BMW E81 E82 E87 E88 Buyers Guide

"All you need to know about buying a BMW E81 E82 E87 & E88!"

One model that keeps cropping up in emails and questions we get sent, is the E81 E82 E87 & E88, so now we shall review the E81 E82 E87 E88 and give a buyers guide to those looking to buy one with the aim of later doing some tuning and performance mods to it, and we'll summarise the ultimate upgrades and modifications.

So this buyers guide has been assembled to take you through the range, so you can choose the best project car for your needs, and we shall outline which modifications we feel are the best for your car.

Next, we will examine E81 E82 E87 E88 tuning and show the greatest mods that work. BMW E8x's make awesome project engines and with carefully chosen sports enhancements like remaps, turbo improvements, and camshafts you will greatly enhance your driving experience.

First let's look at the model history so you can be an informed buyer.

History of the E81 E82 E87 E88

BMW introduced the 1 Series in 2004 which is now in its third generation. This series features C-segment cars that are subcompact executive vehicles.

Vehicles of the first generation of BMW 1 Series belonged to the popular E8x series. The prefix determined the car’s body type as these vehicles were presented in four different options which included:

  • E81: 3 door hatchback
  • E82: 2 door coupe
  • E87: 5 door hatchback
  • E88: Convertible

Here is a brief intro about the different options that were presented by the company to interested individuals:


The E81 was presented between the years 2007 and 2011. The cars were offered in 15 different variants, 8 of which were gasoline and 7 had diesel engines.

The gasoline cars ranged in power between 122 hp and 265 hp whereas the diesel versions of the car had power in between the range of 115 and 204 hp.


Offered from 2007 to 2012, the BMW E82 had 6 gasoline and 6 diesel options.

The gasoline vehicles ranged in power from 170 hp to 306 hp whereas the diesel variants had power ranging between 143 hp and 204 hp.


Between 2007 and 2011, the E87 was available in eight different gasoline and seven different diesel configurations.

The gasoline cars had power between 115 hp and 265 hp whereas the diesel vehicles ranged in power from 115 hp to 204 hp. (These were the same numbers as the diesel version E81)


The BMW E88 had the shortest lifespan as it was only available between the years 2008 and 2010. These cars were offered by BMW in 8 gasoline and 6 diesel engine options. Power ranges of the cars were as under:

Gasoline: Between 143 hp and 306 hp;

Diesel: Between 143 hp and 204 hp (same as the diesel variants of BMW E82).


Diesel- turbocharged:

  • 2.0 L M47/N47 I4

116i Specs

  • 2004–2011 1.6 L N45 inline-4
    114 hp 150Nm 111lbft
  • 2007-2011 1.6 L N43inline-4
    121 hp 160Nm 118lbft
  • 2009-2011 2.0 L N43 inline-4
    121 hp 185Nm 136lbft

118i Specs

  • 2005–2007 2.0 L N46 inline-4
    127 hp 180Nm 133lbft
  • 2007–2009 2.0 L N43 inline-4
    141 hp 190Nm 140lbft
  • 2009-2011 2.0 L N43 inline-4
    121 hp 185Nm 136lbft

120i Specs

  • 2004–2007 2.0 L N46 inline-4
    110 kW 148 hp 200 N⋅m 148 lb⋅ft
  • 2007–2011 2.0 L N43 inline-4
    168 hp 210Nm 155lbft

125i Specs

  • 2007–2010  3.0 L N52 inline-6
    215 hp 270Nm 199lbft

128i Specs

  • 2008-2013 3.0 L N52 inline-6
    228 hp 271Nm 200lbft

130i Specs

  • 2007–2009 3.0 L N52 inline-6
    261 hp 315Nm 232lbft
    2009–2013 3.0 L N52 inline-6
    255 hp  310Nm 229lbft

135i Specs

  • 2007–2010 3.0 L N54 inline-6 turbo
    302 hp 400Nm 295lbft
  • 2010–2013 3.0 L N55 inline-6 turbo
    320 hp 430Nm 317lbft

135is Specs

  • 2013 3.0 L N55 inline-6 turbo
    320 hp 430Nm 317lbft

1M Coupe Specs

  • 2011–2012 3.0 L N54 inline-6 turbo
    335 hp 450 N⋅m 332 lbft

116d Specs

  • 2009–2011 2.0 L N47 inline-4 turbo
    114 hp 260Nm 192lbft

118d Specs

  • 2004–2007 2.0 L M47 inline-4 turbo
    121 hp 280Nm 207lbft
  • 2007–2013 2.0 L N47 inline-4 turbo
    141 hp 300Nm 221lbft

120d Specs

  • 2004–2007 2.0 L M47 inline-4 turbo
    164 hp 340Nm 251lbft
  • 2007–2013 2.0 L N47 inline-4 turbo
    174 hp 350Nm 258lbft

123d Specs

  • 2007–2013 2.0 L N47 inline-4 turbo
    201 hp 400 Nm 295lbft

We have a complete tuning guide to the E81 E82 E87 E88 which gives more detail on the best mods, and engine specific guides where we pass on all the tips we've picked up and our readers' feedback and suggestions.

Please watch my video on the main areas of BMW Tuning. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

So let's move on to mods and see what is involved in tuning the BMW E81 E82 E87 E88 and which are the best performance parts.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your car. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best mods for your E81

  1. Lighter flywheels - a lower mass flywheel will improve the engines ability to rev freely. But not always suitable for all E81 engines.
  2. E81 Handling Mods (suspension) - Replacing worn bushings and shocks greatly enhances your E81 road holding and cornering. Poly Bushes and Coilovers are typically fitted to achieve this
  3. Intake Upgrades and Exhaust Upgrades - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help lift power after other mods by freeing up a restriction.
  4. Braking Mods - Improve your E81's stopping power needs to be high on your agenda.
  5. Remaps - E81 engine tuning/remapping provides the most power compared to cost, replacement ECUs, and Tuning boxes are all alternatives.
  6. Fast road cams are significant power adders, but they must be fitted by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might have a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft .
  7. Flowing and porting the engine head - for larger gains, you will get better flow and make a more efficient engine if you do this to support your other mods.
  8. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - A New Turbo is the most efficient approach to raise the intake air supply, which permits you to burn more fuel and make more power. Typically one of the most challengeing mods you'll see massive gains.

E81 Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Fast road camshaft, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Panel air filters, Intake manifolds, Sports exhaust header/manifold, Drilled & smoothed airbox.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: fuel pump upgrades, induction kit, Ported and polished head, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, high flow fuel injectors, Fast road cam.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression, Twin charging conversions, Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves), Competition cam, Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Engine balancing & blueprinting.

ECU Mapping Improvements for the E81 E82 E87 & E88

Mapping will help unlock the full potential of all the upgrades you've done to your E81 E82 E87 or E88.

While the stock camshafts are intended to be used with the OEM intakes and exhausts, aftermarket upgrades provide significant power and torque gains.

This is why, to get the most out of their vehicles, people who upgrade the intake and exhaust systems also upgrade the camshaft.

(Sometimes flashing the ECU is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and most of these exceed the specs and performance of your factory ECU's but check it has knock protection and that you get it set up properly.)

It will usually give around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but power output usually rely on the upgrades you've applied and the condition of your engine.

E81 E82 E87 E88 Camshaft Upgrades

Getting a fast road cam will come into their own at higher RPM power which makes it a best mod for NASP and turbo petrol engines, but not so much on diesels. Most cars will see peak power gains through performance camshafts on most engines.

While the stock camshafts are intended to be used with the OEM setup including intakes and exhausts, aftermarket upgrades provide significant power and torque gains, especially when matched with other mods.

This is why, to get the most out of their vehicles, people who are looking to tune their E8x to the full also upgrade the camshaft.

Regrinds are possible on the stock camshaft if you can't source a performance option locally, but be sure you are maximizing your valve lift as well as choosing the optimum durations.

Significant gains on most of the E81 E82 E87 E88 can be made from cam upgrades. Altering the cam profile alters the intake and exhaust durations on the engine and can dramatically change the engine's power and power output.

Fast road camshafts tend to increase the bhp and torque through the rev band, you might lose a little low down power but higher rpm power will be lifted.

Race camshafts, increase the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

For a car used daily you need to optimize your bhp range to your usage of the car.

I'd be amazed if you find an E8x Motorsport and race cam is a delight when driving around busy urban areas.

This is because the lumpy idle will make the car more likely to stall and smooth driving at low rpm becomes impossible.

If you are developing a track car this doesn't matter as you are in the high end of your RPM range anyway and that is where you want the power to be.

Some E8x engines respond differently depending on how well made they are when camshafts are fitted depending on the camshaft being more extreme camshaft durations and cam profile as unique due to manufacturing tolerances and quality variations so set your engine up on a rolling road.

The ECU mapping and fuel delivery and fuel pump also have a large bearing on the power gains you'll make.

Altering valve durations can alter the power range, and on most engines there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations and valve lift.

The E81 E82 E87 E88 power plant make great tuning projects and we note that there are plenty of modifications and performance parts around.

E81 E82 E87 E88 Turbo/Supercharger upgrades

NA (naturally aspirated) engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your E81 E82 E87 E88

The more air you can get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes superb power gains.

When a car is fitted with a turbo parts are relatively easy and most turbocharged engines are built with uprated components.

Hybrid turbos are generally a bolt on swap for the stock turbo, and larger turbos will usually require some custom work around the manifolds and pipes.

There are common areas of failure for every engine, with some being extremely strong and some just sufficiently able to handle stock power. It is important to find these limits and upgrade to stronger pistons, crank, and engine components to survive the power.

There are many people spending a lot of money on turbo charger upgrades on the E81 E82 E87 E88 only to experience the whole thing literally blow up soon after it's been finished.

Bigger turbo units will usually suffer low end lag, and smaller turbo units spool up really quickly but don't have the top end engines' power gains.

Thanks to new tech the market of turbo chargers is always improving and we now see variable vane turbo chargers, where the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end torque.

Twin scroll turbo chargers divert the exhaust gases into two channels and push these at differently designed vanes in the turbo charger. They also help the scavenging effect of the engine.

The best part is that several bolt-on options are available from reputable brands like ESS Tuning, which can increase the bhp figures by 80 to 100 hp (depending on the other mods you've done obviously). These superchargers are frequently accompanied by larger fuel injectors with spray patterns similar to OEM parts.

It is common that there's a limitation in the air flow sensor (AFM/MAF/MAP) on the E81 E82 E87 E88 when loads more air is being drawn into the engine.

We note 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor was restricting power at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large torque gains, although more challenging to get working. We have this feature on twinchargers if you want to read more.

E81 E82 E87 E88 Fuelling Upgrades

You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so need to pay attention to the fuelling when you start going beyond 20% of a performance increase. Fuel pressure boost valves raise the fuel pressure, providing a more snappy throttle response.

When a car’s performance increases, it requires more fuel. Thus the fuelling mods become imperative. So, we recommend replacing OEM parts with aftermarket components. Consider going above and beyond the normal requirements so that extra fuel is available in case the car requires it.

Don't forget to over specify your injector capacity.

The rule of thumb is to add 20% when specifying an injector, which takes into account injector deterioration and affords you some spare capacity should the engine require more fuel.

We think this one is common sense, but you'll need to match your fuel injector to the type of fuel your car uses as well.

E81 E82 E87 E88 Performance Exhausts

You should look to upgrade your exhaust if the existing exhaust is actually creating a flow problem. Otherwise, the exhausts, especially Catback systems are a cosmetic mod, that improves or more correctly alters the sound.

A performance exhaust is a highly effective modification component that reduces backpressure.

Because weight has a significant impact on car performance, these performance exhaust systems are made of lightweight materials to shed the extra pounds carried by OEM parts.

If you want a more aggressive sound that best fits the character of your modified BMW, replace the OEM parts with stainless steel performance exhausts.

These aftermarket parts often eliminate the flapper valve design found in the stock mufflers. This ensures that you always have that highly appealing race tone.

Some manufacturers, such as Eisenmann, offer Race or Sport options with +5DB and +9DB options, giving you complete control over the sound of your vehicle. But check the legalities in your area concerning exhaust modifications and upgrades.

Sports exhausts can usually air flow from the engine but do not go too large or you could restrict the flow rate. Generally speaking you should stick to around 1.5 to 2.5 inches as a rule of thumb.

Common exhaust restrictions can be located in the catalysts installed, so adding a freer flowing high performance aftermarket unit unlocks that lost power, and instead of doing an illegal cat removal, will keep the car road legal.

Please note that performance catalysts and filters perform similarly to test pipe mod and have the added benefit of keeping your car street legal, as decat or catalyst removal is not a legal mod.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the E81 E82 E87 E88

The E81 E82 E87 E88 engines are generally reliable and solid as long as they are regularly serviced.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will reduce power and smooth running, this is a very common problem on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines.

We have tips in our intake cleaning guide By avoiding short journeys where the engine doesn't warm up and using good quality fuel you can reduce this risk.

Service time oil changes are essential on the E81 E82 E87 & E88, especially when tuned and will help extend the life and reliability of the engine.

 E81 E82 E87 & E88 Common Issues & Problems

The BMW 1 Series E8x cars, like every other vehicle on the market, had a few issues in common.

So, if you're in the market for one, keep these issues in mind to get the best car.

Timing chain problems

The first issue was a timing chain failure on the N47 diesel engine.

Many experts believe that the reason for this problem was that BMW service intervals were far too long, resulting in the problem being extremely common among cars of this era, so if it starts making a grinding noise get it checked out ASAP or you'll need to replace the engine.

We would recommend that you get the timing chain checked at your next service as a precaution.

Warning light/electrical problems

Traction control (DTC ) Warning light comes on, which usually means the traction control unit needs replacing.

Random warning lights on the dashboard flashing on and off.

Check the PDC unit in the boot is dry and that the filters in the wheel wells have been fitted the correct way up. A damp PDC will fire off all kinds of warning lights.

Coil pack problems

Coil pack issues are quite common, and the fault identifies itself as rough running, a petrol smell inside the car in some cases, and erratic engine temperature.

You can also experience engine vibration, loss of power or end up in limp home mode. Replacing the coil pack will rectify the fault.

Idling from a cold start can be an issue, if this is the case make sure the ECU is updated to the latest version which should address this issue in the software.

Build quality problems

Several cars from this generation also had their fuel filler cap fall off.

Another common issue was the car interior's poor build quality, which resulted in a lot of crunching sounds that didn't fit with the premium quality luxury brand that BMW is otherwise known as.

If you want to learn more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your E81 E82 E87 E88 engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss E81 E82 E87 E88 tuning options in more detail with our E81 E82 E87 E88 owners.

It would also be worth reading our unbiased BMW tuning articles to get insights into each modification and how effective they will be.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We appreciate people taking the time to tell us what our visitors have got up to and which parts work best for them on each model of car. We use your comments and feedback to improve the accuracy of these E81 E82 E87 E88 tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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