The E46-generation 3 Series is easily one of the most popular BMWs of all time. Not only did it sell like crazy when it was new but it continues to do so on the second-hand market. In fact, used-car sites are filled to the brim with E46s in various conditions, waiting for new owners. However, buying an E46 isn’t as easy as just picking one. There were, and still are, many things to consider about the fan-favorite 3 Series, as model types, packages and options can make a world of a difference.

Thankfully, the folks over at Bimmerfest and diymybmw have compiled a nice little list of all the different packages, options and trim levels available on the E46 3 Series. This sort of list can be an invaluable tool when shopping for your next car, allowing you to know exactly what you’re looking at, what to look for and what not to believe from the shady guy selling the car. Also, no, the spoiler wasn’t factory and it didn’t come with a special package that makes the car faster…

U.S. E46 3 Series Packages

When shopping for an E46 3 Series, there are three main packages to consider, so get your three-letter abbreviations down. There’s ZSP (Sport Package), ZPP (Premium Package) and ZHP (Performance Package). Each of those packages bring a unique set of options that make it special and knowing the options they bring will help you better understand your car. So let’s take a look at the most important packages and what they offer.

  • ZSP (Sport Package) — The ZSP pack came with a three-spoke steering wheel, sport seats with additional thigh support and thicker side bolsters, sportier wheels with low profile tires and a stiffer suspension.
  • ZPP (Premium Package) — The ZPP pack came with special high-spoke wheels, a four-spoke multi-function steering wheel, power front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, lumbar support and a moonroof.
  • ZHP (Performance Package) — This is the top dog that everyone wants. The ZHP came with a six-speed manual with a shorter-throw shifter (standard manuals were five-speed), a different final-drive ratio, revised camshafts, ten more horsepower, stiffer control arm bushings, a re-tuned suspension, an Alcantara steering wheel, an exterior body kit and ZHP-specific wheels.
  • Cold weather package (ZCW) — It includes a Pass-through ski bag, Heated seats, Headlight washers and Fold down rear seats

Canada and Mexico

If you live in Canada, then you might have seen 330i models that look similar to the E46 ZHP in the United States. Up north, BMW offered the M Performance Package which uses the same bodykit as the U.S. model but with upgraded camshafts and engine tweaks. It also received a BMW Performance Package exhaust. The option code was recorded as ZAM.

If you go down south to Mexico, then the E46 ZHP was known as the F1 Package and was available on the E46 320i model. It was nearly identical to the M Package from Canada, sans the engine mods.

The Rest Of The World E46 3 Series Packages

The rest of the world had the following packages for the E46 3 Series:

  • ES
  • SE
  • M Sport
  • M Clubsport

The E46 M Clubsport was visually similar to the U.S. ZHP. The main difference is that the M Clubsport trim was not given the BMW performance camshafts. Instead, it had 20 kilograms (44 lb) of sound deadening removed from the car.

The M Clubsport trim shares the same suspension set up as the ZHP in the U.S., as well as the interior trim and 18 inch style 135 wheels.

However, changes from the ZHP include plastic front splitters on the M-Tech II bumper, a M-tech II styled rear spoiler (instead of the M3 trunk lip), and clubsport door sills. The M Clubsport also came with two “BMW Individual” color options: Estoril Blue and Velvet Blue.

The ZHP is objectively the best version of the E46 3 Series. It looks stellar, has the best handling of any non-M3 E46, has a bit more horsepower and hotter cams. It’s just the one to buy if you can find one for the right price (demand has inflated the price a bit too much).

However, if you’re just looking for something to be a comfortable highway cruiser that’s also sporty enough to handle a back road, the ZPP package is excellent. Its ride is more comfortable, it has taller gearing so its engine is more relaxed at highway speed, its more comfortable on the inside and it looks a bit more understated.

Though, if you want something that’s a bit in between, the ZSP package is also good. It offers a bit of extra sportiness over the ZPP but isn’t as sporty as the ZHP. So it’s a nice middle-man and a great daily driver. It looks a bit cooler than a standard E46 or ZPP, it handles slightly sharper and yet it’s still comfortable enough and understated.

So next time you’re shopping for an E46 3 Series, which you very well might be, whoever you are, use this tool to help you understand what you’re looking at. Knowledge is power and, in the immortal words of April Ludgate, power is pizza.