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 |   |  2009 BMW M3 E90 & E92 - Double Dealing
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2009 BMW M3 E90 & E92 - Double Dealing

ESS Tuning's supercharged M3s.

Peter Wu
Jan 18, 2011

If wanting more power from your M3 is the problem, then that's a problem many of us would like to have. While no slouch at 414 hp, it is, nonetheless, something an owner can get used to. Fortunately for them, there are plenty of power parts that can take an M3 to that coveted, if cliché, "other level." While we have yet to see anyone turbocharge the M3's 4.0-liter V8, plenty of tuners have developed supercharger kits, one of them being ESS Tuning.

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We featured a car with an ESS kit in a story about Vorsteiner's body mods for the E90 ("Apt Pupils," March 2010) but didn't have the opportunity to do a full writeup on the kit until now.

ESS started in Norway in 1995 with a small group of engineers and, according to their marketing literature, has since become the world's largest manufacturer of supercharger kits for BMWs. Their range is extensive, from the 1 Series to the Z4, with many older-generation models accounted for. The reason why they haven't had much coverage in the States is because they were so focused on engineering, it left them little time for marketing.

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But that's changing now that they have a full-time marketing manager to get the word out. They've also benefited from viral, word-of-mouth marketing via forum chatter and videos of their cars outrunning seemingly faster competition on a Swedish airport runway.

The two M3s here take slightly different approaches to solving their power dilemmas. ESS offers E9x M3 owners five levels of power, from 535 to 625 hp, with the non-intercooled version at 535 hp and intercooled versions going from 550 to 625 hp, with boost levels, pulley sizes, injector sizes, ECU tuning and octane requirements being the differences between them. The black coupe here is fitted with their VT2-575 kit, good for, you guessed it, 575 hp, while the Brilliant White sedan runs a VT2-600 kit. All kits for the E9x M3s and other late-model vehicles are based around a Vortech V3Si supercharger.

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Although the difference between the two is only one pound of boost (5.5 vs. 6.5 psi) and 25 hp, they have different characteristics. This is mostly attributed to the sedan's use of a Dinan 3.62 rear differential, which gives it explosive quickness off the block, so much so that it requires some modulation to keep from spinning the tires. The trade-off from the shorter differential is a reduced top speed. ESS Tuning's director of marketing, Roman Zepeda, says the less-powerful, longer-geared black coupe will start reeling in the sedan at around 150 mph and eventually pass it. Dinan's literature says a slightly taller, 20-inch wheel/tire combo, like the setup the sedan is using, will slightly offset the shorter gearing.

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The white sedan also uses two Dinan exhaust components. For track use, the owner swaps in Dinan's Racing Middle Exhaust and free-flow cat-back system. For daily driving, he uses a pair of high-flow cats and the aforementioned cat-back system.

As mentioned earlier, the car is Usain Bolt-like out of the hole, enough to snap my head back the first time I stepped into it. Power is delivered in one long, steeply rising, relentless surge that never wants to stop. Unlike some supercharger systems, both versions of this ESS kit never felt as though they ran out of air when approaching redline. It wouldn't be surprising to see them pull right through redline without fuss. As both cars were equipped with DCT transmissions, they also benefit from ESS' software massaging. The result is quicker, more positive engagement through the gears.

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Astute observers might notice two different pairs of wheels on the white sedan. The owner wanted to mix things up by using 20-inch Vorsteiner V-305 (9.5 inches wide in front, 10.5 in back) on one side and Vorsteiner V-306 wheels on the other. Michelin Pilot Sport 2s (245/30 front and 295/25 rear) grab the pavement. He also had the calipers of the Brembo Big Brake Kit painted Lamborghini Blu Cephus on one side and Verde Ithaca on the other. KW Variant 3 coilovers work in combo with the low-profile tires to provide a ride that's firm without being jarring.

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On the outside, Vorsteiner's GTS3 front bumper, carbon-fiber trunk and VRS Type II carbon rear diffuser add a distinctive, racier edge to it. And color-matched side grilles, hood vents and emblems separate it from others. Inside, the interior is awash in carbon fiber, both factory installed items and MA Carbon pieces on the dash, center console, door panels and rear A/C panel.

The black coupe, by contrast, is mostly business and focused around the VT2-575 kit, KW Variant 3 coilovers, Brembo Big Brake Kit and 19-inch BBS CH-R wheels and Yokohama AD08 tires (255/35 front, 295/30 rear). The front bumper has had an AC Schnitzer front lip molded and integrated into the factory section, making it look like a singular piece. The rear bumper also has a diffuser molded in a similar fashion. The trunk is an Ericsson fiberglass part with a ducktail spoiler.

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Some would suggest that all a stock M3 needs is a firmer suspension, bigger brakes and, of course, more power. And that's basically what's been done here. On its own, the coupe is devastatingly fast and pulls with demonic force all the way to redline. But compared to the sedan, its throttle response is a hair slower, taking just that little bit longer to wind up and start heading towards the redline. This is most likely the result of the taller differential, but all it takes is a pull of the left paddle for a lower gear to get into the juicy part of the rev range.

Both cars handled beautifully on the fast, sweeping backroads outside of Phoenix. With its lower-profile tires, the white sedan turned in a hair quicker, while the coupe felt more composed on bumpy, uneven pavement. The sedan had a more menacing demeanor, while the coupe played it cool but was always willing to let loose.

While this is more a review than a comparo, there's little sense in picking a winner, rather, it's more a matter of personal preference and an exercise in hair splitting. The main entrée, ESS Tuning's supercharger kits, are the undeniable winners here. They install cleanly and without irreversible modifications. They're fairly unobtrusive, with just a subtle whirring sound at idle, but most importantly, they allow the M3 to play with and humiliate the big boys. As evidence, here's a list of victims the sedan has left in its wake: 911 Turbo, 360 Modena, F430, M5, M6, SL63 and countless Japanese and American muscle cars. It's still looking to meet its match.

2009 BMW M3 (E92)

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Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

4.0-liter V8. ESS VT2-575 supercharger kit, ESS intake manifold and intercooler, ESS exhaust

7-speed DCT automated manual

Wheels and Tires
BBS CH-R, 19-inch
Yokohama AD08, 255/35 (f), 295/30 (r)

Peak Power: 575 hp
Peak Torque: 390 lb-ft

2009 BMW M3 (E90)

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Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

4.0-liter V8. ESS VT2-600 supercharger kit, ESS intake manifold and intercooler, Dinan exhaust

7-speed DCT automated manual

Wheels and Tires
Vorsteiner V-305, 9.5x20 (f), 10.5x20 (r); Vorsteiner V-306 20x9.5 (f), 20x10.5 (r); Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, 245/30 (f), 295/25 (r)

Carbon-fiber dash and interior trim by BMW and MA Carbon

Peak Power: 600 hp
Peak Torque: 400 lb-ft


ESS Tuning
Chandler, AZ 85224
By Peter Wu
45 Articles



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