Up until this point in our budget E9X BMW M3 build adventure, we'd acted solely on the part of function with little concern for form. OK, who are we kidding? Some of our engine upgrades were as pretty as they were potent. But this month, we decided that aesthetics and creature comforts were just as important as performance and price, and to be honest, we're beyond happy with the subtle but substantial gains from our well-placed mods.
Here's what you've missed so far
For those just tuning in, here's what you missed. Don't worry, though, the full stories can be found on the ec website. Part I kicked off with an additional 20 whp for just $600 thanks to Macht Schnell Performance Underdrive Pulleys and a matching Stage 2 Intake Charge kit that significantly boosted power without breaking the bank. With the inlet side of the S65 uncorked and parasitic drag greatly reduced, we jumped into Part II by relieving restriction downstream and bringing the car into a perfect state of tune. A Macht Schnell X-pipe and Mackin Extreme Products (MXP) Mevius stainless steel rear exhaust section helped unlock additional airflow, and ESS Tuning E9X M3 NA E-Flash ECU Performance Software helped maximize the air/fuel ratio and timing. The new mods pushed rear-wheel power on our stout E90 test subject to a staggering 399 hp and 286 lb-ft at the wheels on 91-octane pump gas for total gains of 47 hp and 24 lb-ft. So this month, we decided to add some form and function by paying another trip to the BMW gurus at European Auto Source (EAS) for another round of budget-friendly E9X upgrades.
Our LeMans Blue '11 DCT-equipped E90 has been a willing partner throughout the duration of our budget-friendly mod series, albeit now with an additional 50 whp and a whole lot more personality. This month, we widen the stance and add factory binary code from across the pond for quicker shifts and more creature comforts.
Slick software upgrades, but not how you might think
Even before we'd concocted the harebrained idea of adding 50 whp to our S65-equipped M3 without breaking the budget, we'd contacted Tom Guagliardo at EAS in search of his recipe for affordable E9X upgrades. His response surprised us.
"If your budget is really tight, our Individualization and Programming Opinions (CIP) offers a lot of bang for your buck in regards to driving dynamic improvements, which can be followed up with bolt-on engine upgrades and then some quality wheel spacers and a stud conversion to further improve the driving dynamics," he explained.
And so, Part III was born. We'll start with the EAS Coding, which is typically called Individualization and Programming opinions (CIP) or PROGMAN—an abbreviation for Programming Manager. This is a BMW software system that connects to the OBDII port with the appropriate cable and can update the entire vehicle, not just the DME/ECU, but rather the 20-25 subsystems found in modern BMWs. Without delving into a computer science dictation, when a modern BMW goes in for "updates," the CIP is generally what the dealer is referring to, and these updates can be anything from revised transmission and engine programming to simple additions like dimmer or brighter interior lights, new electronic settings for the HVAC, or really anything that is computer controlled. But what if enthusiasts got a hold of such a powerful device? What would that mean for the performance community?
"We've been performing the CIP for quite some time now and it's not only allowed us to add numerous custom features but also different settings and features originally reserved for BMWs in other countries," Guagliardo said.
For the full list of what can be affordably added to your modern BMW, see the attached sheet. In general, some popular items that can be deleted are the seatbelt chime and BulbCheck for LEDs. You can disable the iDrive disclaimer and remove the speedometer and fuel-mileage correction factors, the DRLs, the auto-dimming mirror, and much more.
But the CIP isn't all about deleting items; it's also about adding them.
"Many people love small but effective features like the one-touch up windows after the doors have been opened, closing the windows and folding the mirrors with comfort access, using the foglights with the high beams, auto-unlock with key removal, the EU double-blink hazard lights, increasing the Angel Eye brightness, increasing the dB level of the alarm chirp, adding fuel stop locations on the nav, and much more," Guagliardo said.
The list of small but highly impactful coding convenience upgrades is a mile long, but the CIP is far more capable than just enhancing creature comforts. It can add serious amounts of performance for very little money.
"Some of the most popular coding upgrades are the Euro DCT coding and the Euro M-Dynamic Mode (MDM) programming, which completely transform the USDM E9X M3s," Guagliardo said.
Not to take anything away from all of the stellar upgrades we've done thus far, because, to be honest, adding 50 whp on pump gas and under a tight budget is just bonkers, but the Euro DCT and MDM programming could quite possibly be one of the best additions of this entire series.
"It's hard for enthusiasts to comprehend that the DCT box can shift faster than the USDM programming without increasing the harshness of the shifts until they try it for themselves and see that it's a whole new ballgame," Guagliardo said.
For starters, the Euro DCT software is programmed to start the car in D2 and remembers the previously selected S mode, which—if you ask me—is the best combo. This means the car will start in fully automatic mode for daily drudgeries and with the poke of a button, it will revert back to your previously selected manual mode for the best of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
"The USDM cars start in S3 and only remember the D mode, which is backward because most people don't want to start in a fully manual mode and have the car only remember the automatic settings, which means every time the driver wants control over the manual settings for aggressive driving, they have to toggle until they find their desired position," Guagliardo said. It also means that every morning when you leave for work, you're forced to either shift on your own or move the selector back into automatic mode. Also, should a family or friend borrow the car who's not a gearhead, well, they could happily bounce off the rev limiter on a cold engine because they didn't know how to manually shift out of first. Yikes, just the thought of that makes us cringe.
"It's unbelievable how much the Euro DCT software has changed the car. The shifts are faster and smoother than they've ever been, and I didn't think the DCT programming could get any better. It's seriously one of my favorite additions to date," said Jeremy Stanton, owner of the E90 M3 test subject.
Along with lightning-quick and buttery-smooth shifts, the Euro MDM software also adds another degree of adjustability during spirited driving.
"The USDM cars have an aggressive traction control that's basically on or off, which means drivers are either free to spin their cars out or hampered almost completely, but the Euro MDM software allows for a setting between the two that allows for more wheelspin and greater degrees of slide angles before the traction control steps in," Guagliardo said.
In our opinion, it's like having your cake and eating it, too, since enthusiasts are free to explore car control without fear of spinning off-track because the traction control will reign things in when you've overstepped your abilities. Hey, all but the best of us have done so, whether we want to admit it or not.
To sweeten the deal, EAS can perform all of the aforementioned CIP upgrades in under an hour without costing a fortune at its Southern California facilities. And should you change your mind on the latest additions, another trip to EAS can revert your car back to stock.
Behold, the EAS Coding, Individualization, and Programming opinions (CIP) that allow enthusiasts to personalize the coding in their BMWs at an affordable rate. The EAS platform allows users to do such things as remove the seatbelt chime, add one-touch Window Up while the doors are open, fold the mirrors with Comfort Access, and even add Bluetooth or Alarm retrofits, along with nearly 100 additional features. For the performance folk, it can also delete the EDC, clear engine or VANOS adaptations, add the Euro DCT and MDM software, and much more. It's the opportunity to add all the cool coding that came on BMWs from across the pond.
Here's a list of the coding options EAS can perform on most late-model BMWs. In our case, we added the Euro DCT software, which made huge improvements in shift speed, and instead of defaulting to S3 mode and remembering the D mode like the standard USDM cars, it defaults to D2 and remembers the S mode. This means it starts in automatic mode for daily drudgeries but remembers the sport mode settings for when it really matters. We also opted for the Euro MDM software, Auto-up with the doors open, as well as deleted the nav nanny and the annoying seatbelt chime, among a few other upgrades.
The EAS Coding, typically called Individualization and Programming opinions (CIP) or PROGMAN, short for Programming Manager, is a BMW software system that can update the entire vehicle, not just the DME/ECU, but rather the 20-25 subsystems found in most modern BMWs.
Another one of the cool features included in the EAS Coding sheet was the ability to brighten the Angel Eyes by 10 percent and delete the orange corner LED. As they say, the devil is in the details.
With some badass Bimmer binary code now in effect, next we were after a solution to the cumbersome OEM lug studs along with a wider track to fill the stock fenders.
"The OEM wheel studs make mounting wheels a chore, especially with wheel spacers, since you need to lift and balance the wheel, then align the wheel with the hub, and then thread the lug stud in place. But with a wheel stud conversion, you can simply hang the wheel on the studs, seat it, then thread and torque the lugs," Guagliardo said.
The OEM lug studs may have a purpose, but most race cars and many performance vehicles make the swap to conventional studs for a multitude of reasons. The most common are because they're stronger and make wheel swaps a cinch.
Macht Schnell makes it easy with its Competition Series stud conversion. This burly kit comes in 45mm, 75mm, or 90mm lengths and features studs that have been hardened and tempered to a strength class of 10.9 or 10 according to the DIN/ISO standard 898 that meets statutory requirements in all countries—in other words, they're beyond strong.
"The 45mm-length studs can accommodate close-ended lugs and locks without spacers, the 75mm studs can utilize up to 12mm spacers, and the 90mm units can accept up to 20mm spacers," Guagliardo said.
Other noteworthy features include a bullet tip that prevents cross threading, a black zinc coating for additional strength and corrosion resistance, along with a hex insert for an easy install. The units are available in a 12mm x 1.5 or 14mm x 1.25 for different BMW models.
The Macht Schnell Competition Stud Conversion Kit comes with studs that are hardened and tempered to a strength class of 10.9 or 10 according to DIN/ISO standard 898 and meet statutory requirements in all countries. In other words, they're as strong as they are trick. A quality stud conversion is much stronger than the inconvenient OEM lug studs that make wheel changes a balancing act at best. They're available in 45-, 75-, and 90-mm lengths with 12mm x 1.5 or 14mm x 1.25 diameters with a 17mm hex nut and cone seat.
We paid a visit to Bimmer aficionados at European Auto Source (EAS) for help with the install. Here, Sam Morin can be seen removing the factory lug studs.
The pain starts as the last stud is removed, when the wheel is teetering from a single stud and you only have one free hand because the other is holding a tool.
Now Adam Koch begins the installation process of the Macht Schnell wheel students. Thankfully, they have hex-head (Alan) inserts that make threading the studs into place a simple affair. Don't forget the Loctite on the threads that attach to the hub.
A wider stance
Wider is better (within reason, of course) when it comes to both the track width of your car and the width of the rims and tires, but one is much cheaper and easier to remedy.
"Quality wheel spacers are a great way to widen the track and better fill the fenders of your BMW without spending a ton of money," Guagliardo said. That's right, we can widen the stance and fill the stock fenders with wider wheels, but in this case, our pockets weren't that deep, so the next best thing were some quality wheel spacers.
We know what you're thinking and we're going to dispel all doubts right out of the gates; these aren't the flimsy, fatigue-prone wheel spacers of a bygone era that earned wheel spacers a bad name, but rather high-quality components that are up to the task of street driving and hot lapping.
"The Macht Schnell wheel spacers are made from 6061-T6 aluminum, hardened to the same specifications as the wheel studs, and machined to exact tolerances for a secure and safe fitment," Guagliardo explained.
Beyond their hardy construction and precisely machined finishes, the units also feature chamfered edges to ease the installation and removal process, along with an anodized finish that's as tough as it is pretty.
As I'm sure you already know, pushing the wheels to the outmost corners of the chassis helps decrease body roll and improves handling characteristics. Truthfully, we're talking minute differences that only the best drivers can feel from the driver's seat, but still, every bit counts. And then there's the aesthetic part of it.
"We find that running 18mm spacers up front and 15mm spacers out back fills the fenders nicely for an aggressive look," Guagliardo explained. And he wasn't kidding, as the wider track got rid of the overhanging fenders and pushed the factory wheels to the outermost lips of the fenders. Although we chose the aforementioned spacer combination, should you want more or less offset, Macht Schnell offers anywhere from 3 mm to 20 mm of additional width in seven increments; just make sure you chose the appropriate length lugs for your chosen spacers.
Wider is better when it comes to track width—and when the budget won't allow wider wheels, an affordable alternative is quality wheel spacers like the Macht Schnell Competition Spacer Kit, which pushes the stock wheels out anywhere from 3 mm to 20 mm in seven increments to fill the wells and widen the stance. These units are made from 6061-T6 aerospace aluminum and are also hardened and tempered to the same specifications as the lugs.
Now we move onto the Macht Schnell Wheel Spacer installation. Keen eyes will note that the studs aren't yet installed in this photo; this was done so it was easier to apply the anti-seize to the hubs.
Before installing the 18mm front spacers, we used a soft wire brush to clean the mating surface of the hub so everything would sit flush.
We then repeated the same process for the rear, except with a slightly narrower 15mm spacer.
Adam Koch of EAS enjoyed the fact that with the Macht Schnell lugs in place, it was easy peasy to hang the wheel for the install.
The new 90mm studs are form and function at their finest.
The OEM offset tucked the front wheels so much that the tops of the fenders actually shaded the wheels, but the new Macht Schnell 18mm wheel spacers solved that sunken-in look by pushing the wheels to the edges of the outer fender.
It's amazing what an additional 15 mm of track width does for the rear. Look at the before-and-after shots of the rear. How's that for a sizable improvement?
If you've been with us since the start, then you already know that we've completely transformed our E90 M3 from a mild stock car to a budget-friendly, fire-breathing super sedan. Seriously, words can't explain how much more engaging the modified example is with an additional 50 whp, some 20 pounds lighter and with boisterous lungs so loud and so hair raising that you'd swear you were behind the wheel of a race car when the go-pedal is matted.
We knew the previous two installments created big shoes to fill, but the mods this month were every bit as impactful as the first duo.
"I can't believe how much better the car behaves with the Euro MDM and DCT programming. Seriously, it's insane how much more responsive it is and how the shifts are far quicker but no longer upset the car mid-corner should I grab a gear," Stanton said.
The plethora of creature comforts like the deletion of the annoying nanny screens or chimes is also welcome, as are the lack of annoying orange corner lights and now noticeably brighter Angel-Eyes.
"The stud conversion makes wheel changes easy, and the spacers perfectly fill the fenders now; it's unbelievable how so few mods can make such a big difference," Stanton said.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Prior to this build, we'd all but written off the term budget and E9X M3 in one sentence, but after some help from key companies like Macht Schnell, ESS Tuning, European Auto Source, and Mackin Extreme Products, we're now believers that a properly speced combo of affordable parts can truly transform the fourth-generation M3 without breaking the proverbial bank.
Now, with a wider stance, extended lugs, and pretty pipes poking out of the rear, our E90 M3 looks a whole lot better without breaking the bank.
Here's a look at the fenders filled to the brim now that the stock wheels have been pushed outward another 18 mm up front and 15 mm out back.
Nothing says, because race car, like a set of extended studs and open lugs.
The MXP stainless back system looks great, and when paired with the Macht Schnell X-pipe, it sounds so wicked you'd swear you were in a GT2 car.