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General E46 Forum
This is the place to get answers, opinions and everything you need related to your E46 (sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon) BMW!

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Old 07-11-2011, 03:50 AM   #1
Never_Quit
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PLEASE HELP ME DECIDE! E39 540i vs. E46 330i

Hey everyone

I'm new to the forum and I'd appreciate some help with a decision I've been agonizing over for weeks and weeks.

540i vs. 330i both with sport package, and manual as a requirement.

I've had my current car (93 Civic 4 door) for three years, and I'm ready for something new. I decided months ago that I was looking for a car with some performance, and nice to be in. I love a long trip, as much as a quick blast down a curvy back road. I also much prefer an MT to an AT.

In my search I narrowed it down to the two most powerful non-Ms with sport pkg. They fit my price range of ~11k and have 4 doors

From what I've gathered I can break it down like this

330i

Quicker than avg. performance, more agile, lighter
More fuel efficient (if driven with a light foot)
I've always LOVED the e46 sedan one of the most beautiful body styles ever
About the same interior size as e39

540i

Better for cruising (I do far and away more hwy mi)
Better comfort for back seat passengers
Can't get away from how good that V-8 sounds
Easier to find a lower mi for less $
ZHP 330 hard to get a hold of for my price range

I've test driven both and still can't decide. This car will be my daily driver for the next 5-6 years so its going to have to be able to hold some car seats in the back.

Any and all opinions appreciated. Let me know what y'all think.
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Old 07-11-2011, 04:04 AM   #2
MercForHire
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Hi. What age are you in? Young like early 20s like me or guy with kids like my old man?
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Old 07-11-2011, 04:07 AM   #3
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A friend of mine has a e39 540i and that thing hauls. Its got loads of power and is fantastic on the freeway and on longer trips. The handling is sporty and it drives like a bimmer, but I was never able to get away from how heavy that car is. An e46 3 series with sport package handles very well, and it a really fun car to drive. Is it going to have the straight line performance and passing speed of a 540? No, but a 330 is decently quick and is a great car nonetheless. Either way you go, your going to be satisfied with the performance and quality of a bmw.
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Old 07-11-2011, 04:27 AM   #4
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Yeah mid-20's getting married next year so more than likely will have kids before I sell the car.

@hardtop yeah that's mainly the impression I got. Weight and power vs light on it's feet, but still more than enough power for fun and daily duties. It just seems everytime I get my mind set one way I think of something that draws me the other way. They'll both be excellent cars I'm sure whichever I end up going with.
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Old 07-11-2011, 06:17 AM   #5
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I would buy a 330 touring station wagon.
This way you get the good gas mileage with cheaper maintainence of the e46. Plus the extra space for junk.
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Old 07-11-2011, 08:24 AM   #6
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Never_Quit,

(Post some pics of the said cars.)

I was in the same exact situation as you. (on the choices of models, except for automatics - due to wife > can't drive manual...)
Having driven both models myself, I know how conflicted you are.
Yes, the weight of of the 540i negates the power advantage some what, plus the gas consumption to move that Beast (in a sporting manner) will be higher.

So, I say go for the 330i since you're going to be a newly married couple, and any future "kids" will Not need or appreciate the extra leg room offered by the 540 (not until Much later, at least.)


Either way, I know you'll have a lot more fun driving a Bimmer than a honda.
Just make sure you PPI the car, once you decide.
Good luck.
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Old 07-11-2011, 09:48 AM   #7
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I have an '04 ZHP now but I had an '03 540 with the M Sport Package.
The 540 is a better ride on the interstate, hands down.
You can toss around the 330 a lot easier than the 540. 540 feels like a boat compared to the 330.
The E39 interior is a little dated, especially the cup holder situation.
330 will get better gas mileage, if that is an issue for you.
Both cars have their own quirks and issues, but I enjoy the E46 a little more (this is my 2nd E46)
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:22 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MercForHire View Post
I would buy a 330 touring station wagon.
This way you get the good gas mileage with cheaper maintainence of the e46. Plus the extra space for junk.
Sounds like a great idea, but it would be harder to find.

In any case, I suggest going with the e46. If you're patient and willing to wait, you can probably get a good e46 in the price range you want.
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:24 AM   #9
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+1 on the touring or just get a 530 with the sports package, the V8 will eat gas and cost more to maintain. It would be better to have the extra space of the e39 compared to the e46.
(I had a 2000 528i before)
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:40 AM   #10
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I'd say if a ZHP is out of your price range don't get a 540. Not the best car to own if a few grand extra will break your budget.
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:46 AM   #11
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I had to decide between the two as well. I ended up going with a 2003 330i ZHP.
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:50 AM   #12
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e46. the 540 guzzles far too much gas.
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Old 07-11-2011, 11:05 AM   #13
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540 is a beast to maintain, and has less gas mileage. I see a lot of 7's and 5's come in to the indie shop where I work that share a tranny, and if its an auto it generally needs to be remachined at around 100,000 miles or so, as they are so massive and carry a lot of weight, and most people if they aren't enthusiasts do not take care of the fluids as they should. Not to mention a manual 5-series might be hard to find as they are more of an enthusiast car, and most 5 series drives that I have known would rather have an auto that they can just cruise in. 330 has quirks too, but nothing as serious, just typical BMW stuff, such as the coolant system. Good luck with your search though
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Old 07-11-2011, 11:34 AM   #14
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Seems like you have everything figured out as far as contrasting the cars. In all honesty, i think the only thing I would consider if I were looking at both cars is maintenance, which in this case would highly be in favor of the e46.

With that being said, choose wisely.
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Old 07-11-2011, 12:43 PM   #15
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Don't rule out a ZHP. I found one for 11k in really good condition.
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Old 07-11-2011, 06:16 PM   #16
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Thanks everyone for your input. In light of all this I think I will go ahead and get the 3. I keep y'all updated on it, and will be sure to post pics when I finally get it.

P.s. ZHP isn't ruled out I just haven't been able to find one in my range.

Besides the classified section here, where is a good place to search?
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Old 07-11-2011, 06:25 PM   #17
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Nice. Look forward to seeing what you find. Craigslist, Cars.com, etc. Just make sure you do a thorough check of the car, take it to a indie dealer if possible to make sure you know what you are buying.
This is a bit of a long read and I'm not the first to post this but you should check it out:
http://www.bimmerfest.com/wiki/index...sive_to_own.3F
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Old 07-11-2011, 06:31 PM   #18
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Autotrader.com is also another good one aside from CL, cars.com, etc. eBay might also help, but I suggest looking at local listings or somewhere within driving distance from you.
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Old 07-11-2011, 07:40 PM   #19
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The trick with ZHP's is that it takes time to find the one you want. I was lucky and bought mine from a friend of a friend of a friend for $11.8k which was a steal for it's condition so they're around you just have to find them.
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Old 07-11-2011, 08:22 PM   #20
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I like the 540's but to me a ZHP is a better car in this scenario, and it seems more like a car for a younger driver between those two, if that makes sense. zhpmafia.com has a classified section so you could check that out to see if you can find one in your price range.
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