Many of you probably think that I am beating a dead horse at this point—but can you ever really go wrong with a ZHP conversation? If you’ve been following my ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) ZHP discussion, you know that my own ZHP will soon be entering the upper-250,000-mile territory, which has prompted me to spend way too much time unnecessarily researching the next addition to the stable.
In previos articles, I’ve drawn some comparisons between the E46 ZHP and the F22/F82 2-Series models regarding things like value and performance, at one point stating that I was even considering an M2 as a future daily driver solely because it reminded me of the E46 chassis.
However, I’ve never drawn a direct comparison with another ZHP—or at least an F32 claiming to be one. While the E46 chassis remains the original ZHP, there is a modernized F32 iteration bearing the same designation. While they share the same name, does the latter live up to the ZHP designation?
The BMW community is composed of a variety of enthusiasts, all coming from diverse backgrounds but united by the same blue-and-white roundel and what it represents. The beauty of this community is that it is also incredibly expansive, spanning many varied passions. Take a jaunt down the aisles at Bimmerfest and you’ll know what I mean: clown shoe enthusiasts with their Z3 Ms, shark-lovers with their E24s, E46 fanatics, 2002 connoisseurs—the list goes on.
And then there are the ZHP enthusiasts.
I cannot speak for every different group of BMW enthusiasts, but I will acknowledge the fact that ZHP owners are some of the most die-hard E46 fans that you’ll ever meet. People love to say how ZHP owners cannot wait to tell you how special their car is, and I am certainly not denying the sentiment. Just like other BMW enthusiasts, we’re incredibly proud to own our own little piece of BMW Individual magic, and although rather overzealous sometimes, we’re quite outspoken about it. I for one am guilty of this trope; my BMW friends (and certainly my JDM ones) are without a doubt tired of hearing me blab incessantly about the nuances of my convertible.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of owning an E46 ZHP, chances are that you’ve taken it through more than a few canyon chicanes because you can’t get enough of how well-balanced the mature, seasoned chassis is. I’ve heard some enthusiasts claim that you haven’t truly broken in your ZHP (or any E46) until you hit 200,000 miles—and I wholeheartedly agree. As the industry shifts towards the implementation of new technology that may subtract from our behind-the-wheel enjoyment, it’s comforting to know that the pure, raw driving experience lives on in the old E46 parked in your garage.
Though I’ve delved heavily into specs in my previous articles, there are some nuances of the ZHP worth revisiting prior to making such a comparison. The ZHP’s defining features aren’t necessarily its orange tach needles, M-Tech II aerodynamic body kit, stiffer suspension, and M54 upgrades individually—it’s how their sum functions collectively in the finished machine. It’s the combination of negative camber, lowered ride height, hefty control arms, stiff dampers, higher redline, improved camshafts, a different final-drive ratio, and beefier tires that really characterize the Performance Package. The M-Tech II body kit will always be timeless, and although rather quiet, the ZHP-exclusive muffler’s exhaust tone never bores me. Sure, the Style 135 wheels are heavy, but they’re not exactly a key player in performance here. The E46 ZHP also makes a tasteful use of (gasp!) M badges on the steering wheel, shift knob, and the Style 135s—but those are the only places you’ll find them.
Like some of you, I am hesitant when I see modern BMWs boasting an overuse of M badges, which is why I was skeptical when I saw in 2016 that BMW had debuted a special-edition F32 435i coupe claiming that it was a ZHP.
But was it really? In principle, yes.
Chosen as the foundation for the modern-day iteration, the F32 generation of the 435i coupe became the second ZHP to grace the North American market—but the similarities didn’t stop there. Admittedly, when I first learned of its existence, I feared that the 435i ZHP would stray too far from the ZHP’s distinguished essence—that is, it would have a plethora of M badges without any real mechanical upgrades.
I was wrong, and delightedly so.
The 2016 435i, completely unaltered and fresh out of Munich, had a potent 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, which is roughly 70 more horsepower than a 330ci of the same trim level, and the near-instant torque of the N55 brings performance up to another level. Rather than a ten-horsepower bump in power figures, like that of the original 235-horsepower ZHP, the three-pedal F32 variant gained a hearty 35 horsepower and seventeen pound-feet of torque (or 32 in the eight-speed auto), courtesy of an M Performance power kit, which was comprised of a highly-efficient air-intake system and revised engine software. While the muffler is not specific to this ZHP model, the F32 also gets a full M Performance exhaust and a hefty dose of downshift burbles.
Forgoing the traditional M-Tech II package, BMW opts for a similar aerodynamics package, this time featuring M Performance aero parts engineered from high-quality carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics and PUR-RIM polymers. M Sport brakes, four-piston front and two- piston rear, shod with eighteen-inch Orbit Grey V-spoke wheels, variable sport steering, and Adaptive M suspension add to the list of engineering goodies, following in true ZHP fashion. A three-clutch-plate M Performance limited-slip differential—something that the original ZHP lacked—completes the machine.
Where the E46 ZHP could be painted with numerous color palettes, the F32 remained limited to two: Alpine White and Black Sapphire Metallic. Even though they may be from different eras, both ZHPs share an M Sport steering wheel, M badging, and aluminum-hexagon trim in the interior, paying homage to the aluminum-cube trim that was exclusive to the original.
Where both ZHPs differ dramatically, however, is their exclusivity. The E46 ZHP, which was a conventional E46 330i equipped with the Performance Package created by BMW Individual, saw significantly larger production numbers than the F32 of the same name. Unofficial online registries suggest that an estimated 10,000 examples were sold in the U.S. (the only market), which consequently dwarfs the 100-unit production run of the 435i ZHP.
While the exclusivity of the F32 may lend itself to long term resale value, it loses something else: a specific community. Yes, its maturity and more populous numbers may not be driving hammer prices, but the E46 ZHP does have an incredibly diverse aftermarket community, not to mention a surplus of support from members within the BMW CCA and on online forums. There have been countless times when I’ve called upon a group chat of my fellow ZHP owners to diagnose DTCs over the phone, receiving heaps of valuable advice in the process.
But a higher collector value does not necessarily mean a higher desire among enthusiasts; it appears that the E46 wins in that department, as evidenced by current resale trends. While the E46 has package-limited goodies (like the wheels, shift knob, and exhaust), the F32 may be seen as simply an M Performance catalog to some. “There’s nothing bespoke about it,” seems to be a commonly-uttered phrase in online discussions.
So, then, can the F32 ZHP entirely replace the original? No, plain and simple—but I’m sure that you were already expecting that answer from an E46 owner. Can it still offer something to enthusiasts? Absolutely.
Do not mistake my personal bias for my final verdict. The truth is that the F32 ZHP does (on paper, at least) represent the ZHP mystique well. Some may even argue that with its meaningful mechanical modifications, the F32 ZHP may even bring more in the way of performance to the table than the original performance package. It has everything that makes a ZHP a ZHP: cosmetic upgrades, performance upgrades, and limited-edition status. But without getting behind the wheel of one at the track, I’ll never know if it has the same character.
Let me conclude by asking you, ZHP owners and enthusiasts, to come forward and share your own experiences and opinions on both chassis. Is the sequel better than the original?—Malia Murphy
[Photos courtesy Malia Murphy, BMW AG.]