Best E36 Wheels

The BMW E36 is one of the brand’s most celebrated models, as it really cemented the 3-Series formula as the ultimate performance daily driver. With time, the E36 has developed the reputation of being one of BMW’s last true driver’s cars with its limited computerized interference and comparably lightweight in comparison to the 3-Series’ that followed.

The BMW E36 is a car that benefits a lot from cosmetic modifications. While there isn’t anything wrong with the E36’s styling, in fact, quite the opposite, subtle appearance changes can really make your E36 stand out in the crowd. Wheels are one way to freshen up the look of your E36 and potentially gain some performance too. 

The E36 chassis uses a 5x120 bolt pattern, which happens to be a very common spec in the US. While there are other considerations to take into account like wheel width and diameter, there are a ton of E36 wheels on the market. That includes both OEM and aftermarket options.

In addition to introducing a welcome aesthetic change to your E36, new wheels can allow for more tire choices as well, depending on what your build is meant for. Oftentimes, stock 205/60/15s won’t cut it in terms of rear tire grip, especially if you have an E36 running more-than-stock power. Different wheels can solve this problem by allowing you to fit wider tires to your E36. 

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E36 Wheels - Considerations

There are a couple of things that you have to keep in mind while looking for new wheels for your E36. Most of them have to do with sizing and weight. 

E36 Wheel Sizing

Sizing is important because it would be more than a bummer to buy new wheels only for them not to fit. Improperly sized wheels can also cause annoying vibrations or an uncomfortable ride, it's best to get it right the first time.

The main things that you have to look out for are the width and diameter of the wheel. If your selected wheel has too high of a diameter, you might run into clearance issues with the inside of the fender and OEM struts. The same can be said if the wheel is too wide. We’ll outline some of the most common dimensions a bit later.

Weight

Weight is also another important characteristic. Typically, this doesn’t matter so much if you don’t do any performance driving. With that being said, even a casual driver can recognize the performance enhancement from lighter wheels. Because wheels count as both rotational and unsprung weight, reducing their weight can have some of the most dramatic effects. 

Performance benefits from lighter wheels come in the form of better handling characteristics, faster braking and marginally better gas mileage. The lighter the wheels the better. Once again, it might not be the reason that the majority of enthusiasts choose to swap wheels, but it is another important reason.

Square vs Staggered Setups

Another consideration that you’ll need to make a decision on is whether you want to run a square or staggered setup. A square setup is one where the wheels are the same width and diameter at all four corners. 

A staggered setup, on the other hand, is where the front two wheels have different specifications as the wheels on the back. In general, staggered setups are only truly needed when an E36 needs the extra rear tire grip. In other words, if you don’t take your E36 to the track, you aren’t likely to need to run a staggered setup. Staggered setups maximize front and rear grip and wear your tires out faster as a result. They also cannot be rotated front to back like a square setup. You’ll be going through tires much faster.

Square setups are much more tire-budget friendly, as they allow you to rotate your tires both side to side, but also front to rear. While you might sacrifice a small amount of grip during performance driving, square setups often have better handling balance.  

E36 Wheel Fitment Guide

BMW made wheel fitment pretty easy with the E36 chassis. That is mainly due to the fact that E36 sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons all share the same fitment specs. The only E36 to fall outside of the standard E36 wheel specifications is the M3. Not surprising. We’ll just focus on non-M specifications in this guide. 

To make the guide a bit easier to read, we’ll split the wheel dimensions into square and staggered setups. Offset is another extremely important factor in selecting new wheels, especially if you intend on running wider wheels than stock. Offset is in reference to where your wheel hub is mounted in relation to the wheels center line. Offset is represented as a number prefaced by the abbreviation “ET.”

Square E36 Wheel Setups

Listed below are some of the most commonly fitted squared wheel/tire setups for an E36. Most of the setups listed below are a direct fit to the E36 chassis, but some require some rolled fenders. This is also entirely dependent on your suspension setup. The specifications listed here are based on the suspension characteristics of an E36 with stock (or comparable ride height) suspension. 

If you are running a modified suspension setup or your ride height is significantly lower than stock, some of these setups might require wheel spacers or might not fit at all.

Direct Fit E36 Square Wheel Setups

  • Front & Rear: 17x8.5” ET40
    • Direct Fit with 235/40R17 or 235/45R17 tires
    • 245/40R17 tires will also fit with 5mm spacers
  • Front & Rear: 18x8.5” ET35 or ET38
    • Direct Fit with 235/40R18 or 245/35R18 tires

Upgraded Street/Track E36 Square Wheel Setups

  • Front & Rear: 17x9” ET30
    • Recommended with 245/40R17 tires
    • Front negative camber might be required
    • 5mm front and rear spacers might be required
    • Fender roll recommended
  • Front & Rear: 17x9.5" ET35
    • Recommended with 255/40/R17 tires
    • With tires with a larger sidewall, 5mm spacers are required to clear OEM struts
    • Fender roll required for larger tires
  • Front & Rear: 18x9” ET30 or ET31
    • 245/35/R18 is the most popular tire choice
    • May require fender roll
    • May require front and rear negative camber with aggressive tires
  • Front & Rear 18x9.5" ET35
    • 255/35R18 is the most popular tire choice
    • Front negative camber is required
    • Requires fender roll 

Staggered E36 Wheel Setups

Staggered setups are typically a bit more finicky than square setups. Since the rear tire width on staggered setups are usually a lot more aggressive than stock, the rears often require spacers. A fender roll is pretty much required if you want to comfortably fit some wide rubber in the back without rubbing. 

Direct Fit E36 Staggered Wheel Setups

  • Front: 17x8.5" ET40 with 235/40-17 tires

Rear: 17x9" ET42 with 255/40-17 tires

  • Direct fit with listed tires
  • Front: 18x8.5" ET35 or ET38 with 235/40-18 tires

Rear: 18x9" ET42 with 245/35-18 tires

  • Direct fit with listed tires

Upgraded E36 Street/Track Staggered Wheel Setups

  • Front: 17x9" ET30 with 235/40-17 tires

Rear: 17x9.5" ET35 with 255/40-17 tires

  • Rear fender roll required
  • Front: 18x9" ET30 with 235/40-18 tires

Rear: 18x9.5" ET43 with 265/35-18 tires

  • Rear fender roll required
  • Front: 18x9" ET30 with 235/40-18 tires

Rear: 18x9.5" ET35 with 255/35-18 tires

  • Rear fender roll required

Our Suggestion For Best E36 Wheels

E36 wheel selection is obviously a highly subjective topic. E36 wheels come in so many different configurations ranging from low-spoke monoblock wheels to mesh three-piece wheels. With all of the above considerations factored into your decision, aesthetics also play a massive role in choosing E36 wheels as well. For that reason, we’ll try to provide options that cover the full gambit of styles. Of course, E36 wheel pricing can vary a ton based on the style that you choose as well. Some E36 wheels that are still in production can go for as little as $350 a wheel, while highly sought-after wheels that are no longer in production can cost more than your E36 itself. 

Sticking to that theme, quite a few common E36 wheel options are no longer for sale by their manufacturer. That is the case for most of the OEM E36 wheel options on this list and some of the rarer period-correct wheels as well. With that being said, the E36 community is always in a wheel frenzy, with most of the options on this list appearing for sale on forums and other second-hand sale sites. For the purpose of this article, we aren’t going to discriminate based on availability because some of the less populous E36 wheel options are also the best looking and best constructed.

It is always beneficial to purchase new wheels from a reputable manufacturer. While some aftermarket wheels might look really good, build quality is also an extremely important factor. Those that go for a cheapo wheel option and hit a deep pothole would agree with me.  

1) APEX ARC-8 E36 Wheels

Price New: $273.00 - $680.00 per wheel

Purchase Here: Apexraceparts.com

APEX E36 wheels have a lot going for them as far as performance and quality are concerned. APEX claims that their wheels are a minimum of 10 lbs lighter than OEM options, making them a solid choice for those looking for some additional performance.

The ARC-8 comes in a wide range of widths and diameters, meaning that you can customize your fitment based on your preferred appearance. AEPEX manufactures the ARC-8 for the E36  in sizes ranging from 17” x 8.5” all the way to 18” x 10.” The ARC-8 is made specifically for BMW fitment, meaning that you won’t have to worry about hub-centric spacers or adjusting your camber. 

The ARC-8 comes in 6 different finish colors and a number of different face profiles for additional customization. The face profile choices range in intensity from flat to noticeably concave. It’s more of a style preference than anything, but it is cool to have a few extra options. In terms of price and quality, it is hard to beat APEX in terms of aftermarket performance wheels.

2) AC Schnitzer Type 1 E36 Wheels

Price New: N/A

Purchase Here: N/A

Average Price: $1,800

There are a ton of wheel styles that look fantastic on the E36. From monoblock style wheels to shiny three-piece wheels with massive lips, there’s something for everyone. Our pick for the latter style of wheels is the AC Schnitzer Type 1. AC Schnitzer has been around for over 30 years at this point and is well celebrated for their contributions to the BMW aftermarket community. Their BMW tuning capabilities are celebrated around the world and they have wheels to match.

AC Schnitzer Type 1s are generally available in both monoblock and three-piece forms, with both being somewhat difficult to find. AC Schnitzer does not produce the Type 1 anymore, so you’ll have to source them from a second-hand seller. While the AC Schnitzer Type 1 was made in multiple different sizes and offsets to work with an array of BMWs, the most common sizes meant for E36s include 17x8, 17x9, and 18x9. If you are sourcing some AC Schnitzer Type 1s for your E36, it is crucial that you find some with the correct 72.6mm hub center bore. You can also purchase hub-centric rings that can adapt other bore sizes to work.

AC Schnitzer Type 1s are very much an aesthetic-focused wheel. By most accounts, they weigh somewhere in the ballpark of 21-25 lbs depending on the size that you run. For that reason, they aren’t the best option as far as performance and weight saving are concerned. With that being said, they are fantastic to look at and are made from quality materials that aren’t likely to bend or break. Since Type 1s are in such high demand, it can be challenging to find some at a decent price point. If you fall in love with the looks like I have, the extra cash might be worth shelling out to have a show-stopping E36.

3) BBS RK001/002 E36 Wheels

Price New: N/A

Purchase Here: N/A

Average Price: $1,500 for a set

BBS has been deeply ingrained in BMW’s wheel design and manufacturing process and has produced some of the brand’s most iconic wheels. While the BBS RK001 wasn’t designed for BMW specifically, their look pairs perfectly with the E36’s boxy design. The 5-split spoke design of both the BBS RK001 and RK002 is a timeless design that adds a bit of character to the E36’s side profile without going overboard. They are a wheel that will garner attention without being too flashy. 

In addition to being a great wheel to look at, the BBS RK is a very functional wheel as well. In comparison to some of the other 20+ pound wheels on this list, RK’s weigh just 18 lbs per wheel, making them a pretty light option. As we have already established, removing any unsprung rotation weight from the equation improves performance dramatically, which is a highlight of the RK. 

The BBS RK is another wheel that has since been discontinued and is no longer available new. With that being said, there is still a decent amount floating around for sale around the $1,200 - $1,500 range. As with many of the other non-OEM wheels on this list, the BBS RK came in many different sizes and offset configurations, meaning that a bit of extra searching might be required if you want to find a set that will work from the jump. Luckily, 5x120 is the most common bolt pattern for RKs, so you’ll most likely just need some hub-centric spacers to be able to run a set.

4) OEM BMW Style 5 E36 Wheels

Price New: N/A

Purchase Here: N/A

Average Price: $1,300

BMW Style 5s are an undeniable classic. They are the BMW OEM equivalent of BBS’s highly touted BBS RC 090 model and look great on almost anything that you put them on. Style 5s are most commonly sourced from E39 5-Series and E38 7-Series and are a great fit on the E36. Since the E39, E38, and E36 all share the same bolt pattern, Style 5s will bolt right up. With that being said, the hub bore on E39s and E38s is wider, meaning that you’ll have to use a hub-centric spacer to mount them on your E36. Luckily they are inexpensive and easy to install.

In addition to being a good-looking OEM option, they are also lighter than a lot of other options. Style 5s typically weigh around 21 lbs, which doesn’t make them the lightest but also not the heaviest. The signature multi-spoke weave is a classic look that’ll never go out of style. For that reason, they are a common choice for BMW show cars and those looking to flaunt a bit. 

The most common tire size for E39 sourced Style 5s is 205/40R17, with 215/40R17s also working with rolled fenders and spacers. The most common consensus is that 205s are the way to go if you don’t want to mess with fender modification. With that being said, 205s are relatively small tires. If you are looking for additional grip, these might not be for you.

Since Style 5s are out of production at this point, you’ll have to source a used set. Since they are in such high demand, it can be challenging to find a set in good condition.

5) BMW Style 32 E36 Wheels

Price New: $249.20 per wheel

Purchase Here: bimmerworld.com

The Style 32 is another BMW classic design. It was originally fitted to the E46 and E39 chassis, so there isn’t any concern with proper fitment. They’re a direct plug-and-play. Like the Style 5, the Style 32 was manufactured by BBS for BMW. That’s an easy way to guarantee their quality. Unlike the Style 5s, Style 32s are one-piece wheels, meaning that the face of the wheels does not split from the barrel. 

Style 32s have a very intriguing way of accentuating the E36’s body lines in a favorable way. The 15-spoke design is really well balanced and delicate, yet also more aggressive than most stock options. If you are going for an OEM+ look, Style 32s are a great choice. Their appearance pops even more when slightly lowered performance suspension is introduced. 

Style 32s are available in both 17” x 8” and 17” x 9” configurations with both an ET20 and ET26 offset. A staggered setup is most common, with owners running 8” in the front and 9” in the rear. The most common tire mounted to this setup is 235/45R17 on the front and 255/40R17 on the rears. Owners claim that this Style 32 setup not only looks tantalizingly aggressive but also handles like a dream. 

Best E36 Wheels Summary

Choosing new E36 wheels is one of the most enjoyable modifications that you can do. Not only do you improve the appearance of your BMW, you can also improve the handling. In most cases, it is a win-win. With that being said, it is extremely important to pick the right wheels for your needs.

Pay close attention to wheel specifications when hunting for E36 wheels. Even if the wheel diameter and width are in spec for an E36 but the offset is too aggressive, you’ll have a hard time fitting them correctly. In quite a few cases, fender modifications are required to fit larger wheels to an E36. Rolling your fenders is the best option to create a bit more clearance. While some enthusiasts opt to roll their fenders with what they have laying around the house, it is always better to have it done by a professional. 

In some cases, if the new wheel has too shallow of an offset, wheel spacers might be a necessity for proper fitment. If you do need spacers, buy some from a reputable manufacturer like H&R or BMW themselves. Poorly fitting, or poor quality, wheel spacers can be a safety hazard.

There are quality E36 wheel options from both OEM and aftermarket avenues. At the end of the day it really just depends on the look that you are going for. As stated earlier, the lighter the wheels the better. Removing unsprung weight from the equation will have an immediate effect on your E36’s handling. Overall, choose the wheel that you think looks the best, fits the best, and weighs the least.

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