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Five Mods You Need to Make a Fantastic E91 Daily Driver
BY Mike Maravilla //
July 3, 2023
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Photography: Brandon Cody
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  • The appreciation for BMW’s long-roof wagons has been on the rise as used car values continue to tick upward.
  • The fifth-generation 3-series wagon (chassis code E91) is the perfect dollar-to-fun ratio for a practical daily driver right now.
  • Although a capable cruiser from the factory, a handful of aftermarket modifications makes the E91 punch well above its weight class in terms of road-going demeanor, looks, and driver feedback.

Ask any enthusiast about BMW and, with absolute certainty, the first thing that they’ll bring up will be its M cars. The second thing — modern styling choices aside — will often be something much more low-key: its wagons.

Since the second generation 3-series, the eternally beloved E30, BMW has been manufacturing wagons for enthusiasts outside of the United States. These touring variants offer everything that we know and love about the Bavarian marque with an extra dash of practicality. We unlucky stateside car fans have been largely robbed of the privilege — the E30 and E36 touring were never officially sold here — and none of BMW’s M wagons were even considered for North American import at all, despite our track record for recording a majority share of worldwide M car sales. Should those fates have been amended earlier, I’d bet that SUVs wouldn’t nearly be as popular as they are today.

But I digress. What you see here is a wagon that we did happily receive: an LCI (facelift) E91 328 X-Drive wagon. This particular example is finished in Tasman Green over Black, one of the classiest combinations available on the platform, and a refreshing choice amongst a sea of predictable enthusiast colorways. Keen eyes will notice the M-sport aero treatment. It isn’t a “must-have” mod, but it does add a subtle sportiness to the exterior which helps complement the other add-ons. Let’s dig into what you really need.

ST X SUSPENSION COILOVERS

Manufactured in Germany by parent company KW Automotive, the ST “X” coilovers (13220049) offer the height adjustment that modern enthusiasts demand with the build quality, damping, and performance that is synonymous with the KW family. Within the recommended lowering range (0.6-1.8” in the front and 0.6-1.6” in the rear), the E91 becomes supremely compliant and is an immediate improvement over the factory suspension. 

Everything you need for a true plug-and-play installation is in the box, including fresh elastomer bump stops. We didn’t take advantage of the option, but one of the cool things about ST Suspension is its customization: springs are available in 18 different finishes and each spring can be individualized to your build with up to 25 characters of text.

F8X M3/M4 BRAKE RETROFIT

The factory E91 brakes are no slouch, but there’s no arguing that M brake technology is miles ahead of the standard BMW fare. Fortunately, there are plenty of F8X M3/M4 owners who sell their OEM brakes for aftermarket BBKs. The process isn’t totally plug-and-play (as you can tell by the photos), but the forum has a pretty handy repository of what you’ll need and what to expect along the way. 

Brake bias shifts rearward slightly compared to the factory E91, but even the most sensitive foot wouldn’t notice. The 2-piece rotor retrofit is timely for most E91 owners — most cars will be due for brakes soon — and it’s a great opportunity to upgrade all the “while you’re in there” items like wheel bearings, hub assemblies, and brake lines. By switching to the F8X’s 4/2-pot caliper setup, the pedal performance is a big step forward — the overall improvement in stopping confidence is only matched by the big visual upgrade behind the wheels.

F8X M3/M4 WHEELS

Of course, the only “downside” to larger brakes is having to run larger-diameter wheels to suit — 18” wheels are now the minimum — and we opted for a set of OEM Style 513 wheels from the F8X M3/M4 (36112284750) to continue the OEM+ theme. With daily driving in mind, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires were fitted as well.

To round out all the upgrades in the wheel/tire area, a set of Bimmerworld 75mm M12x1.5 studs (BW5WSP) was added. Not only can these longer studs accept up to a 12mm spacer, but they will also make any future wheel swaps a much faster endeavor.

E90 SPORT SEATS

With all the work that has gone on underneath the car, we’d be amiss if any interior upgrades weren’t addressed at the same time. The non-sport seats in the E91 are perhaps one of the more disappointing parts of the car. They offer very little support in anything other than straight-line driving and, in sharp contrast to the rest of the car, look rather drab. A rather minty set of factory sport seats were sourced from a few states away and were a night-and-day difference in material, adjustability, and bolstering. Since the seats are of a similar vintage to the car itself, all the electronics and bolt-in points were a plug-and-play affair.

M PERFORMANCE STEERING WHEEL

With the seats sorted, there was only one mod left to truly transform the driving experience of the E91: the steering wheel. The non-sport factory wheel is downright offensive to look at and even worse to hold. While the OEM M3 wheel would’ve been a great choice to match the seats, the M tri-color in a non-M car is a bit too extra. Fortunately, the factory M Sport wheel (32307839115) is a worthy upgrade. It ditches the trim-color treatment in favor of incorporating handsome, perforated leather in the major grip areas between nine and three. In this particular car, I think it’s the classier choice as well; while the overall diameter remains 370mm, the extra thickness immediately adds a more sporting character to the drive.

You’ll notice, too, that the sport airbag (32306884328) — shared between the sport package-equipped E9X cars and its M brethren — has been fitted, so don’t forget to order that if you’re looking to perform the same mod.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Before we get too far, we’d like to thank R/T Tuning for being our local, trusted shop for our technical pieces. R/T was able to fit everything promptly, expertly work around all of the brake retrofit nuances, and ensure the E91 was perfectly aligned and ready to go when all the mods were finished, which takes us here: the transformation.

The overall effect of these mods is subtle, but that’s exactly what makes these selections perfect for a daily driver. Everything provides a sizable upgrade over stock, but it does so while flying under the radar of a casual passerby who’s none the wiser. The car’s newfound compliance over varying road surfaces and through corners is a treat and with the interior improvements, the E91 seems to communicate with you much more directly. Nothing on this list made extra horsepower and that’s because we were focused on making maximum perceivable improvement — the suspension and interior work allow the already potent N52-equipped E91 to shine without sacrificing an ounce of practicality.

Saying “This is exactly how the car should’ve come from the factory” is possibly the highest compliment you could extend here and it’s true — this E91, in this exact form, is a car we’d be proud to drive into work every day.


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