Ultimate E90 Buyer’s Guide: Reliability & Performance
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.
Some refer to the BMW E90 (E9x) 3 series as one of the last great true drivers cars from BMW. The preceding E46 chassis was so good and left the E90 with big shoes to fill. Initially, many didn’t believe the E9x chassis to be as good. However, with newest E46’s nearing 15 years old the E90 is finally getting its recognition. In this guide, we will discuss the various E9x models and the performance, reliability, and driving experience of each.
E90 Generation 3 Series
Moving forward, we will refer to the general chassis as E9x or E90. The E90 generation actually features the following chassis:
E90 BMW – Sedan
E91 BMW – Wagon
E92 BMW – Coupe
E93 BMW – Convertible Coupe
Additionally, we will cover the following US model E9x cars:
2006 325i (N52 engine)
2006 330i (N52 engine)
2007-2013 328i (N52 engine)
2007-2013 335i (N54 engine from 2007-2010, N55 engine from 2011-2013)
2011-2013 335is (N54 engine)
**We’re not covering the E90 generation M3 in this guide. For those interested in the M3 – check out our separate BMW M3 buyers guide.
Background Information: E9x Chassis 3 Series
The E9x era is unique in many ways. It’s the last 3 series to offer a coupe. The newer generation coupes receive the 4 series badge. The E9x is also the last 3 series to feature a naturally aspirated inline 6 engine. Additionally, it’s the first 3 series to offer a twin turbocharged, direct injected inline 6 engine. The latter two points go hand in hand. BMW’s E9x ushered in a completely new era for BMW. The N54 powered 335i was the car that started it all. A shift from naturally aspirated engines to turbocharged.
However, BMW’s E9x also keeps it old school in many other areas. Unlike the newer generation BMW’s, the E9x uses hydraulic steering. This hydraulic steering was an important part of the 3 series dominance against the competition. BMW’s hydraulic steering has been long known to provide excellent feedback and driver engagement. Anyways, we won’t go any further into this as all E9x chassis 3 series use the hydraulic steering. Nonetheless, many enthusiasts agree the E9x steering is more lively and exciting than the newer generation 3 series.
Point is – the E90 generation is a great overall drivers car. Excellent steering coupled with a great all around chassis. Additionally, each model had options for xDrive and manual transmissions. There’s also a unique blend of engines to satisfy different enthusiasts. The M3 provides the beautiful sounding, high-revving S65 V8 engine. The N52 powered 325i, 328i, and 330i is the last naturally aspirated inline 6 engine from BMW. Finally, the 335i powered by the N54 is sure to please the horsepower and tuning enthusiasts.
E9x Chassis Facelift: Pre-LCI vs LCI
In 2008, the E9x chassis underwent a facelift, referred to as LCI (life cycle improvement). We will highlight a few of the differences with pictures throughout the post. A few changes for the E90 generation facelift include:
- Front & rear bumpers
- Trunk lid
- Wider grilles (no longer wrap on top of the hood)
We don’t completely dislike the look of the pre-LCI models, however the LCI models definitely look more appealing, in our opinion. Our E90 335i is a pre-LCI model, but we would have opted for a newer LCI version had it been in the budget at the time. Each to their own, but we like and recommend LCI E9x models.
1) BMW E9x 325i & 330i
*2006 E90 325i (pre-LCI) pictured above
|Weight||3,285 lbs||3,417 lbs|
|Torque||185 lb/ft||220 lb/ft|
|0-60 MPH (Manual)||6.7 s||6.1 s|
2006 marked the first year of the E9x generation 3 series. However, it also marked the last year for the 325i and 330i in the United States. Given the 325i and 330i are only 2006 models they are not available in the LCI facelift body style. Both E9x cars share the same body style; the only visible difference between the 325i and 330i is the badge.
Both are also powered by the BMW N52 engine. However, the 325i receives a “de-tuned” version that makes 215hp and 185tq. Meanwhile, the 330i comes standard with 255hp and 220tq. The power and torque differences lead to the 330i sprinting to 60mph in 0.6 seconds faster than the de-tuned 325i.
BMW’s E90 325i comes in with a weight of 3,285 lbs, or about 130 lbs lighter than the 330i. This is primarily attributed to the 325i being a base model equipped with fewer features. Similarly equipped 325i and 330i models will weigh roughly the same.
2) BMW E9x 328i
*2010 BMW 328i LCI pictured above. Note the differences of the grille, headlights, bumper, and hood compared to the 325i pictured previously.
Weight: 3,351 – 3,792 lbs
Torque: 200 lb/ft
0-60 MPH (Manual): 6.4 seconds
Beginning in 2007, the lower output 325i was phased out in favor of the 328i. The 328i remained in production from 2007-2013. As such, it’s one of the easiest N52 powered E90’s to find. Some 2008 models were updated as a part of the LCI facelift. All 2009+ E9x 328i’s are LCI.
As with the previous 325i and 330i, the 328i is powered with the N52 inline 6 engine. With 230hp and 200tq it’s more powerful than the 325i. However, it’s not quite as powerful as the 330i. That makes the 330i the most powerful N52 equipped E90. 0-60mph comes in at 6.4 seconds – right in the middle of the 325i and 328i.
Weight also comes in with similar numbers. Depending on features it falls somewhere in the ballpark of 3,351 lbs to 3,792 lbs. The higher end of that range is where the 328xi would fall. RWD versions will fall closer to the mid or low end of the weight. Surprisingly, the difference in weight between E90 sedans and E92 coupes is minimal.
3) BMW E9x 335i & 335is
*2007 BMW E90 335i pre-LCI pictured above
|07-10 335i||11-13 335i||11-13 335is|
|Weight||3,571 lbs||3,560 lbs||3571 lbs|
|Torque||300 lb/ft||300 lb/ft||332 lb/ft|
|0-60 MPH||4.8 s||4.7 s||4.6 s|
The 2007 335i phased out the previous 330i model. This marked a significant change in BMW’s direction. However, being an E90, the exterior design shows minimal differences. Apart from the 335i badge, the dual exhaust is the only tip-off to the twin turbocharged, direct injected N54 engine under the hood.
BMW rated the engine at 300 horsepower and torque. However, real world testing showed the N54 engine pushing closer to 320-330hp and similar torque. Some enthusiasts prefer natural aspiration and a big complaint about turbo engines is the lack of response. However, the N54 utilizes small turbos and in conjunction with VANOS the turbo lag is minimal. Many even went as far to say the N54 feels like a small V8.
There is no question the N54 is a very potent, capable engine. However, it was plagued with issues in the early days. As such, BMW replaced the N54 engine with the newer N55 engine beginning in 2011. Performance figures are nearly identical despite the N55 using a single, twin-scroll turbo as opposed to twin turbos. Though, the N54 is the stronger, more capable engine when it comes to tuning and modifications.
Weight comes in heavier than the 325i, 328i, and 330i. This is primarily due to the extra weight associated with turbochargers and all of their extra components. Most of this extra weight sits over the front tires making the 335i ever so slightly less nimble.
BMW N52, N54, and N55 Engines
When deciding which E9x generation 3 series is right for you chances are the decision is heavily influenced by these engines. If you’re a naturally aspirated fan simply looking for a sporty car then the N52 is for you. It’s an awesome light-weight engine that is generally cheaper to maintain as compared to the turbocharged N54 and N55 engines. Check out our post about N52 common problems.
If you’re set on a turbocharged E9x BMW then this is where the decision may become more complex. The N54 was plagued with many early issues and it’s not tough to find horror experiences about the N54 engine. Improvements to the HPFP and fuel injectors help mitigate the risk of the problems occurring again. Despite the early 335i’s poor reputation for reliability we find it hard to go against the N54. It’s really an awesome engine. Additionally, the tuning capabilities of the N54 powered E90 are impressive.
BMW’s N55 engine took a step back in the strength and capability department, but a step forward with reliability. It’s not quite as receptive of mods or as potent as the older N54 engine. However, it’s a great balance between performance and reliability. Even with the single turbo spool remains quick and the engine feels similar to a smaller V8. Still expect the N55 to be more expensive to own than the naturally aspirated N52, but cheaper than the N54.
Which E90 Generation 3 Series Should You Buy?
As we hinted at previously, the N52 powered 325i, 328i, and 330i are likely the best bet for moderate enthusiasts looking for an all around fun, sporty car. The lighter weight N52 engine makes these E90’s a bit more toss-able around the corners. They’re also generally cheaper to maintain and repair.
For those looking for power and performance above all else we believe you’ll find plenty of thrills in the N54 powered 335i or 335is. However, be cautious. You can pick these cars up pretty cheap now days. We recommend expecting to dish out an extra $3,000-$5,000+ after purchasing an N54. It’s very possible you’ll run into at least a few problems in the first year or two of ownership.
If you want an E9x with a solid balance of power, performance, and reliability then the N55 is a solid bet. Again, it’s still likely more expensive to repair and maintain compared to the N52. Like the N54, expect to run into a few issues, especially on N55’s nearing or beyond 100,000 miles.
Our Pick: 2007-2010 BMW 335i
We’re definitely a bit biased here as we own three N54 powered cars – a 135i, 335i, and 535i. Naturally aspirated engines are dead to us. These modern, turbo BMW inline 6 engines are too good from a performance perspective. The N54 and N55 are both excellent performance engines. We would personally opt for the N54 due to its twin turbos and performance potential.
E90 Buyer’s Guide: Summary
The E9x generation 3 series is an all around excellent chassis. E9x’s also have something to offer for almost everyone. 325i, 328i, and 330i models feature BMW’s legendary naturally aspirated inline-6 engines. However, the E9x 335i set the standard for BMW’s direction. Nearly the entire line-up of BMW’s today are turbocharged, and the N54 powered 335i started it all. Though, the N54 was plagued with many issues early on (and still isn’t a terribly reliable engine). As such, 2011-2013 E90 335i models received the updated N55 single turbo engine.
It’s likely the engine options dictate your decision on what E90 3 series suits you best. All of these E9x BMW’s are sure to impress with their overall driving experience. Horsepower enthusiasts should probably lean more towards the N54 or N55 powered 335i. However, be prepared to spend a few thousand extra on maintenance and repairs.
Which E90 do you own or are considering buying? Leave a comment and let us know
I own a BMW Alpina B3 Biturbo E91/N54 LCI, specified at 360bhp & 500Nm, the B3s has 400/540 – but I guess the Alpina E9x B3 was not available in North America.
I’ve got a 2008 pre-lci 325i E91 with the N53B30 inline-6 (160 kW – 270 N⋅m) engine. I’m surprised the N53 engine wasn’t mentioned in the post but I suppose it’s a bit of an oddball or maybe it was only sold in Europe I don’t know. It’s an all around great car but mine has seen more than 250k km already so it’s required quite a bit of maintenance in the last 30k km.
Awesome – the N53 is a great engine. Sounds like you’ve racked up some mileage on it. As you referenced, these BMW’s certainly require a decent chunk of maintenance once they surpass about 100-125k miles (~160-200k km). The engines themselves are awesome – it’s just a lot of the surrounding parts that require repair/maintenance.
Unfortunately, the US market did not receive the N53. IIRC, it had something to do with fuel.
You are wrong to say that All E9X 3 series cars feature hydraulic steering. The later LCi cars did gain electric steering in some cases. To be honest though the setup is very good and looses little in terms of feel compared to the previous setup. My car is a 2010 330d with N57 engine.
I recently purchased a 2008 335xi coupe (E92), with about 120,000 miles. I love how the car handles and the complete driving experience.When it comes to repairs and maintenance there’s a few problem parts that keep going bad regardless of preventive maintenance. The electric water pump and the High Pressure Fuel Pump. Now rounding 135,000 and I’m on my 3rd Electric water pump since I’ve owed it and 2nd HPFP. There was a lawsuit on the water pumps but I installed my own so it doesn’t apply to me. I’m gonna try a Peirsburge pump when it goes bad this time cause it doesn’t seem to be the pump it self but the plastic pump end. So when the article said be ready to spend a couple grand around 100k they weren’t joking. But other than that I really enjoy the car and knew there would be issues. I wish mine had the LCI or face lift but I still think it looks great regardless. Great article and thanks.
I have a 2006 325i 6MT with over 200k miles, runs great, original clutch etc and 2nd water pump.
I agree with this buyer’s guide, the L6 NA E90 is a superb daily car for an enthusiast. I am happy with mine every single time I drive.
The maintenance is much higher than for “standard” commuter sedans, but there is such great DIY and aftermarket support that I feel the maintenance is not a real deterrent. Tap into the community and forums and take off.
This chassis is so good, so direct, so confidence inspiring that I am always encouraged to push harder (for better or for worse, since I commutes lot!).
My car has the detuned N52, and to my calibrated ass it feels certain that every part of the chassis is about 100% more capable than the engine–the chassis can handle 2x the torque–hence the perfect combination of N54/E90.
I have been thoroughly enjoying a ’06 330xi 6mt for the past four years. Bought at 140k miles and now at 160k. Paid $6k with the dealer replacing the oil pan gasket and valve cover gasket. I’ve done the brakes, oil filter housing, belt/pulleys and windshield gaskets on my own (yay youtube!) and have driven the living beans out of ‘Dieter’ (the winter beater) every time I set foot in him.
What a good, fun car. True, I jones for the extra horsepower of the turbos, but there is something about being able to drive above 5k rpm and not be entirely reckless around town… Very similar driving as my Miata, except the BMW wont kill you (and it won’t get passed by minivans!). If you have never, you really owe it to yourself to live with a BMW manual transmission for a while.