The Middle Child: The 2005 BMW 330ci ZHP


The car I had for the day was an absolutely mint 2005 330ci ZHP coupe finished in Titanium Silver Metallic with a black leather interior and less than 79,000 miles on the odometer. The 3-liter inline six is paired to the desirable six-speed manual transmission, making the total number of ZHP’s configured exactly like this 140 cars. // Photos and text by Nathan Christian

BMW’s E46 platform is widely-praised by the automotive industry as being one of the all-time greats. I have one issue with the platform though, and it’s not the platform’s fault, rather it’s the consumer’s fault: the M3 walked away with most of the praise. Without discounting the M3 from its fame, a small part of myself is convinced that BMW could slap an “M” badge on almost anything in their lineup and consumers wouldn’t even question it. Because of that, I think there are several hidden gems that were overlooked the day they left the factory simply because they don’t wear an “M” badge on the trunk.

Today I have one of those cars to review, a 2005 BMW 330ci ZHP. So what makes the 330ci ZHP different from a standard 330ci? The ZHP received some trick engine modifications giving it an extra 10 hp and 8 lb-ft of torque as well as a redline of 6800 rpm over the standard 330ci’s 6500 rpm. The ZHP received a 3.07:1 final drive ratio 6-speed manual for the manual transmission equipped cars. A 5-speed automatic was also available. The top speed limiter on the ZHP was bumped up to 155 mph over the standard 330ci’s 128 mph. The ZHP received “M” suspension, which stiffened up pretty much everything over the standard 330ci.

Aside from all the performance enhancements, the exterior of the ZHP got the full M-Tech II body kit, unique 18” Style 135M wheels and black window trim. On the inside the ZHP received anthracite headliner, silver or black cube dash trim, red dash needles and a thick “M” steering wheel available in leather or alcantara trim.

The car I had for the day is owned by my friend, Hunter, who owns an absolutely mint 2005 330ci ZHP coupe finished in Titanium Silver Metallic with a black leather interior and less than 79,000 miles on the odometer. The 3-liter inline six is paired to the desirable six-speed manual transmission, making the total number of ZHP’s configured exactly like his 140 cars. Hunter’s ZHP is also a European delivery car, making it that much more desirable.

Looking back at the M3 argument I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the E46 M3 is also much more common than the 330ci ZHP. The E46 M3’s total production numbers of the standard coupe was just over 26,200 cars made from the years 2000-2006. The total production numbers for the 330ci ZHP coupe was 3,314 cars made from the years 2003-2006; therefore making the ZHP more obscure than its more muscular brother.

So how does the 330ci ZHP feel on the road? Refined, luxurious, and capable. The linear powerband and excellent ride quality remind you what you are driving immediately. However, having driven a couple of E46 M3s, I can say that the M3 does have a more dramatic powerband and is very much more a “screamer”. The ZHP and M3 both share a refined and smooth driving experience, but the M3 clearly outperforms the ZHP in track and performance driving scenarios when both cars are stock.

This car is another great example of BMW’s (and many German cars for the most part) feeling slower from the inside than they really are. This car pulls pretty hard in every gear, but thanks to its build quality and powerband, the power isn’t delivered in an exciting and violent manner, seemingly slowing things down from the driver’s seat. However, the speedometer will say otherwise. The shifts are fairly short and precise making for an enjoyable manual transmission driving experience. The car goes around corners flat with no funny business going on. Despite the aftermarket suspension setup on Hunter’s car, the great ride quality was not sacrificed in the name of performance.

Notably, Hunter’s ZHP has several performance modifications that shouldn’t go without mention. Hunter has installed a Corsa TSE3 axle-back exhaust, aFe Stage 1 cold air intake, Dinan Throttle Body, Dinan Stage 3 ECU remap, and H&R upgraded sport suspension.

The superb German build quality is reflected throughout the entire vehicle, especially the interior. Everything you touch on a daily basis seems to have a quality material used on it and all of the buttons have a positive click to them. The gauge cluster modestly reports all the way to 140mph and a few ticks past. The seats are comfortable with decent torso and thigh bolstering, but without hugging you too tight. The leather wrapped steering wheel is thick and has minimal buttons to distract from the driving experience.

Overall, the 330ci ZHP offers much of the feeling and performance of a true “M” car at a fraction of the cost. To say the least, I was impressed with the ZHP in general as well as the modifications Hunter has done to his Ultimate Driving Machine to make it the best it can possibly be. The 330ci ZHP is further proof that the BMW E46 platform should not only be praised for the bringing us the legendary M3, but also the great cars that didn’t receive the prestigious “M” badge.

Nathan Christian lives in Lee's Summit, MO and enjoys daily driving his Laguna Blue Honda S2000. Check out his Instagram account (@speedenthusiasts) to view more of his work.

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