The BMW S54 engine is the high-power variant of the M54 engine, used in the E46 M3, Z3M and early year Z4M’s. While the S54 is the big brother to the M54, it was actually built and improved off of the S50 engine, its predecessor from the E36 M3. Compared to the S50, the S54 was increased to 3.25L from 3.0L, it was upgraded from single to dual vanos, compression ratios increased, and a few other technical specs were improved.
While the S54 was primarily produced in the S54B32 configuration, the engine also had a variant: the S54B32HP. The HP stands for “high performance”, and this engine was used exclusively in the E46 M3 CSL. We’ll cover more on this further down!
S54 Engine Specs
|Engine Platform||BMW S54|
|Cylinder Alloy||Cast Iron|
|Piston Stroke (in.)||91mm|
|Cylinder bore (mm)||87mm|
|Horsepower||US & Canada:|
333hp – E46 M3
315hp – Z3M
330hp – Z4M
|Horsepower per Liter||97.0hp-102.6hp|
|Torque||US & Canada:|
262lbft. – E46 M3
252lbft. – Z3M
262lbft. – Z4M
|Redline||8,000 rpm – E46 M3|
7,600 rpm – Z3M
|Gas Mileage||13mpg (city)|
|Forced Induction||Naturally Aspirated|
|Recommended Engine Oil||SAE 10w-60|
|Engine Oil Capacity||6.5L (6.9 quarts)|
|Normal Engine Temps||195 degrees (F)|
|Common Lifespan||~200,000 miles|
Cars the S54 Engine is used in:
- 2000-2006 E46 M3
- 2003-2004 E46 M3 CSL
- 2000-2002 Z3M (E36/E37/E38)
- 2002-2011 Wiesmann MF 3 Roadster
- 2006-2008 Z4M (E85/E86)
E46 M3 CSL: S54B32HP
In 2004, BMW launched a limited, special edition E46 M3, dubbed the CSL (coupe sport lightweight). BMW produced 1,383 CSL M3’s. The CSL editions were manufactured specifically to be track cars; the CSL’s weighed 243lbs less than a regular M3 and had various structural design changes to reduce weight and improve the cars center of gravity.
The roof, trunk, and body panels were all made of either plastic or polymers reinforced by carbon fiber, in addition to a number of other carbon fiber inserts such as the door panels, console trim, etc. The CSL edition got rid of electric seats, navigation systems, A/C, and the radio (although A/C and the radio were later added as free options) to reduce weight. These versions of the M3 also came with a carbon fiber front splitter and rear diffuser.
The M3 CSL featured an upgraded S54 engine, dubbed the S54B32HP or “high performance”. The HP engine had improved camshafts, a bigger air intake with a carbon fiber manifold, an improved exhaust manifold, and upgraded exhaust valves. The engine improvements resulted in an increase in horsepower and torque to 355HP and 273lbft.
BMW S54 Engine Reliability
From a reliability perspective, the S54 engine might be the most reliable and least problematic M-series engine ever produced. Obviously, as these engines age, there is going to be a fair share of maintenance and replacement associated – but the majority of this will simply be common wear and tear maintenance.
With respect to big problems, or fatal design flaws, the S54 engine has very few. The S54 engine is quite reliable and should be good up until the ~100,000-~125,000 mile mark. At this mileage, you probably want to replace the timing chain and tensioner, and rod bearings if they weren’t previously replaced.
The S54 rod bearings are the only fatal design flaw, but this only affected 2000-2003 models, and BMW eventually recalled them. So, most of the affected vehicles have likely already had this issue taken care of.
Common S54 Engine Problems
- VANOS: unfortunately, early year BMW’s are all prone to vanos unit problems and failure. Unfortunately, in the early years, repairs are rather cumbersome and expensive. On the S54, the solenoids, sprocket bolts, camshaft hub, and vanos oil pump are all prone to failure. $1k-$2k is our ballpark estimate to DIY vanos problems.
- Rod Bearings: this pretty much only affects 2000-2003 S54 engines. The rod bearings had a few design flaws, but BMW offered these under warranty and by 2020, most of these should have been replaced by now.
- Water Pump: per usual on BMW’s, the S54 water pump fails every 100,000 miles or so. This is a pretty cheap ($200) DIY but might run you $600-$800 in total to have a shop do the replacement.
For a more in-depth guide to S54 common problems, read our guide here: The 3 Most Common BMW S54 Engine Problems
S54 Tuning Capabilities
The S54 is the last naturally aspirated, I6 M3 engine. The subsequent E90 M3 was a NA V8, and all of the newer M3’s are twin-turbo I6’s. Unfortunately, the naturally aspirated nature makes significant horsepower gains rather expensive. However, with basic bolt-on modifications you can increase the wheel horsepower from approx. 275whp to 320hp. Going above that, you will need to add a supercharger and, depending on the kit, can get up towards 600whp. Turbocharging the S54 is an option, but it’s very expensive.
Stock S54 Power: ~275whp
Full Bolt-on (FBO) S54 Power: ~320whp
Max NA WHP: ~340whp (built engine, very $$)
S54 Horsepower Record: 902whp, 664 lb-ft. torque (max boost on a turbocharger setup)
S54 Bolt-on Modifications
- Power pulley kit: ~11whp
- Intake: ~10whp and 10wtq
- Exhaust headers: ~15whp
- Catback exhaust systems: 10-15whp (most will shed 25lbs. of weight which is the biggest benefit)
- Custom/bolt-on tune: 15-20whp
S54 Serious HP Modifications
Getting to 350whp on a NA motor will require upgraded internals, cams, full-bolt ons, custom tunes, etc. It will be very expensive, so the more common route is adding a supercharger kit to the S54. The easier route: going forced induction
- Supercharger Kit: range in price from $5k-$15k, with the more expensive kits providing the most power. 400whp-600whp is achievable with these setups – but you’re looking at a pretty penny for these kits. Checkout our links at the bottom for more info.
- Turbocharger Kits: turbo is not a popular option for the S54. There are very very few kits out there – adding a turbo will require a ton of custom work and likely run you $30k+. You can check these ones out here: https://www.saadracing.com/bmw-e46-m3-turbo-kits and http://cesmotorsport.com/documents/155.html
BMW S54 Preventative and Recommended Maintenance
- Oil changes: we always recommend 5,000 miles, but at the minimum every 7,500 miles
- Water pumps: every 100,000 miles
- Rod bearings: replace them now if they haven’t been replaced previously on early model S54’s
- Spark plugs and ignition coils: every 50,000 miles
- Belts and pulleys: every 100,000-125,00 miles