Buyers Guide: E90 and E92 BMW M3 (2008-'12)


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Meet Our Expert:

Terry Fair
Vorshlag Motorsports
1703 Capital Avenue
Plano, TX 75074
(972) 422-7170
vorshlag.com

The E92-chassis BMW M3 is great because it’s the only 3 Series with a V8. I’ve always been of the opinion that to make a reliable engine, you make it as big as possible and spin it less. There is a high rev limit on this motor, but it’s reliable. We’ve had customers beat on these for years and years.

Unlike most high-strung BMWs, it has a good factory cooling system. The motor mounts are solid, and the V8 doesn’t torque over as much as the tall straight-six engines, so it doesn’t pull on the water necks and power steering lines.

The only real direct competitor to this M3 is the 2011-’14 Ford Mustang GT and Boss 302. They’re very similar in power, weight and performance capability. The M3 has a better rear suspension, but it cost twice as much, though the price difference is coming down on the used market.

Everything else in the price range–Corvette, Porsche 911 or Cayman–is very different. Only the M3 and the Mustang are real four-seat two-doors with V8 power.

The E92 M3 doesn’t have the weak points I’d note in a 1M or 335; the brakes are good, the suspension is nice. We’ve got a customer with 150,000 miles on his, and he just tracks the piss out of it. We haven’t seen an Achilles’ heel on this car. The rear differential bushings and subframe bushings fail over time, but that’s true on all BMWs.

A cold-air intake is a really big upgrade on these. A buddy was dynoing his car when they were new, and it seemed like it was choked up. We took the filter off and picked up 25 horsepower.

The factory exhaust is fairly restrictive, too. Otherwise the engine is pretty high strung–the intake and exhaust are the low-hanging fruit. A header would probably make good power, but there aren’t any inexpensive options on the market; the demand is just too low.

Brake pads are obviously a big upgrade, as is brake cooling. You can fit a lot more wheel and tire on these cars, too. We usually run 295s at all four corners on 18x10s. It’s a 3600-pound car–you can never have too much tire on a heavy car.

The 1M has the same suspension as the E92 M3. Those 1M guys were even more track oriented, and they’d just trash the front tires with the lack of camber. The package constraints were tricky–I just didn’t want to develop a kit–but the customers begged us. We finally developed a camber kit and every batch we’ve made has sold out. It pays for itself by saving tires–it’s our most expensive camber kit ($529) but it works, and it keeps owners from burning through $600 worth of Michelins in a weekend.

The M DCT double-clutch transmission is a preference thing, but it’s the best transmission BMW has ever made. It makes the SMG look like the cranky dinosaur it is. The M DCT is the future of performance transmissions, period. Some guys put coolers on them, and there is some maintenance, but BMW really did their homework.

The E92 M3 is a great car, and it’s heavily underrated and overlooked because it’s not a straight six. The sound of the exhaust when you rev to 8400 rpm is glorious–screw a Ferrari, this is the sound all cars should make. I think it’s gonna stand out 10 or 20 years from now; people will remember their first drive in these. We’re gonna go to high-strung motors that are boosted to hell and injected to the moon, but those twin-turbos are having massive problems. This M3 was just the basics: a big, nasty V8.

Meet Our Expert:

Will Turner, Jay Baier, Brewster Charles
Turner Motorsport
16 Hunt Road South
Amesbury, MA 01913
(800) 280-6966
turnermotorsport.com

The first-year cars had some issues with the rod bearings; BMW actually upgraded the part on later cars to allow for more oil clearance. The rod bearings can wear very quickly on early cars, but it’s pretty easy to retrofit. It’s a big job, but not that difficult, and you can upgrade all the new parts on an older car.

These cars are actually pretty reliable. Where the E46 M3s all had a cooling fault and some rear subframe-to-chassis issues, there’s no single thing that plagues the E92.

We’ve seen ones with high mileage, but they don’t seem old. The mileage isn’t affecting them.

We have seen some failed throttle actuators: It’s an expensive part ($930 from Turner) that’s not difficult to change. There are no telltale signs before failure other than fault codes, so be sure to pull codes in a pre-purchase inspection. Other items that might need to be replaced include the low fuel pressure sensor ($89) and the timing chain tensioner ($83).

The valve springs on the early cars can break, basically jamming a valve. It is an interference engine, but in both the cases we saw (an M5 and an M3), neither had piston-to-valve contact, the valve was just jammed partway open.

Removing the front catalytic converters from the headers is worth 40-plus ft.-lbs. of torque with a software upgrade. Turner’s test-pipe kit ($399) comes with clamps so you can easily reinstall the cats after the modification has been made.

Another easy upgrade is the Turner Motorsport Power Pulley Kit ($399), which replaces the crank pulley with a smaller, lighter unit that underdrives the accessories. This tweak is worth about 10 horsepower.

There’s room for improvement in the cooling system, depending on the driver and location. All of our race cars needed a bigger radiator and larger coolers for power steering and the differential.

Even with the extensive use of aluminum, the E92 M3 is a heavy car. You pull out the interior and put in a cage and you end up weighing the same; it’s not easy to make these cars light like you could an E46 M3. The car is very solid, and the way the front is tied together it doesn’t benefit from stress bars.

BMW built a lot of V8 M3s, and they seem like they’re going to be more reliable than the E46. The E92 could end up being the last of the naturally aspirated M cars; maybe they’ll be the one to keep.

Meet Our Expert:

Arjun Soundararajan
UUC Motorwerks
5885 Shiloh Road, Unit 104
Alpharetta, GA 30005
(678) 679-5360
uucmotorwerks.com

UUC Motorwerks makes a short shift kit for the E92 M3 ($355, $434 with double-shear selector rod) that shortens the throws and, because of the way the roller bearing works, allows us to fundamentally reduce the slop that was built into the factory unit.

In terms of balance, I don’t think any car comes close to what a stock M3 will do on the track. In terms of adjustability, even the M DCT lets you adjust how the car changes gears. It is innately a BMW M car [in terms of] how well it goes through a corner–most guys have to change parts to get their cars to do what a stock M3 will do.

We’ve seen customer M3s from 40,000 to 200,000 miles with no serious issues. We’re starting to look at bushings, but these cars are generally reliable.

Many customers wish their car had slightly better brakes; we carry drilled front ($698) and rear ($598) rotors, as well as more aggressive pads.

Racing urethane engine mounts ($215 per pair) can further improve responsiveness or refresh worn-out pieces.


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Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
AlcantaraFTW
AlcantaraFTW New Reader
12/19/18 12:44 p.m.

This article did not go the way I expected. Perusing literally any car forum that has a post regarding the E9x M3s and its S65 (not to mention the S85 in the M5/6) suggests that the rod bearings are not just an Achilles heel, but virtually a maintenance item, even with the revised design. Reading these comments from names like Turner and Vorshlag is no small thing, but I have a hard time swallowing the pill that a 50k+ mile 2011 M3 isn't likely to show high copper in a UOA.

That being said, a NA V8 M car is on my bucket list of cars to own (read: E39 or E9x). And the carbon fiber roof on the E92s was such a stunning option when these launched. The heart wants what the heart wants, so maybe I made this post just to protect my wallet...

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Reader
12/19/18 12:47 p.m.

^^

That is what I thought reading it. I thought the $3-5K bearing repair was essentially a maintenance item as well, as showin in 2 owners on this forum, who recently bought 4 door M3.  It will be GSF or ISF for me, as I can't swallow the need for $$$$$ BMW Maintenance, when time comes for my V8 sports sedan.

barthayes
barthayes New Reader
12/19/18 1:07 p.m.

I'm on my second one since this article in 2012. Like most, I am a manual snob. That said, I can not imagine having one of these without DCT! It is remarkable. A close friend had a new M4. After <5000 miles, he sold it and bought an e92 M3. His opinion? The e92 M3 is fun to drive all of the time, the M4 was not. I have to agree. Michelin PS4, KW race springs, Cat back, Kassel tune w GTS flash and its a REALLY fun car.

Costs are pretty much irrelevant when compared to the total package and level of performance. 

te72
te72 Reader
12/19/18 9:09 p.m.

I've always liked these cars, but the BMW maintenance kills the dream for me. I drive Miatas and old Toyota / Lexus cars, that's my standard of reliability. Granted, I beat the piss out of them when I'm having fun with them, but... they last.

 

Suppose it's true of any 8k+ rpm engine that you're gonna go through bearings like that, unless you're Honda, or old Toyota. Neither of those types of engines make quite the noise a E92 does though, I race with a guy who autocrosses his. I used to do well against him with my Supra... then he supercharged his M3. Woof. Hard to keep up with him now. =)

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
12/19/18 11:34 p.m.

Would *love* to hear the experts' responses to the the GRMers questions re: bearings... 

JBasham
JBasham HalfDork
1/4/19 1:47 p.m.

I own one and I have tracked the snot out of it for six seasons.  I could be wrong, but back in the 2014-2015 time frame when this article was coming together, the rod bearing issue was generally known.  But in the years since, the conventional wisdom moved from "hmmm, this may be an issue that needs attention" to "you'll sleep better if you just bite the bullet and change them."

I always say, I think the uniqueness of this car is it's quality as an "arrive and drive" track car.  Cruise in comfort with all my paddock stuff and 4 race wheels in the back.  Six hours to the Glen, no problem.  Then unload it, swap the sticky tires on, and have a blast.

It's a sports sedan, though, not a full-on sports car like a C5, Cayman, or a 911.  Head to head, I always find I'm a second or two a lap slower than those, if they have comparable tires and software (driver).  And even with camber plates, this car eats tires and brake pads, due to the weight.

I'm sure different people have different experiences with the car -- these are just the way it has worked out for me.

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
1/5/19 12:11 p.m.

In reply to JBasham :

When you say "bite the bullet and change them" is there an upgraded part that solves the issue, or do you mean that about like the earlier "maintenance items" posts, you change them regularly?

codrus
codrus UltraDork
1/5/19 12:18 p.m.
Ransom said:

In reply to JBasham :

When you say "bite the bullet and change them" is there an upgraded part that solves the issue, or do you mean that about like the earlier "maintenance items" posts, you change them regularly?

AIUI, similar to the S54 in the E46 you basically just put the rod bearings on a regular replacement schedule.

The obvious competitor that wasn't mentioned in the article is the B7 Audi RS4, which has a remarkably similar engine in specs and no rod bearing issues.

JBasham
JBasham HalfDork
1/7/19 1:56 p.m.
Ransom said:

In reply to JBasham :

When you say "bite the bullet and change them" is there an upgraded part that solves the issue, or do you mean that about like the earlier "maintenance items" posts, you change them regularly?

There are a few different brands of replacements on the market, and I think also a couple of different approaches to the bearing gap, one being tighter than the other.  At this point I don't know of people who have done them twice, because they tend to get done around 50,000 miles.

rotard
rotard Dork
1/7/19 2:10 p.m.

These should be replaced around 50k for peace of mind.  

The RS4 is interesting, but it feels boring when compared to an E9x M3.

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
1/7/19 2:26 p.m.

In reply to JBasham :

Okay, at least it's not annually, or every other track day. Though for an item that should normally be close to life of the car, that's a pretty major deal.

codrus
codrus UltraDork
1/7/19 4:02 p.m.
rotard said:

These should be replaced around 50k for peace of mind.  

The RS4 is interesting, but it feels boring when compared to an E9x M3.

I'm not saying it's better, I'm just saying it's a lot more obvious as a comparison point than a Mustang!

 

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise Reader
1/7/19 5:14 p.m.

50k bearing replacement would mean every 24 months for me ! 

 

Guess i I will live vicariously through you guys 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
1/8/19 6:30 a.m.
Ransom said:

In reply to JBasham :

Okay, at least it's not annually, or every other track day. Though for an item that should normally be close to life of the car, that's a pretty major deal.

If you're an above average home mechanic, you can do it yourself in a day with the engine in the car. 

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