Build a Powerful 400whp BMW N55 Engine for Under $1500
Zach is a BMW enthusiast with a passion for performance. With over 10 years of experience modifying and performing DIY work on BMWs, he’s developed a deep understanding of virtually every BMW engine. He’s also the proud owner of a 600whp N54 with upgraded twin turbos and an E30 325i drift car and has a particular affinity for the S58 engine. Zach is highly knowledgeable about all things BMW, but his expertise in tuning and performance mods sets him apart. His experience as an enthusiast, combined with his technical knowledge, makes him an essential resource for anyone looking to improve the performance of their BMW.
We wrote a similar post for the N54, which seemed to be a popular and informative post for those looking to learn more about the engine’s capabilities. For those who read our post about the BMW N54, it should be noted the BMW N55 engine is not quite as capable as the N54, mod-for-mod, for two reasons.
For one – the N55 features a twin-scroll single turbocharger compared to the N54’s true twin-turbo setup. Two – the N54 is an older engine, allowing additional time for aftermarket companies to develop further advanced tunes and performance products. However, BMW’s N55 still delivers impressive performance for excellent value. This post will outline the necessary modifications to push your N55 to the 400whp mark; all for under $1500.
Before Tuning your N55
Creating extra horsepower requires creating additional combustion within the engine. Extra combustion requires extra spark and results in increased internal temperatures.
The N55 OEM spark plugs are great for stock cars or N55s that are modified but still running stock boost levels. Increasing boost levels (ie. running a JB4 or other piggyback tuner) results in increased combustion temperatures and can easily result in misfires and pre-detonation if your spark plugs and ignition coils are old or ‘too hot’ for the engine temperatures.
We recommend that anyone intending on increasing boost levels should replace their stock plugs prior to tuning it or opt for 1-step colder spark plugs which won’t misfire or pre-detonate from the increased combustion temperatures.
To recap: upgrade or replace your spark plugs and ignition coils prior to modifying your N55!
- N55 OEM Spark Plugs: for tuners who aren’t increasing boost levels or don’t plan on running above 350whp
- N55 1-Step Colder Spark Plugs: for tuners who are going to run a piggyback tuner and other mods and expect >350whp
- OEM Ignition Coils: these should be used regardless of horsepower targets and should be changed with your spark plugs
Our readers get 5% off any order of N55 spark plugs or ignition coils by following the links above and using code “BMWTUNING” at checkout!
400WHP BMW N55 Mod List
The list of potential BMW N55 engine modifications is nearly endless at this point, as the aftermarket community has taken a serious liking to the N5X engine series. While the BMW N55 doesn’t benefit quite as much from bolt-on modifications as its predecessor, the BMW N54 engine, it is still possible to gain nearly 100 horsepower over the stock engine without opening up the engine. For around $1,500 horsepower, you can transform a BMW N55 engine into a completely different beast. Here are our recommended BMW N55 modifications to hit the 400WHP threshold:
- JB4 Tune
- Performance Intake Upgrade
- Catless/High Flow Downpipe
- Front Mount Intercooler Upgrade
- E85 Fueling Upgrade
Additionally, we have written standalone guides about most of the N55 modifications listed here. If you have additional questions regarding one or multiple of the BMW N55 modifications listed here, take a look at our dedicated N55 mod guides for more detail. Those guides are listed here:
- BMW N55 Engine Tuning
- BMW N55 Engine Performance Intake Upgrade
- BMW N55 Catless/High Flow Downpipe
- BMW N55 Front Mount Intercooler Upgrade
- BMW N55 E85 Fueling Upgrade
1. N55 JB4 Piggyback Tune
Purchase JB4 N55 Piggyback Tune Here: burgertuning.com
Burger Tuning’s JB4 is among the most common tuning options for the BMW N55 platform, and for good reason. Their tunes are easy to install and Burger offers phenomenal product support; the amount of information regarding the JB4 on the BMW forums is exhaustive. The JB4 allows for on-the-fly map switching through the steering wheel buttons. This means you have the option to change your tune (each map is a unique tune) in a matter of seconds.
In addition to the JB4, there are many other tuning options for your BMW N55 engine. If you are interested in considering other N55 tune options, like the popular MHD N55 flash tune, check out this N55 MHD guide. While the N55 MHD flash tune has arguably eclipsed the N55 JB4 as the more popular tuning option, the JB4 still provides extreme customizability and modifiability. We highly recommend the JB4 as both Jake and I run the JB4 on our N54s and strongly believe it is the best tune on the market.
Horsepower Gain: ~60WHP (75hp crank)
Price: $479 new, ~$350 used – Buy it from BMS Here
Pro Tip: For those looking to make additional power try coupling a back-end flash with the JB4. MHD offers some excellent back-end flash options. Shortly, we will write a post highlighting the benefits of stacking a JB4 and back-end flash.
2. BMW N55 Performance Intake – BMS
Purchase Burger Tuning N55 BMW Intake Here: burgertuning.com
Once again, Burger Tuning’s (BMS) intake is one of the most common options as far as N55 intakes are concerned. I won’t diverge too much into the specifics of the different performance intake options, as they all function in more or less the same way. The BMS performance intake retains the OEM cold air ducting and the heat shielding bottom portion of the N55 airbox. If you are interested in learning about the intricacies of performance BMW N55 engine intakes, check out our guide on the subject.
An N55 performance intake allows your BMW N55 engine to pull in more air leading to faster turbo spool, more power, and an intoxicating sound. Although the power and turbo spool gains are great, my favorite part about the performance intakes is the sound. An upgraded intake really brings the sound of the turbo spool to life.
Horsepower Gain: ~10WHP and faster turbo spool with tune
Price: $219 – Buy Here
Pro Tip: Try out Burger Tuning’s cowl filters (cabin air filters). These filters remove roughly 10 pounds of weight, promote better engine cooling, and once again, the sound is intoxicating.
3. N55 Catless Downpipe – VRSF
Purchase VRSF BMW N55 Catless Downpipe Here
The downpipe is part of the N55 exhaust that is bolted directly to the twin-power turbocharger, and is one of the most important exhaust components on a turbo car. In short, the drop in air pressure from pre-turbo to post-turbo is an important factor that assists in spooling a turbocharger. Despite misconceptions that a car requires some exhaust back-pressure, the best exhaust for a turbo engine is no exhaust at all. Of course, no exhaust likely is not the best option for those of us daily driving our cars on public roads. This is where a catless downpipe comes into play.
Eliminating the catalytic converter in the downpipe reduces back-pressure, thereby enabling the turbo to spool faster and generate additional boost. Additionally, the catless downpipe creates an aggressive exhaust note that is not overly intrusive for daily driving or long road trips. Once again, if you are looking for more information about N55 catless downpipes and N55 high-flow downpipes, we have an entire article written about them to help you out.
International Recommendation: Masata N55 Catless Downpipes
Horsepower Gain: ~15-20WHP and faster turbo spool
Price: $290 – A downpipe is a more challenging install for novices. Expect an installation cost of roughly $150-200, if you do not feel up to the challenge.
Pro Tip: Now that your car likely will not pass inspection, try registering it out-of-state to avoid inspections. Just kidding – I definitely do not do that. I only run my catless downpipes on track days.
4. Front Mount Intercooler (FMIC) – VRSF E-Series 7.5″ or F-Series 6.5”
Purchase VRSF BMW N55 Front Mount Intercooler Here: vr-speed.com
One of the downsides to turbochargers is the amount of heat they produce. Most turbo car drivers that push their cars have likely experienced something similar to the following: You go WOT for the first time on this cruise and do a quick 0-60 run. The car felt extremely powerful as you rocketed to 60mph. Accordingly, you come to a stop and try it again, but this time the engine feels less powerful. By the third 0-60mph run the engine feels dead.
The truth is – your butt dyno is not wrong. BMW N55 engines are highly susceptible to heat soaking; as the turbochargers continue to spool they create more and more heat. This leads to a drastic increase in IATs (Intake Air Temperatures), which then results in the DME pulling timing and boost. A BMW N55 intercooler helps cool the hot air after it leaves the turbocharger, however, the OEM BMW N55 engine intercooler struggles to keep up with a modified car that is running extra boost.
A larger intercooler is more efficient and effective for reducing the IATs as it has a larger surface area to cool the passing air. Since colder air is denser, this will lead to a gain in horsepower. Most importantly, a 7” intercooler will help your BMW N55 engine remain consistent as you push your car hard. An intercooler can also increase reliability, especially at high power levels, due to its ability to eliminate heat soak and assist in preventing the engine from knocking or pre-detonating.
For even more information on the topic of BMW N55 intercooler upgrades, check out our dedicated article about the subject.
Horsepower Gain: ~10-15WHP, most importantly consistent performance
International Recommendation: Masata E-Series or Masata F-Series
5. BMW N55 Engine E85 Fuel
For those who have access to E85, a corn-based alcohol fuel, I highly recommend using a small mixture in your tuned BMW N55 engine. Please note – we will post additional information on running E85. Not all tunes support E85, and your car’s tune is a crucial factor in determining how much E85 you can mix into your tank. Map 5 on the JB4 is an auto-tune, which can read your BMW’s fuel and adjust the tune based on the fueling.
However, map 5 can only compensate for a certain amount of E85. Do NOT simply dump ½ a tank of E85 into your car and expect it to perform better. As mentioned, we will post more information and in the meantime the forums are littered with useful information.
E85 burns at a stoichiometric ratio of 9.8:1 as opposed to gasoline’s ratio of 14.7:1. This means that you need 9.8 parts air per 1 part of E85, while gasoline burns at 14.7 parts air to 1 part fuel. In other words, E85 requires roughly 35% more fuel for each burn cycle. Additionally, E85 has a high “latent heat evaporation”; as the fuel changes from liquid to gas it absorbs a lot of heat. The heat absorption effect of E85 provides many benefits.
As mentioned with the FMIC, cooler air is denser which increases horsepower. In the case of E85 on the BMW N55 engine, the effects are magnified as the fuel is sprayed directly into the cylinder. Furthermore, the cooler cylinder temperatures significantly decrease the chance of the engine knocking or pre-detonating. Horsepower gains may vary greatly depending on the tune, supporting mods, and the mixture of E85.
Horsepower Gain: Up to 30-40WHP on stock turbos
Recommended 400WHP BMW N55 Engine Supporting Mods
Once you push your BMW N55 engine upwards or beyond the 400whp mark there are certain parts that may present themselves as problematic at higher horsepower. These mods are not required, and in most cases, do not add any additional power by themselves. However, they may aid in generating more power through existing mods and/or keep you from being stranded on the side of the road.
1. Chargepipe – VRSF E-Series, VRSF F-Series
N55 charge pipes are certainly a weak point at higher power and boost levels. The OEM pipe is made from plastic, so it is likely a ticking time bomb when pushing your stock turbos to the limit. An upgraded chargepipe will not provide any true performance benefits, but it will ensure your car is ready for the additional power.
Some people like to upgrade the chargepipe before modifying their BMW. However, others like myself, are waiting for the day the OEM chargepipe explodes until looking for a replacement. Prices for metal chargepipes start around $200 if you opt to keep the factory diverted valves, and can jump to $500+ if you are looking to replace the diverter valves with blow-off valves.
For our International readers, we recommend Masata: E-Series and F-Series.
2. Low-Pressure Fuel Pump (LPFP) – Higher E-85 Concentrations
In most cases, with stock turbochargers your OEM LPFP will flow enough fuel to support the modifications. However, those who want to run higher E85 mixtures may want to consider LPFP upgrade options. As discussed, E85 requires 35% more fuel for a given amount of air; at high boost levels this will max out your LPFP and limit your N55’s performance. For mixtures above 40-50% E85 the LPFP upgrade is a must. A LPFP upgrade alone will not increase power, however, it will allow you to run more E85.
Although the BMW N55 falls behind its N54 counterpart mod for mod, the N55 remains an impressive, easily tune-able engine that is capable of roughly 400whp with a few simple bolt-on’s and an E-85 mixture. The N55 remains a reliable, poised engine when modded; during typical cruising the engine feels stock, but apply heavy throttle and the N55 quickly reminds you it is far from stock. Overall, BMW’s N55 is a tuner-friendly engine capable of making, on the stock turbo, plenty of power to satisfy a majority of enthusiasts, all while remaining reliable and driveable in all conditions.
For more on the BMW N55 reliability: read our post about common N55 engine problems.
What about trans … it would be good to know the implications of the added HP to the auto trans
Harry – auto transmissions are fine at these power levels, you won’t run into any issues although it will deteriorate your transmission at a quicker rate. I wouldn’t anticipate any issues until you are in the 120k mile range with half of those being while you are tuned.
Xhp is a flash for the transmission
thank you very much for the article it was helpful to me. hopefully ill be running 900hp by september.
I was running 18 to 20 psi of boost on stock turbos never had an ignition issue with stock plugs. However I was running a highly modified oil cooling system. If your referring to the DCT trans you must run a Cobb flash otherwise the clutch plates will not revive the correct information to pressurize them correctly which will result in slippage.
Thanks for doing this, very detailed info and provides a good starting point for those interested in walking the path of mods.
Any plans for a guide to show what fits what model and what does not fit others?
-what VRSF catless pipes fit and what does not?
-to elaborate = can F25 X3 owners seek parts from F30 335i?
BM3 stage 2+ with JB4 on top you’ll be pushing 410 to the wheels. Of course you gotta be FBO. Such as FMIC , charge pipe and catless.
Hello I have a 2014 bmw f30 335I n55 3.0l and I’m on mhd tuning stage 2 plus on 91 and I wanna run some e85 like e30 e40 e50 what do I need to do and where do I get it !! Plz help thank you
Igor, did you read steps 1 thru 5?
the article literally answers your question….
there’s even links on what to buy. as for finding e85 pumps…. you’re on your own on that one
Hey guys new 135i N55 owner here I’m looking for some knowledge/ help regarding the jb4 , is it safe to run a catless down pipe with the jb4? I have my catch can, charge pipe, and intake ready to go. I’ve really being think about going with the catless dp does anybody run theirs with just the jb4? And would you recommend it? Thanks! any other advice is welcome
You can certainly run a catless downpipe with the JB4. The VRSF catless downpipe is one of our favorite mods. You’ll notice boost and torque will come on more aggressively. The power and torque gains are impressive too but the faster spool will provide a notable difference in how fast the car feels.
E8X 135i – VRSF Downpipe
Looking into getting a ’11 335i manual. Looking to do the above mods and was wondering, how does the stock clutch do at this power level? Im not scared to do the job, as ive done it twice in e46s, i would just rather not if possible.
I’d also like to know. I have an 11′ 335i xdrive manual and was wondering what the limiting factors are in the manual and xdrive system
A guy from BMS said that the stock clutch should be able to handle ~450 whp.
Some people say clutch may slip on a dyno @400whp, but i guess that depends on your clutch life.
What’s ups guys. I have a 2013 535i m sport FBO
What tune would you guys recommend?
where can I find cat delete down pipe to fit a 2012 BMW X6, 35i, N55 3.0L twin turbo
This catless downpipe from VRSF is a great option.
Can I go MHD Stage 2 with just the intercooler upgrade, skipping the downpipe ?
Why would upgrading the downpipe 1st is more important than upgrading the Intercooler 1st ?
You can use the N55 MHD stage 2 tune without an upgraded downpipe. It’s recommended though since reducing back-pressure makes the turbos job a bit easier.
If you keep pushing it in the long run, is it the stock Cat that will break or the Turbo ?
Chances are neither will have issues even in the longer-term assuming everything is well maintained. However, there is always risk in increasing power. Back-pressure is also tougher on the engine. It’s part of the reason a larger frame turbo is easier on the engine than a stock frame upgraded turbo at high boost. The larger turbo frame moves a greater volume of air at higher efficiency, makes more power on less boost, and reduces exhaust gas temperatures.
A catless or high-flow downpipe will have similar benefits. It will move air more efficiently and make a bit more power at an equivalent PSI. All good things for turbo and engine health. That said, if you’re in the 350-400whp ballpark you’re well within the safe limits of the engine. You should also be well within the safe limits of the turbo. Again, the risk is still there but your N55 should be fine on MHD stage 2 without a DP. Nonetheless, a downpipe is recommended for good reason. It really is an excellent mod.
Hi Zach, thanks for the info, this is all very good information. Reason why I hesitate is the smell. It’s a daily driver with carrying people in the backseat, I am not a big fan of it too. I can see you saying, than go with the Highflow but paying more for less power (Catless), is a weird and hard decision. I notice you mention you using a catless just for the track, so what are you using on public road ?
We run catless DP’s everywhere….shhhh. Makes complete sense – it’s not a simple decision. Stock DP’s are restrictive and not a great solution. High flow DP’s offer better flow and power while meeting emissions requirements in most states and countries. But if you’re going to spend the money you may as well go for the best of the best (that’s also the cheapest). Then there are concerns about sound, smell, and emissions testing.
If emissions aren’t a concern for you I think you’ll be really happy with an N55 catless DP. On a cold start I notice a minor smell on our 135i and 335i from behind the cars. In the cabin I’ve never experienced a hint of smell. The sound is deep and aggressive on a cold start and under heavy throttle. Normal daily driving the sounds are very close to stock and we’ve never noticed any serious drone.
That said, ignore everything I wrote and make the decision that’s right for you. Trade-offs apply to a lot more than cars. Can you run the stock N55 DP on MHD stg 2 for years to come? Probably. Will you be happy with a high-flow DP or catless DP? Probably. Each to their own and there are a lot of great turbo BMW mods that come with their own benefits. My personal favorite mods in order…I’d say Tune –> Downpipe –> FMIC –> Intake.
coming from a n55 owner if you want to go stage 2 you would need a downpipe, intercooler and a charge pipe. the reason i put a charge pipe is because the n55/n54 charge pipe are made from plastic and they tend to break very often so its best for you to replace the charge pipe. and also the downpipe would add more power and would increase the flow meaning more turbo sounds. so its best/ the safest option to do those three upgrades before going MHD stage 2.
bmtuned is cool for transmission & xdrive flashing.
Would you recommend changing the differential or transfer/case or tranny fluid prior to going stage 1?
Good question. It certainly shouldn’t hurt. BMW considers most fluids except oil to be “lifetime” fluids, which we don’t totally agree with. That’s especially true when increasing boost and power. That said, we’re guilty of taking some shortcuts (or simply writing and talking about BMW’s rather than spending a couple hours with the car on the lift) so we do have an AT 07 335i on original trans fluid and diff fluid. It’s running upgraded turbos, FBO, E85 etc without issue.
Changing some of those fluids has been on the list, so don’t follow our lead. Part of it is that in the longer-run the car will probably need some trans upgrades and an LSD, so if those parts give out then so be it. Anyways, point is – it might not be absolutely necessary but it’s good stuff to do for longevity and reliability reasons.
i have HJS 300cell downpipe is it ok to go stage 2 with this?
Yes, you should be totally fine going to a stage 2 tune with a high-flow DP on the N55. The lower back-pressure the better, so you would be best off with catless downpipe – or a 200 CELL as a compromise. That said, it’s not a huge deal on the stock turbo. If you decide to upgrade then addressing the DP for a higher flowing option would be a good idea.
Thank You. Great read I am mode my 2011 BMW 535i x Drive
You wrote in the begginging:
“To recap: upgrade or replace your spark plugs and ignition coils prior to modifying your N55!”
But then you wrote:
“OEM Ignition Coils: these should be used regardless of horsepower targets and should be changed with your spark plugs.”
So, which is it, keep the OEM ones or change them? 🤔
Thank you for any answers!
The mention of “replace” is referencing the ignition coils. Adding more boost and power exposes older, worn ignition components. The “upgrade” portion refers to the spark plugs as it’s generally a good idea to move to a colder spark plug once you add 100+ horsepower.
I just bout a 2014 435i xdrive with a jb4 is there a way to know if it also has a tune also with the jb4.