rear axle. In September of 2003, Car and Driver tested the ZHP and ran a 0-60 time in 5.6s and a 1/4 mile in 14.3s @ 95. This was an improvement over the 2001 330i sport pack they tested at 6.1s 0-60 and 1/4 mile in 14.8s @ 97mph.

See Car and Driverʼs review of it here.

The ZHP sedan was available from 2003 to 2005, and the ZHP coupe and convertible 330 were available from 2003-2006. For 2003 the ZHP was available only in a manual transmission but starting in 2004 BMW added the option of a five speed Steptronic auto. Interestingly, it was the first six speed manual in a non-M 3 series.

Itʼs a running joke that the ZHP isnʼt a special car.

Funny thing is, the ZHP optioned 330 has a cult like following among BMW enthusiasts with its own forum – the ZHPMafia.  And a presence on Facebook. As with the E46 M3 itʼs resale value has remained high.

Whereas there were M3 sedans in the E36 and E90 body styles, the ZHP sedan was the closest you could get to a four door M3 in the E46 line. I can see the argument that itʼs just an option package, but to me, itʼs proved to be a special BMW.

What do you think?

[poll id=”110″]

47 responses to “Column: Is ZHP a special BMW?”

  1. Johnparke says:

    The ZHP is probably the best looking BMW in the past 20 years

    • barry says:

      Someone t-boned my custom ’01 330i last November that was equipped with EVERY option BMW offered and had Hamann apron, skirts, the works. I’ve been looking ever since for a zhp sedan that has nav, rear parking sensors and (my wife insists) heated seats. Anyone know of or have one they might consider selling, email me at: pharnmedic@hotmail.com.

  2. Arett says:

    Not to be an insipid fact-checker here, but the (non-M) US 1995 540i M package also had a 6-speed manual

  3. AJ Frint says:

    Love it

  4. Sajan says:

    I have a couple of questions about the ZHP (from the UK)

    In the uk we had a few different trim levels for the E46. We had ES (the poverty spec one) SE, and M Sport, which is pretty much identical to the ZHP aesthetically wise (same exterior kit and 135 wheels, minus the alcantara et al interior. Did you guys get the M Sport package? And what suspension is fitted on the ZHP package? Is it the same as an M Sport one over here in the UK, or is it even stiffer

    • AW MSport says:

      Here in Canada. the M Sport and the M Performance (aka “ZHP”) have the same upgraded suspension, aesthetics, etc but the M Sport does not have the engine upgrades of the ZHP. Telltales on Canadian cars are the smooth leather steering wheel (instead of alcantara or perforated leather) and the exhaust tips. Canadian cars had the standard white gauges and the same (displayed) 6500rpm redline whether ZHP or M Sport, although the actual redline of the ZHP is the same 6800 of the US car.

      I own a 70,000km 2005 330Ci M Sport Cab Alpine White/Black leather/Black Cube trim.

      • Horatiu B. says:

        One of my favorite BMWs

      • Horatiu B. says:

        One of my favorite BMWs

      • Oz Striker says:

        AFAIK the only difference between the UK Sport models and ZHP is the cams, and this only amounts to an additional 4bhp over the UK model which has 231bhp, some aesthetic options were an additional cost eg alcantara, when leather was standard. Although i think the uk only Clubsport model had alcantara as standard. Did the zhp have adjustable lumbar support? That’s the one rare option that was not standard kit on any UK car and rarely

  5. Sajan says:

    ..also the interior of your e46 is immaculate! It’s inspired me to go out after this post and clean the interior of my e46.. the sand beige surfaces sure love to pick up dirt!

  6. rick_vor says:

    Owned a ’03 ZHP since new.  I couldn’t imagine a better commuter car.

  7. My_beanus says:

    everything on the ZHP can be replicated or advanced with aftermarket parts. rather have my VB3 wheels than the 135i.

    • My_beanus says:

      style 135 wheels*

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes but to make all those changes to a 330i would cost significantly more than a ZHP package.  BMW was stupid for never making an e46 M3 sedan, so this was the best most of drivers could get if they wanted a 3 series that could do everything – track, family, daily driver, low maintenance.  And really, for me, it’s the best 3 series sedan made in the last 14 years (better than the e90s and F30s for sure).  

  8. Anonymous says:

    I had a 2003 ZHP, picked up in May 2003.  Just a fantastic car.  I looked forward to driving that car.  I’ve had a few BMWs since then but not a single one (including the 335i) made me feel like I was driving something different or special.  

  9. Nnnn says:

    it was a fantastic car to drive (and easier to deal with than the m3)  but it was a bit underpowered for that time.

    • Anonymous says:

      At the time its 0-60 of 5.6 seconds put it well ahead of its few competitors – the A4 and G35. The IS350 didn’t exist and the C Class was an after thought for MB.  X-type?  Go back and check around, in 2003 that 5.6 was great.  At 43-44k a 330i with the ZHP package, xenons and leather was a screaming deal and actually a better deal than even today’s F30 328i sport line, which optioned the same way will cost more, offer less and still can’t match the ZHP in terms of straightline performance or driver involvement.  Of course the F30 also lacks any panache, zero performance upgrades and doesn’t feel the least bit special.

  10. I’ve read very good things, never drove one. Personally the coupes much better looking than the sedans – no offense to author.

    You’ll want to track down the May 2010 issue of Bimmer magazine, #90, that named the E46 ZHP #1 on its list of the 10 best driving BMWs.

  11. Endras BMW says:

    Of course it’s a special BMW!! I’ve been meaning to track down an Estriol Blue or Silver Grey E46 330i for some time now. 

    Does anyone know if the Alcantara steering wheel existed as stock in Canada? 

    • 330ZHP says:

      Just imported a 3x black 2005 330 Vert ZHP with just 45K miles. It’s imaculate inside and out.  I was very lucky to find it.  Having searched and researched for the last year, finally coming up with this one… I agree with those who say it’s a special car.  

    • 330ZHP says:

      Just imported a 3x black 2005 330 Vert ZHP with just 45K miles. It’s imaculate inside and out.  I was very lucky to find it.  Having searched and researched for the last year, finally coming up with this one… I agree with those who say it’s a special car.  

  12. Good article. Everyone should feel their car is special the ZHP does put together a nice option package. As the owner of a 2005 330Ci with M sport package I also think the E46 is the sexist 3 series ever

  13. jgerry says:

    I have owned an ’05 330ci ZHP coupe since brand new. It’s special. I use mine as my daily driver. I don’t drive a ton, mine only has 52K miles and is in very good shape. Never given me a moment’s trouble. I love this car and plan on driving mine into the ground.

    The car looks a lot better with the body kit, and handling is great. Is it better than the regular 330ci coupe? I don’t know. But it certainly looks nicer.

    One minor feature you left off — the blackout trim (instead of chrome/silver) around the windows. I much prefer the matte black to the shiny, even on my silver car. EDIT: also, you mentioned the dial needles are orange, but the round trim around the gauges is also different, it’s silver.

    One annoyance is a throttle blip when passing 4K rpm. I think other 330s of this vintage had a similar problem. I had no luck getting BMW to acknowledge or fix it, no matter how many internet posts I showed them.

  14. Arun Kumar says:

    Hyundai has copied BMW !!Watch that youtube video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLT4QhM0Wuo

  15. Bluzee says:

    I have a 2004 330ci ZHP, Orient Blue Metallic,Style 135 Chrome “M” wheels, w/Gray Leather Int. trimmed w/ Silver Cubed Alum. Alcantara “M” Steering Wheel,5sp Steptronic Auto,48K miles. I absolutly know it is special. The car is a ROCKET and handles like it’s on rails. As far as speed, I’ve had it to 98 mi/hr. in the 1/4 mi. This was before I did some minor mods,but I could tell the performance difference immediately,FASTER! It is a real thrill to drive and also has very comfortable ride, even on longer trips. Love it,bought in Dec. 2005, only thing have had to do is new tires and a new battery this spring March 2013, been very reliable.

  16. Bluzee says:

    I have a 2004 330ci ZHP, Orient Blue Metallic,Style 135 Chrome “M” wheels, w/Gray Leather Int. trimmed w/ Silver Cubed Alum. Alcantara “M” Steering Wheel,5sp Steptronic Auto,48K miles. I absolutly know it is special. The car is a ROCKET and handles like it’s on rails. As far as speed, I’ve had it to 98 mi/hr. in the 1/4 mi. This was before I did some minor mods,but I could tell the performance difference immediately,FASTER! It is a real thrill to drive and also has very comfortable ride, even on longer trips. Love it,bought in Dec. 2005, only thing have had to do is new tires and a new battery this spring March 2013, been very reliable.

  17. Bluzee says:

    I have a 2004 330ci ZHP, Orient Blue Metallic,Style 135 Chrome “M” wheels, w/Gray Leather Int. trimmed w/ Silver Cubed Alum. Alcantara “M” Steering Wheel,5sp Steptronic Auto,48K miles. I absolutly know it is special. The car is a ROCKET and handles like it’s on rails. As far as speed, I’ve had it to 98 mi/hr. in the 1/4 mi. This was before I did some minor mods,but I could tell the performance difference immediately,FASTER! It is a real thrill to drive and also has very comfortable ride, even on longer trips. Love it,bought in Dec. 2005, only thing have had to do is new tires and a new battery this spring March 2013, been very reliable.

  18. Gonzo says:

    It is definitely special. I have owned a 2004 ZHP since 2006, now with almost 120K miles (I put on all but 34K). It is a great car. I bought it after trying the E90 and finding it bloated. I was coming from a E46 and instantly thought the ZHP was everything that was great about my E46, but more so. The shifting action in the manual is the best I have ever driven. Almost everyone I let drive it has asked me if I was selling it, including two valets.

    I have thought about selling it for three years to get some modern do-dads, especially bluetooth, but have not been able to find any reasonably priced car in the same league (and yes, I think its original MSRP was reasonable). I am pretty sure I am going to keep it until it just can’t run anymore. Oh, and by the way, I have had only regular maintenance — some belts and all that. Extremely reliable and absolutely my daily driver. Of course, don’t even think of driving in snow without winter tires… but with them, a great winter car.

    Can you tell I’m a just little fond of it?

  19. Nick says:

    I recently got my ZHP for my first car, it was my top choice in the E46 3 series line. The ///M body kit adds a much desired eye candy aspect and it is as close to an M3 without the insurance costs ;)

  20. Riley@PDX says:

    I LOVE my 2004 ZHP coupé!

  21. MotorGirl says:

    Owned an ’05 330ci convertible zhp-Triple black w/leather (instead of Alcantara)-and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! Bought it with 21k and Put over 100k miles on it in 6 years.
    I agree that it’s a very special car. If you’re a true “driver”-you will notice every little bit of difference compared to a base 330. I genuinely loved every second of driving it and didn’t even complain when I had to write the car payment check (all 72 of them). Had it’s fair share of the usual 330 probs (valve cover gasket, 02 sensor, lower control arm bushings, etc) but I have ZERO complaints. Currently looking for zhp #2…hoping to find a manual trans this time. Steptronic is a nice effort and functions rather well but it can drive you nuts when you feel like grabbing a gear since you just don’t get 100% out of a “mock” manual. I’ve recently looked at new models but they just don’t do it for me. I still like the older body style.

  22. Alex Oladejo says:

    what should i look for when trying to get a ZHP 330i, the inifiniti G35 looks a close competitor too.

  23. Vern says:

    I am ordering a Bra for my 2005 330ci ZHP is it considered to have a front spoiler???

  24. I absolutely love my ZHP. I have an ’03 Imola Red, which I bought after driving an ’01 330ci for a few years. The ZHP feels totally different – much tighter and performance-oriented, while being just as comfortable for daily driving. I would totally agree that it’s special.

  25. Matt says:

    Isn’t this something what is called a simple M-package?

    • Horatiu B. says:

      From Wiki:

      The performance package was an inclusive option given to E46 sedans from 2003 to 2005, coupes and convertibles from 2004 to 2006.[20] It included various aesthetic changes over the regular 3 series, as well as functional and mechanical enhancements. It had M badges on each of its Style 135 wheels, with additional M badging on the multi-function steering wheel and atop the 6-speed short throw weighted shifter. In addition to the standard color options, the ZHP was available in the “Motorsport-only” color Imola Red. It received the “M-Tech II” bodykit standard, 18-inch staggered Style 135 wheels, high gloss anthracite window trim, and the coupe received clear turn signals (headlights, side-markers, and tail-lights) instead of the amber turn signals found on the standard 330Ci.[20] The interior had also been modified with half cloth-half alcantara sports seats (optional upgrade to leather), an alcantara -wrapped sports steering wheel (switched to perforated leather in mid-2005), a shorter M-badged shift knob, anthracite colored cloth headliner, and aluminum “cubed” faux-carbon fiber interior trim (available in silver or black). The instrument gauge cluster was also modified with red needles and polished metal trim rings.[21]
      In the performance department, the ZHP was equipped with the more aggressive DME tune to increase power from 225 hp (168 kW) to 235 hp (175 kW).[20] The engine redline raised from 6,500 rpm to 6,800 rpm to take advantage of the new power band and higher power output at higher RPMs.[21] As a result of the higher redline, the nut that fastens the oil pump’s sprocket came with threadlocker pre-applied from the factory to keep the nut from falling off.[22] The car also received a shorter final drive ratio which allows for faster acceleration; 3.07 vs. 2.93 for manuals and 3.64 vs. 3.38 for the automatic. [21] *Car
      and Driver * magazine track-tested the car, which returned a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds and passed through the 1/4 mile in 14.3 seconds.[21] In 2003 the ZHP featured a 6-speed manual transmission (the Steptronic automatic transmission was not available the first model year (2003), but it was offered from 2004 to 2006).

      Suspension was modified over the standard suspension with firmer springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, stronger front control arm ball joints, a lower ride height, and slightly more negative camber .[21] The Style 135M wheels also came equipped with the much stickier compound, Michelin Pilot Sport tires, in a staggered configuration with 225/40-18 tires in the front and 255/35-18 tires in the back.[21]

  26. Michael Haskins says:

    I own a 2005 330CIC Imola Red Convertible ZHP. This car has a look and feel all its own. Even my 18yr old son (whose into BMWs) says when this car pulls in, it has presence! Incredible drive- sticks to the road and incredibly responsive. The BMW dealership told me to hang on to it- it will be a classic; I believe him. It’s a special car and a peculiar representation of everything that makes BMW great.

  27. Mi Privilege says:

    Smaller diameter anti-roll bars: 23.5 mm front (v. 24mm pre-04/01 ZSP), 18mm rear (v. 19mm pre-04/01 ZSP)

    There is no 18.5 mm rear sway bar offered by BMW for the E46.

    More rigid forward bushings

    Front Control arm bushings are the same ZHP/ZSP

    ZHP control arms are different and use a stiffer ball joint

    Lower ride height by 15 mm (.6 inches) utilizing shorter auxiliary springs

    Since both the ZSP and ZHP use the same springs, they have the same ride height. Both are 15mm lower than a non-sport E46 -.5 degrees of camber (for a total of -1.1 degrees) Alignment settings are the same ZSP and ZHP

  28. Youran van Ark says:

    Its just as special as a e36M US spec.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NEWSLETTER