By on October 29, 2013

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For some time now, I’ve had the notion that I’d like a BMW – and a specific one at that. I want one with a manual transmission, a naturally aspirated I6 and hydraulic steering. Finding one isn’t exactly hard, but finding a good one is very tough. So much so that I nearly pulled the trigger on one of the last 128i 6-speed manual coupes to come to Canada. The dealer offered me some rather generous terms, but my overriding distaste for owning a rapidly depreciating asset (128i residual values are flaccid, to put it mildly) ended that idea. The next best thing, according to former E46 330i Sport owner Jack Baruth, is a used E46 330i Sport.

My search hasn’t been terribly fruitful. Most E46s BMWs in my area are overpriced, overmiled and purchased by an owner base that really, really must have the badge but has no interest in maintaining the vehicle. I did find this oddity however – a very nice, low kilometer 330i ZHP Sedan with an SMG. Personally, I am scared of the potential operating costs of an SMG box, not to mention it wasn’t exactly the last word in smooth shifting or performance. A shame too: I love the color, the sedan body style and the price is fair considering the market and its condition. This is emphatically not a crap wagon. But it’s enough to scare me off.

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89 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: ZHP SMG...”


  • avatar
    Travis

    Jeremy Clarkson maintains that true car afficionados must own an Alfa Romeo at some point in their life. A BMW is not an Alfa.

    • 0 avatar

      And Setright thought that an automatic Prelude 4WS was the finest car in the wuuurrrlldddd

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I’ve owned Alfas, I have loved Alfas, I will own an Alfa again. But BMW makes MUCH better cars. Not as fun, not as emotional, but much better.

      Derek, go buy that last of the line 128i. Sometimes you have to suck it up and pay for what you really want. And there is an awfully lot to be said for buying a car new and treating it correctly from day 1, especially BMWs. Screw the resale, keep the thing for so long it won’t matter.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        BMW is “better” if you mean spending $4,000/yr on German parts and labour is better than spending $4K/yr on Italian parts and labour. Don’t buy a Beemer unless your are an utter masochist or you enjoy spending lots of money on parts that would never fail before 200K miles on a Honda! (I speak from sad experience in this matter).

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I’ve owned a couple of Alfas and a bunch of BMWs, all well-used except the current one. I have never spent $4K in a year on any of them, unless you include the purchase prices, and in a couple cases not even then.

          Where do you people get this crap?

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Do you do all your own work? Do you defer maintenance? Are you excluding wear items like tires from your accounting?

            You can easily drop $4k in a year getting a BMW into good mechanical shape.

          • 0 avatar
            ash78

            We’ve got Audi-underpinned Passats, 15 and 11 years old, and unless you insist that everything be exactly showroom perfect, spending more than $1,000 a year on either of them (inlcuding tires) is a rarity except for the occasional timing belt job. I do DIY for almost everything, though. Paying shop prices, I would have traded them years ago.

            And Audis are reputably much worse than BMW from the same era. In Audi circles, I6 Bimmers are lauded as among the most reliable of the European lux/sport options.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Burgersandbeer

            The only way it would cost you $4K year after year is if you bought a heap of crap to start with, AND paid a dealer to do all the work, and abused the poor thing. Or you bought one of those mechanic special 750iLs. And even at that, I would say you would have to be mighty unlucky. How many BMWs have YOU owned and/or maintained? I’ve had a 2002, two 318is’s, two 535i’s, a 528e, a 325i and now a 328i. I help a friend maintain his 330Ci. All except the 328i and 528e bought well used. I bought the 328i new, my Stepfather bought the 528e new. That car has over 300K on it, still see it around town. My Mom drove it to 250K+ before we sold it out of the family. All were quite cheap to run.

            Yes, I do much of my own work, but I still have a very good idea of what it would cost to have things done at a shop. My cars are impeccably maintained. Wear items are wear items, tires and brakes for a Camry are not notably cheaper than tires for a 3-series. Likely more, depending on the years involved.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            @krhodes1

            I didn’t say $4k year after year, just that it is easily possible to spend $4k in a year. jeffzekas did imply it could cost $4k every year, and I’ll agree that sounds high.

            $4k is more for the first year getting the car caught up.

            I had an E39 540 for about 5 years, and now an E46 330. I also babysit an E53 X5 3.0. Not quite the list you have, but I should point out that some of the older cars you have owned have a reputation as being more durable (the 535s) than cars like the E39 and E46.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            You CAN spend $4K in a year on a Honda Accord – friend of mine did a couple years ago. EGR valve, transmission, rotten brake and fuel lines, all at the dealer. Mistake #1, going to the dealer…

            He sold the car the next year – for $4K.

            Any inherent durability advantages of the older cars are more than made up for by the fact that they are OLD. The older cars are of course a little simpler. You won’t have a VANOS issue on a car that does not have VANOS. But the newer cars are better overall, so a small price to pay.

        • 0 avatar
          BMWnut

          I had the same experience. Still having it actually…

        • 0 avatar

          I have a 2003 330i, Sport Package (last model run with the 5 speed just before ZHP). At 300,000 miles, I have learned…
          Anything Bosch lasts 150k. Bushings go at 60 and are toast by 80. At the ten year mark, rubber begins to go, intake hoses, seals (darn you oil filter housing seal) and such. You’ll learn about golden grommets…the many bushings that wear out. Some are easy to replace, some less so.
          I’ve a great Indy mechanic for those that aren’t. I DIY everything else. I’ve had the car since new so I know where it has been.

          Helpers are the huge aftermarket. Weak points have been addressed with Heavy Duty parts and upgrades. I have lots of M3 bits, Meyle parts, or ECS reinforcements. Avoid pacific rim parts, buy the euro OE, OE producer, or euro upgrade.

          Prices in the aftermarket are “normal” car prices, not BMW prices. You can do sport brakes and pads for $400 parts…I have.

          Oil every 7k, Mob 1 euro formula

          Keep it tight, and there is nothing better. New cars have more power and better gadgets, but aren’t any better on a twisty road.

          I wish I had the sixth gear in the ZHP, but since 17 inch wheels are bad in my area, I wouldn’t want 18s.

          My ancient car is still stable under speeds I won’t admit to. Expect to do some bushings-the sway bar bushings are sacrificial but cheap and easy to do. Front Control Bushings last 80k, but took me all of 45 minutes to swap out. I sent the Rear trailing arm bushings out to be done.

          My dream car is either the 335d M package e90 I drove once, or an M3, eggplant and six speed. Each of them is MOAR e46, but the basic feel and bones live on in the normal e46

  • avatar
    ciscokidinsf

    Talk about cosmic coincidences:

    Doing the exact same thing, looking for a BMW 3-series 2000-2004 (Has to be Sedan or Wagon) and also ran into a ZHP, with regular auto tranny, a couple of manuals from 2002. 3-series Wagons are scarce for whatever reason right now around Bay Area and mostly 2000-2001 (trying to keep it above 2003 is possible) Trying to keep it under $10K – and $12K is my ceiling

    Forums say ZHP is good, dunno the SMG, but I would imagine repair cost to be above the other 2 simpler choices. Found a 03 ZHP with 140K miles, mulling it over vs. 04 325i manual with 101K miles. Reliability is priority one, fun is two. I can handle German, but not VW catastrophic costs for minor shit gone wrong anymore.

    So, for those who love the previous 3-series – what do you recommend? I can be patient in the hunt.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      If you think VW repair costs are catastrophic, I have no idea why you are considering BMW. And why would you buy a 10-year-old BMW if you prioritize reliability over fun?

      As for the two samples you mentioned, just go for the one in better condition. The zhp has higher mileage, but it might be better maintained. Assuming equal maintenance, there is no reliability difference between those two engines.

      • 0 avatar
        ciscokidinsf

        Oh, but my VW is the awesome, scary one. Its Halloween anytime of the year on mine – at the tune of $2K-$3K avg range, and three weeks of time. Lovely ride that has been loved. But I need to give it a rest and care, or make it a decent trade. I’m not naive on 3-series maintenance, but I can see a more consistent, easy to maintain experience at average-to-high costs.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          I hope you mean $2k-$3k per year, and not per visit. That is painful for a brand that typically sells new for below average prices (I think $30k is the avg new car cost these days).

          BMWs certainly are consistent. Their problems are well documented, and the failures happen like clockwork. Expensive, but stay on top of it and you are unlikely to need the flatbed.

    • 0 avatar
      SomeGuy

      I had an E46 330Ci sport.

      Get the regular automatic or the manual, but avoid the SMG. It is the FIRST generation of the gearbox. I have a friend who put several thousand in his E60 M5’s SMG. Just avoid it, it is very likely most won’t use it the way it was intende dto be used.

      The pricing is delusional for these cars like the author mentioned. You get a lot of people who think the badge adds a few grand, others who think they are serious about selling, but the price doesn’t reflect it, and others who just don’t know what KBB/NADA is.

      Do lots of searching, and be willing to drive. Also, GET AN INDEPENDENT INSPECTION NO MATTER WHAT. IF YOU DO NOT TURN YOUR OWN WRENCH IT CAN COST YOU THOUSANDS TO FIX THESE CARS.

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      The E46 is a great car and very durable. Also extremely easy to maintain yourself if so inclined. We had the a 03 5spd wagon, sport/premium until some dumbass rear ended it going 50 mph while texting. Which I will add they are very safe, I walked away unscathed but the car was done. Don’t listen to the 4k a year crap, I have owned many BMW’s, some with nearly 300k on them and none have cost near that to keep on the road.

  • avatar
    imag

    “A very nice, low kilometer 330i ZHP Sedan with an SMG.”

    Were words lost at the beginning of that fragment? It looks like you might have intended a transition.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    I owned a 330i E46 sedan, sport with SMG. Didn’t have the ZHP package but wished it did… The ZHPs looked really cool. Anyway, I’d like to say I was completely satisfied with it… But the last two years of ownership sent me on many a tow truck ride to the dealership. The SMG was a unit ahead of its time, not really quite ready for prime time though. The bang bang shifts got to me after awhile, and the last straw was when the clutch pack started to go. It was good while it lasted!

    I have a Jetta GLI with DSG transmission now, and the difference is night and day… No complaints with the DSG.

    • 0 avatar
      krayzie

      Okay good luck with the DSG, I`m glad I got rid of mine; 6.5 yrs 80000+KM GTI with occasional double upshifts and downshifts cuz it couldn`t find the gear, so it goes back to the original driveshaft which already engaged another gear (i.e 4 to 2, 1 to 3, etc).

      Reset the gearbox with VAGCOM every 3 months seem to have cured it until last year of ownership it started happening every week). Lucky I never got the DSG flash of death. Well documented on Youtube.

  • avatar
    Jason Lombard

    There’s a really nice ZHP in AZ right now with low mileage on (I think) Cars.com. I was actually shopping for a 330 sedan as well (in manual), and I just got back from Seattle (flew up from Central CA) in order to pick it up. Ended up a little older than I wanted, but a clean car with low mileage (68k). They’re out there, but you have to be patient. I searched for about two months…

    • 0 avatar
      ciscokidinsf

      So the eternal debate: Mileage vs. Age? Should I optimize the search for a low mileage 346, regardless of age, or get the newest one, despite an extra 30-40% more in mileage? Saw the note for choosing based on maintenance. And I will do as much as possible, but probably buying at dealership.

      Right now:

      Manual Wagon > Auto Wagon > Manual Sedan High Mileage > Auto Sedan Low Mileage> Auto Sedan High Miles (High Miles means above 100K)

      Any particular combo version to look for? (AWD?, Winter package?)

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    A modern BMW is just a Mondeo (Fusion) with a funny badge.

  • avatar
    twotone

    I was considering upgrading my E36 328i sedan, manual to an E46 as well. I though I wanted a ZHP car, but after driving a few, changed my mind. They are basically a M3 with 100 less HP. I actually preferred a 6 speed manual with the regular or sport suspension over the ZHP. The ZHP suspension is too hard for a daily driver on Colorado’s bad roads. I’d take a manual non-ZHP over a ZHP/SMG any day.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      When I was searching for my E46, I decided that the zhp wasn’t worth the money. It is a nice package, so it was a close call. For the price difference between ZHP and the rest, I opted to keep the money for maintenance and repair. I certainly ended up needing it.

  • avatar
    ccfr8er

    I’ve got your car (in Imola red, not grey), but I’m not parting with it. I bought my 2005 ZHP Almost new (2000 miles in 2006) as a CPO and have enjoyed it for 50K miles so far. The car is totally stock, and is every inch the sports car wearing sedan drag.

  • avatar
    DDayJ

    Last month I had a chance to pick up a 2011 328i wagon with the 6MT. I’m not a fan of car payments, but I took the plunge on the BMW. Haven’t regretted a minute of it.

  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    I enjoy the ZHP cars, but early SMG units tend to make you feel like you did the first time you encountered three pedals. Jerky, weird reverse engagement, and potentially expensive repairs. This coming from a guy who routinely likes to debunk those whose blanket “used German car? Prepare your butthole” remarks.

    Keep searching.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Derek – weren`t you doing a series with a used Volvo that you had bought? That was a while ago but what happened?

  • avatar
    tedward

    I would avoid the ZHP package frankly. I love the little aesthetic touches that go with it (shift knob etc…) but those can be brought over easily and the price premium is unjustified considering the aftermarket support for these cars. Why buy BMW’s more expensive suspension package when you can buy a better, and more comfortable, unit aftermarket for less money? Especially when you may have to replace dampers anyway buying a used car.

    Buy the least expensive car you can with the drive-train and mileage you want and everything else can be improved when parts need replacing or you get antsy.

    edit* Oh, and SMG is from the devil, along with R-tronic and all the other single clutch auto-manuals. They have clearly delegated one of the engine horses to kicking gears. It feels brutal and cannot be good for bushing or anything else.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Why not a used 128 if the depreciation is so good/bad depending on perspective.

  • avatar
    raph

    “but my overriding distaste for owning a rapidly depreciating asset (128i residual values are flaccid, to put it mildly) ended that idea.”

    I guess because a car is very emotional purchase for me, the idea of poor residual values entering into the equation is very alien.

    Then again, I never purchased a car purely as a mode of transportation, the utility of carrying me mundanely to and fro is always a secondary aspect. The primary reason is always how much fun can I have with this car be it making it faster, handle better, stop quicker, whatever and spending the time to maintain it (point of pride is always when somebody is shocked that my ride is a daily driver).

    • 0 avatar

      I buy cars for mundane transportation and I never thought of residual values either. Typically when I get rid of them, I get to reduce my taxable income by $500.

      I suspect that people who thought about residual values back in the day switched to leases. Well, all such people except Derek, evidently.

  • avatar
    bikephil

    A used BMW of ANY sort would be enough to scare me off.

    • 0 avatar

      With a good reason, I’m sure. There used to be an instructor, S., working at a local glider school, who was a biiiiig fan of used BMWs. He was driving an somewhat aged 3-series (I have no idea what E-number it was). Another pilot bought a Z3 and I heard S. lecturing him. In particular, S. talked approvingly how well BMW’s water pump was designed, so that the o-ring was in a special little grove that guaranteed seal. In the same breath, S. suggested to always keep a spare pump in the car, just in case. I was a little puzzled. If BMWs were so great, why would you need to carry a water pump in your trunk? I drive a union-made bailoutmobile, and I do not carry a spare water pump, even though I’m sure it’s worse designed than BMW’s.

  • avatar

    Funny how I got ripped by my car friends because I too would have a 128i six speed over a 135i. It’s not the speed I want, but the drive of a small (ish) straight-six BMW that doesn’t have turbos to detract from the upper revs… and I’m talking used, not new.

    I have heard mixed stories about the twin-turbo straight sixes for power delivery– some say they rev strong all the way to the higher revs, while others say it runs out of fun in the 5k’s or so.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Derek, I have an e46 zhp and the biggest problem I have with the car is that I love it so much, I’m scared to drive it and wear it out since there’s no car that’s been made since that really compares. Keep the Miata and/or Volvo so you have something else to drive. I drove both sport and zhp 330i’s when shopping and I think the zhp package is absolutely worth it. It tightens everything up while still keeping the ride comfortable, the shorter drive ratio on the sedan combined with the slight power bump is noticeable. and the exhaust is a zhp only piece (it’s different from the BMW performance exhaust you could buy from the dealer) that sounds fantastic. You really hear that straight six when it’s working, but there’s zero drone on the highway. A lot of BMW forums and pages will say this is one of the best daily driver/performance balances you’ll find. The guy I bought mine from worked in the car tuning industry, and he ended up leaving it stock because he said he couldn’t think of anything he would really improve, at least not that wouldn’t negatively impact something else.

    The car can be a great conversation starter. I’ve had people at gas pumps compliment me on the exhaust, thinking it was aftermarket. The car is almost like a secret handshake, as most of the rest of the world just sees another BMW, but people who know them will recognize. They’ll come up and ask “is that a real zhp?” Happens around town, at BMW club meets, when I go down to Sebring…

    Downsides, aside from the aforementioned overzealous love of the car, are the cost of the tire replacement (the staggered 18s are gonna be more $ than the sport package 17s), and the alcantara that came on the seats and steering wheel rim has been known to wear out. I can’t verify this – the original owner of mine ordered it with full leather, and the second owner had BMW swap out the steering wheel. Mine is a stick, but I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about the longevity of the SMGs. If you have any questions let me know. Lots of good BMW forums out there that can help too.

  • avatar
    Variant

    This is the car you (I) want to buy. Turbo inline 5? Check. 6 speed manual? Check. AWD Wagon? Check.

    http://burlington.craigslist.org/cto/4098146759.html

    If I hadn’t just bought a house it would already be mine, but as it is I need to make the Passat wagon last another year or so.

    BTW, read up on Prickly Mountain. You’re almost guaranteed to get a good story out of meeting the owner…

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    In terms of operating costs, I think the SMG is only one of many worries. It isn’t like the car is cheap to run otherwise.

    If a zhp isn’t what you want, you should keep looking. You know if you settle, you’ll find exactly what you want as soon as you have the thing registered. Also, you will run into repairs immediately and then you will feel stuck with it.

    You’ve summarized BMW shopping pretty well though. You can find listings all day, but finding something worth buying at a reasonable price is another story.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    I used to drive a ZHP myself. The suspension and steering were amazing. Unfortunately, my example was a convertible equipped with an automatic, so the weight and the transmission couldn’t really back up what the engine was trying to throw at the chassis.

    For what you get from that suspension, I’d say the ride is actually pretty damn smooth. If you’re used to softer suspensions, it’s still pretty harsh, but it is more compliant than the S2000 I now drive by a huge margin.

    Mine started with 70k miles, and I drove it for a couple of years to about 95k. Then the power steering pump went out on me, and I had it replaced twice. It never got the old steering feel back that I had originally fell in love with. That and the auto trans made me decide it was time to move on. I do also recall having to replace a wheel hub bearing, and spend some bucks on the A/C. My experience wasn’t bad at all with that kind of mileage, but I couldn’t help but feel an impending sense of fragility from the suspension and I would soon be replacing parts.

    That said, I still have fond memories of my car; the ZHP is a truly awesome setup. However, if I had to do it again I wouldn’t have gotten that particular one. I really don’t expect you would have come out any better with this SMG-equipped one, either.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Oh no, you shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever with a SMG automatic gearbox. Don’t you know, this is what race cars use. Nothing shifts faster. In fact, automatic transmissions in sports cars are super kewl now; just ask the PR flacks from Porsche. Seriously, who’s got time to think about depreciation when you’re shifting gears this fast?

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    My neighbor had a 2003 325i coupe for about three weeks, then sold it for his third Impreza WRX.

    Hmm, I wonder if maybe he realized that a BMW was far beyond his shadetree mechanic skills.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    E46 is out of the skill range of many shop mechanics as well.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      What common failures are so difficult to repair on an E46?

      There is a huge amount of support for DIY repair on BMWs. I doubt that would be the case if they were so hard to work on.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’ve personally never owned or worked on one to tell you (had an E30 briefly that’s it for BMW), but I do know a shadetree friend got burned on an E46. If I recall correctly he bought the car out of state for 10K and change 106 otc in 2010, not long after he drove it home the engine kept throwing misfire codes and lighting up the dash (SES light? not sure). He did the DIY suggestions and couldn’t figure it out. So he called a friend who was an actual BMW tech and brought it down to P&W for a scan with their equipment. Something was wrong with one of the cylinder heads but I honestly do not recall the exact details. The BMW tech explained it was going to cost X to repair the problem but it may be easier to just replace the engine. He speculated the indy dealer or the party who sold to him used a BMW tool to clear the buffer because whatever was wrong took years/miles to occur. Needless to say the car was dumped in about five days for 9 something to the next sucker. I know some of the old timers around don’t like to work on any German car for some of the reasons I gave Krhodes below. I know if I owned one I wouldn’t take it to just anyone (although I have that mindset on all of my cars).

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      @28-cars-later

      If said mechanic works at JiffyLube, maybe.

      These are not rocketships, they are just cars. Not even particularly complex ones at that. Give an e46 it’s needed cooling system overhaul at 100K, and it will be just fine. $5-600 in parts and an afternoons easy work. If you want it to drive properly, change the suspension bushings every 60K or so. They really don’t have much in the way of major issues. Not a Corolla, but not a Range Rover by any means either.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’ve heard different things over the years, perhaps some indy mechanics don’t want to deal with the potential after effects from customers. “You put in a radiator and now its overheating. You changed the X sensor and now the SES light won’t go out”. Some shops I know of have have been wary of any Euro brand. I’ve personally never turned a wrench on a BMW to know if its really difficult to work on them or not. I imagine its no more difficult than a similar period Volvo.

      • 0 avatar
        mypoint02

        Agree. Lots of people dumping on the E46 here, but they’re not unreliable. Like you said, the main thing to worry about is the cooling system with its plastic neck radiator, and even that doesn’t need to be done until around 100k. My parents have an ’04 325 with 90k miles, bought new. Since ’04, the only thing its needed other than regular maintenance has been a valve cover gasket and a recall for the taillights. I think some early E46s had subframe issues, but that was resolved long before the ZHP came out. As always, maintenance is the key.

        I remember looking at E46s with my dad when he was about to buy and we test drove a 325ci with SMG. I couldn’t figure out how to drive it smoothly at all. IIRC, it was like someone was power shifting every gear. I couldn’t see who would want it. Not sure how many non M cars they sold with SMG, but it couldn’t have been many.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Mk3

        As a former service writer at a European specialty shop (literally everything but VW’s and Audis), all I have to say about the E46 is keep about half what you pay for it stashed away for all the little things that inevitably break. The aforementioned cooling system is the main thing and the primary reason they’ve virtually disappeared from the road despite every Tom, Dick, and Gaddafi owning or leasing one when they were new. Door locks, power steering pumps, ignition tumblers, fuel pumps, cam position sensors, ignition coils, VANOS lines, and window regulators just scratch the surface of common part failures. Working on them isn’t outside the realm of any competent mechanic, and there’s plenty of resources for repairing them by virtue of these failures being downright common. Despite all this they are wonderful to drive when fastidiously maintained. The best advise I can offer is find a later model lower mileage non-ZHP example sans SMG (goes without saying) with a well documented history.

        • 0 avatar
          dswilly

          Disappeared from the road? I see E46’s all the time, every day.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          As a service writer, all you are ever going to see are broken cars. Nobody ever stopped by to say “Hi Mr Mk3, nothing at all broke on my car today, so have a nice day”. it’s the same issue as going into a forum – they are places where people discuss problems, so all you see are problems. Sure all of those things can and do break, but none of them are catastrophic, and most of them will be once in the ownership of the car items, if that.

          You can buy a Corolla and possibly avoid a lot of these issues, but then you have to drive a Corolla every day. I’d off myself first.

          • 0 avatar
            Mr Mk3

            Not necessarily true, if they weren’t taking their car to the dealer or some McLube for oil changes we’d see them. The number of examples with something predictable broken far outnumbered the ones in proper order. Even then the straight ones were generally fresh out of warranty or had quite the repair history. The E46 is simply a quality crap shoot akin to Minis. Sure they’re not Corollas, but they’re hardly technically complex enough or performance oriented enough to justify their common foibles and fragility. There’s a reason there are piles of them for sale with a laundry list of deferred repairs. It all boils down to whether their driving experience is worth the reliability gamble and higher cost of upkeep.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    My mom rolls in a `04 ZHP (sans moonroof) that is now pretty well worn. It has the automatic, GM unit, that was replaced at 60k or so miles under CPO. I probably was partially responsible for that.

    It is an awesome car overall, pretty much a modern version of an E36 M3 US sedan with a bit less bite in the mid-range.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    Current 03 330i ZHP 6MT sedan owner. Bought it at 120,000 miles last year, currently in the 137k miles territory.

    I bought it instead of a C5 Z06 after a friend offered me the car at a good price. I figured I’d just keep it for a little while, then move on. I took a 3000 mile road trip home and discovered why people love E46s so much. Out of all the cars I’ve ever owned, it’s been the quietest and most efficient one, while not being boring as a daily driver. It even rides great with Bilstein PSS9 coilovers…rode even better when I bumped the ride height back to Normal from the PO’s Hella Flush setting. It does everything I need a daily driver to do without being boring and it has been the nicest car I’ve ever owned.

    Anyway, gushing aside, good luck on your search! If you get super desperate, throw an email my way or something.

  • avatar
    Øyvind Birkeland

    Oh yes, the E46. I actually did my driver’s ed in a E46 320d with a manual, great car! I bet the 330i ZHP is fantastic fun, if you get it with the manual of course. I hope you find the 6MT you’re looking for Derek. Having patience always pays off in the end!

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I’ll jump in on the maintenance issues. My zhp is an 04 that I bought in November 2011 with 98k miles on. I did a spark plug replacement and oil change myself right after I bought it. I’ve put about 30k miles on it. I’ve had to replace the water pump, thermostat, DISA valve, A/C compressor, the clutch position switch, and two power window regulators. I don’t recall what the damage total was for those but it was not unreasonable.

    Obviously don’t take your car to the dealer. They are are relatively easy to work on, especially a lot of the annoying stuff. If you’re mechanically inclined and good with a shop manual, I imagine most of those above repairs would have been DIY. If not, get a good indie mechanic that knows BMWs. You have to buy smart when it comes to parts. The A/C compressor is actually made my Denso. BMW dealer wanted close to $900 for it (just in parts), and that was with my BMW CCA discount. Found an OEM spec one from Denso online for $300. Total to replace with labor at my indie shop was around $1000, which was the same as when my infiniti I30 (previous car) had it done. The DISA valve and h20 pump are known failures, but are pretty inexpensive to repair (the H20 pump was the same $ as the I30), and there are aftermarket fixes for to correct the weaknesses.

    As far as scheduled maintenance goes, they like BMW brand oil, filters and coolant, but it’s not a dramatically worse hit than any other synthetic oil change needing 6+ quarts. Spark plugs were like the AC compressor – found online for much cheaper. The shocks, when I have them done, will be around $1200 at my mechanic which is about what he charged to do them on the Infiniti. I’ve had to replace a wheel rim after hitting a pothole ($425), as well as the engine itself after a very unfortunate shift at Sebring raceway (about $5k with a used lump but replaced the clutch and a few items at the same time), but those aren’t the car’s fault. Tires will be pricey, but a G35 or Mustang GT (the alternatives I looked at to the BMW) would’ve been the same. My car came with a folder full of maintenance receipts from previous owners so a lot had already been done – breaks, bushings, etc. I didn’t get a deal. I paid $12.5k for it, which was asking price, but the well documented maintenance history was worth it (I still have it’s original and CPO window stickers). My biggest expense has been gas…I’m averaging 24 mpg in mixed driving (exact EPA combined) on premium, so the $200-$250/month I spend on gas has been the single biggest hit.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Knowing a mechanic who will install the parts you bring helps dramatically. BMW parts prices are obnoxious from a dealer, but mostly reasonable online.

      If anyone knows of a competent mechanic in the SF Bay Area who allows this, please let me know…

  • avatar
    slance66

    So why not an E90 328i? There are tons of them around in good shape, with a manual transmission. Mine has been trouble free. More room in the back than an E46, and more power as well. As tjh points out, the expense of maintenance is overblown. Oil changes are easy, if not cheap. The brakes seem to last longer than on my other cars.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @slance – I drove all e90s (325/328/330/335), and I didn’t find any of them to be as much fun to drive or as involving as the e46s. I felt the two cars had very different driving experiences. I ended up buying the e46 because I didn’t see good reason to pay more $ for the e90 when I liked the e46 better. Same thing for the e82s. Obviously, that’s a subjective determination though so it’s important that Derek drive all of them. One ownership cost downside to the e90s and I think the e82s is that they have run flat tires.

      Having a stick shift and driving smart can help your brake life. I coast to slow down as much as possible, either in gear using engine braking, or just popping the car into neutral.

      • 0 avatar
        Svoboda123

        Hmmm. Really? An E90 with sport package and a MT is a pretty damn good drive. Runflats? They are all terrible and no need. The first thing any E90 owner with a brain does is dump the runflats. Engine brake and coast to avoid having to redo your brakes? That’s nuts. Brakes are just not that expensive that it should define your driving.

        I drove a new F30 recently- a base stripped AT one a neighbor had on loan. My reaction? A very nice, better looking, radically overpriced, Accord. Why would anyone buy it? I can’t imagine. These BMWs drive VERY different depending on equipment. I’m betting I would have a pretty different reaction to a new M-Tech 335i manual.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          @svoboda123 – it wasn’t a bad drive, but I didn’t think it was as engaging or visceral feeling as the e46. It felt like the edge had been taking off and all but the 335 were too quiet. All the e90s I drove were sport package equipped. Honestly, had I ended up going for the newer car, I probably would’ve gotten the Infiniti G37. The e90s really felt like they needed to be pushed to come alive, whereas the G37 had a more visceral, edgy, if more intimidating feel right at 5/10 as much as 9/10. It felt much more like a machine from the moment I started it. Like I said, it’s subjective and just based on my impressions. I absolutely recommend a prospective buyer drive them all before making their own decision.

          as far as the coasting and engine braking goes, my reason for doing it is saving gas (see my above comment about a primary complaint about my car being it’s gas bill). the savings on brake wear are a happy side effect.

        • 0 avatar

          Not as much as you think. I drove F30 in 335i trim and in secretary trim back to back. The base car is a nice Accord, and the 335i was an e46 fighting to get out (think 55 year old ex football player). F30 steering is NOT e90 or e46. I know BMW can do it…my e46, an e90 M3 6 speed I drove recently, a 645i…how could they totally lose the thread with F30 ? I’d be curious to drive the new 320i ZHP. They have the secret sauce, but it appears to be too rich for the F30. Oh well. The badge whores will be pleased it doesn’t “ride rough”.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    Have you considered the 535Xi wagon with 6spd manual? They are priced pretty reasonable now and plenty on the market. It’s supposed to be a fast/nice car. I want one badly but fear they may be the BMW with the maintenance headache’s I haven’t experienced yet.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I wouldn’t buy one simply for the gross carbon fiber around the shifter.

  • avatar
    aerojammin

    I’ve always liked those cars, but I just can’t stand the thought of giving up my MINI to get one. Here is a neat review just in case you haven’t seen it yet.

    http://www.bimmerfile.com/2009/05/12/bf-review-2004-bmw-3-series-zhp/

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Derek, I’ve got nothing practical to add, but think you should go for the E46. The extra practicality of the E46 sedan over the 128i is a definite bonus. Plus, it gives you the excuse that since it’s a “family” car, you still have room for a “fun” car when something interesting comes along.

    That said, between idiots deferring maintenance and Canadian roads and road salt, good luck finding the car you want in proper condition…

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    there’s a 2004 zhp 6mt with 75k miles down here in Central Florida listed on craigslist for $15k…not too far out of your way is it? :-P It’s the only stick I can find within 200 miles on either CL or autotrader. You might check BMW forum classifieds too.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    What about an E36 M3? How important is a nice interior? It won’t be easy to find a clean one, but if you did it could be worth a look.

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