The cult classic E46 performance package that’s extremely rare in the UK.

Classic beemers tend to have that old school cool factor about them and the ZHP models are certainly no exception.

Not only do older BMWs get cooler, they also get more expensive and as time marches on, the cars that were once full of life and filled with shiny parts from the factory eventually become aged and withered. Over time, a lot of those models get consumed, either getting crashed, crushed, abandoned, stored away or simply scrapped. Take the E30 M3 as an example. Nowadays, they’re a lot rarer than they were on release and that’s one reason why they cost so much.

SpeedDemon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The BMW ZHP may not be considered quite as special as an E46 M3 by some but at the same time, conversely, there is an argument to be made for it being even more special.

The BMW ZHP is a US-only performance package that has made a name for itself for being one of the best versions of the E46 ever made. It sits somewhere in between the Ci model and the full-fat M3, with a ZHP having more extras than the Ci models but the M3 is still a different beast altogether thanks to the distinguished styling and performance.

Douglas McCaffery (ShimShimHada), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a range of characteristics of the mysterious and exotic ZHP that help define it and differentiate it from the 330i, Ci, XI and M3. Like the 330Ci and unlike the XI, the 330 ZHP is not AWD. In many ways, it is similar to the Ci model but it has even sportier suspension with firmer springs, firmer shock absorbers and anti-roll bars with a larger diameter. All of this results in a more performant ride compared to the Ci but the difference between driving an M3 and a ZHP is still said to be like night and day.


Other differences include more rigid forward bushings and a ride height that is around 15 mm lower. All in all, the ZHP is a real hidden gem and if you have managed to hear about it from the UK, where they weren’t even sold, then it goes to show just how good their reputation is.

One could summarise a ZHP as an E46 with M3 suspension components but without the M3 engine (among other things).

Gearing is also slightly different to the Ci model which helps it feel faster to drive and the interior also features some extra M options that the Ci didn’t get such as the Alcantara wheel. The engine may not be the same as the M3’s but it does have a marginal power advantage over standard Ci models and a higher redline at 6,800rpm rather than 6,500rpm.


Often hailed as one of the best non-M Performance BMWs out there, it is a great shame that they’re not readily available here in Britain. That being said, it hasn’t stopped super fans shipping them over and if you look hard enough but if you’re thinking of purchasing one, be sure to check its legitimacy as there are many online sellers calling their Ci a ‘Ci ZHP’ without realising the only genuine ZHPs are from North America!

Let us know what you think of this niche cult classic, in the comments below.

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