SlickDizzy UltraDork
April 27, 2012 3:54 p.m.

Well, I hate to say it, but my 9-5 just isn't doing it for me as a DD. It's too heavy, I don't like the FWD, and it would take a pretty significant cash infusion to fix all of its follies, when I could sell it for a pretty substantial profit as it sits. I've noticed that E46 BMWs have been dropping in price pretty significantly, to the point where you can find a decent 323i for about $4500 if you look hard enough. I know that's also E36 M3 money, but considering this would be primarily a DD I'd like to avoid the M-badge (and I don't know if I want another E36 anyways).

So, I know that the E46 came in 323, 325, 328, and 330 variants, and had the "xi" all wheel drive option. I've heard that the 328/330 were generally better optioned and had bigger brakes, chrome trim, etc, but how big of a deal is this really? Opinions on the "xi" cars vs the plain old RWD ones? 330i ZHP cars command the biggest premium by far it seems, at nearly twice the price of a decent 323i. I guess I'm wondering where the "sweet spot" between value and performance lies. I've read a ton of M52 vs M54 arguments with virtually no conclusion too. How thin are sport package cars on the ground? What's the difference anyways? Bueller?

What say ye, GRM?

Duke UberDork
April 27, 2012 5:57 p.m.

I really really really wanted a 330i ZHP. I couldn't justify paying $7-8K plus higher mileage over my 2003 325i ZSP for a daily.

Everything I've heard from enthusiasts says the xi's front suspension geometry is compromised by the essentially retrofit AWD system. How much that bothers you is up to you.

I would not get a base car in either 323/25 or 328/30. They're actually pretty soft and bordering on dull. The next step up is the Sport Package (ZSP), which offers better springs/damping, about .75" lower ride height, and 8" wide stock wheels. But far more importantly than all that (which will likely be replaced on a higher mileage car anyway), it offers the Sport seats, which are waaaaaay better than the base pieces.

In terms of performance, the 325i is almost on par with the older 328i. The pure numbers don't look all that compelling, but with a manual trans, the 325i has more than enough oooomph to be entertaining, particularly as a daily. It loves to sing straight up to the limiter, pushing 7k, and it makes creamy smooth power all the way there.

2001-2002 cars - the first /years after the bump in displacement - have a reputation for numb, overboosted power steering. Some of these were corrected by dealer program, some were not - you had to complain to get it done, but it was free if you did. 2003-up don't have that problem.

The 330i ZHP is undoubtedly the one to have if you need 4 doors or don't want to get into M-car prices. But for the market price difference between that and the 325i (a few years ago anyway), I bought the Manic Miata to play with on the side, and then some.

Duke UberDork
April 27, 2012 6:08 p.m.

Just like mine except not blue.

The wheels on that car signify the Sport package. So do the seats. I'd offer them $5k.

Woody UltimaDork
April 27, 2012 8:16 p.m.

Wow! I didn't realize those cars had gotten that cheap. I've always loved E46s (well, at least since '99).

apex381 New Reader
April 27, 2012 10:38 p.m.

I have a 2001 330i with the zsp package and love it.

You've heard it before but take your time looking and find the best example for your money. More importantly take it to a good indy BMW shop for a pre-purchase inspection. Around 100k the problem areas are always the PCV system, cooling system, oil stand gasket, and the disa valve. Oh and the VANOS seals are probably shot too. The shop I work at has seen more than a few e46's come in lately with rear subframes that have ripped out so make sure to look closely there. Other than the subframe issue there's nothing huge but on a BMW these repairs can add up very quickly. Honestly the most reliable e46's are the M3's with the 6 speed manual if you can believe that.

Like the gentleman above mentioned the sports package is nice because it gives you the good seats, nice tires, and sharp Mtech body kit, but be aware that you will chew through rear tires much faster than the standard model unless you install a camber correction kit. At your price point you might find that you get more for your money in e36 M3's. As I said above I love my e46 but take your time and find a good one.

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