BMW E81 Tuning

"Thanks for reading our BMW E81 tuning article."

The E81 was a vehicle from the BMW 1 Series. This series was introduced in 2004, but the 3 door hatchback variant, known as the E81, was launched in 2007 and remained in production for a total of four years until 2011.

A coupe version and 5 door hatchback were also introduced, the M series Coupe using the N54 was bonkers but in a very good way!! It shows what this chassis and platform is capable of. Read our buyers guide, if you are looking for information on choosing an E81 E82 E87 E88 model.

One car that keeps cropping up in emails and questions we get sent is the E81, and what modifications work best on it.

so we've created this article which covers our go to modifications that you should tune and outline which modifications we feel are the best.

The E81 is an awesome project car to try. Sit down first and research E81 tuning to spare yourself making the usual costly mistakes we hear about.

Please watch my video guide to BMW Tuning. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best E81 E82 E87 E88 tuning mods

When talking about the greatest modifications for your E81 E82 E87 E88 engine, we are going to focus on the mods that provide the best power gain for you spend. If you want to reinforce the performance of your BMW 1 series car, here are a few options that can help:

E81 Handling/Suspension upgrades

Many E81 owners uprate the handling of their cars with performance suspension parts as a priority, this will certainly increase your enjoyment of the car.

Some of the common suspension modifications include:

  • Coilover kits
  • Lowering kits
  • Handling kits
  • Sway bars
  • Coil springs
  • Shocks & Struts

The Godspeed Project Mono MAXX Front & Rear Coilover Kit, although expensive, is a great and highly recommended suspension modification for your BMW E8x.

Some of the companies that offer these components include: H&R, KW, Eibach, God Speed Project & AC Schnizter.

Tuning tips and articles
Ohlins Road And Track Coilover keeps cropping up, so if you truly want a racing experience from your car, the Öhlins Road & Track coilovers are the way to go. Tein, Bilstein and Koni also have a very good selection to choose from for the E81.

If you set the toe out to around 1.5 degrees on the front, and add a small amount of negative camber then cornering will dramatically be enhanced.

Drop the car optimally somewhere in the region of 21mm - 35 mm. and fit modified stiffer dampers, bigger drops will need other modifications in most instances.

Upgrading your Bushes

Enhancements to the bushings: Things you need to know

It is possible to connect the E81's suspension components to the chassis of the E81 using poly bushes, which are replacements for the rubber mounts. The rubber ones typically deteriorate with time and need replacing anyway so why not upgrade.

By replacing new OEM rubber bushings, you may greatly improve your vehicle's performance.

Because polyurethane bushes are stiffer, the ride may be firmer, but the bushes will last longer and maintain the car's handling over a longer time.

Worn bushings may also accelerate the degradation of other suspension components due to the increased vibration and play.

A new set of poly bushings will help to mitigate the excessive play associated with rubber bushings.

Some polyeyurothane bushings are hard to locate, but most will find the primary mounts readily available in their local stores Often, custom E81 poly bushes may be manufactured to your requirements.

E81 E82 E87 Brake upgrades

Adding meatier brake discs and better quality pads can make for greatly enhanced stopping.

We should point out that some performance friction pads can grind and will need to be hot before they bit. The semi-metallic material used in the brake pads reduces brake noise and improves braking stability.

A fast car requires an effective stopping mechanism. While stock brakes are adequate for most cars, tuned vehicles often require aftermarket braking systems. Here are some of the braking components that car enthusiasts frequently replace:

  • Brake Conversion Kits
  • Brake Pads and Discs.

Brembo brakes have gained popularity due to their exceptional build quality and performance. However, other brands, such as EBC and Stoptech, also provide amazing components.

Colored Brake Calipers are another option offering both form and function and such is the popularity of the E8x that you can even personalize the color of the calipers to get the best options for your needs and desires.

Disc Types The disc types include drilled, slotted and drilled or slotted with zinc coating. Read our guide on brakes for more info on this.

In every day driving the brakes are occasionally used so won't stop you as well so choose brake pads which have a low working temperature.

Endless BMW MX72 Front & Rear Brake Pads

These ceramic carbon metal brake pads have a friction coefficient of 0.37 to 0.47 and can be used in a variety of situations, including street, highway driving, and circuit driving.

What Should You Consider While Upgrading Your Car’s Brakes?

Are you considering upgrading your car’s brakes? Here are the four different aspects that need to be considered while choosing the best option:

  • Stopping Power
  • Noise Rating
  • Dust Rating
  • Pad Wearing Rating

For greatly improved braking add better quality pads and match this with larger brake discs.

Note that motorsport pads can grind and will have to be hot before they start to work.

On a road car the brakes are occasionally used so won't stop you as well so source friction pads which have a low working temperature.

E81 Power mods.

The following tuning kits are usually carried out by our members, decide how far you want to push your car before you get started.

Getting the right performance modifications for your planned usage of the car is a time and money saver. Stage 3 motor sport mods just don't work well on the road hard to control in slow traffic.

E81 Power mods.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your E81. 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: Panel air filter, Engine Tunes/Remapping, Alloy wheels, Lighter flywheel, Sports exhaust, Suspension upgrade (drop 21mm - 35 mm.).

Typical stage 2 mods often include: high flow fuel injector, Fast road cam, Power/Sport clutch, fuel pump upgrades, Ported and polished head.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Competition cam, Sports gearbox, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Engine balancingInternal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves).

Peak power is all well and good but for a drivable and fun car you need a wide torque band and perhaps extending the rev range.

Engine Options for the E81 E82 E87

The vehicles were available in a total of eight different engine options, four of which were gasoline variants and four were diesel.

The gasoline version of the car had a power range of 122 HP to 265 HP, while the diesel variants had a power range of 115 HP to 204 HP. The different options included:


  • 1.6-2.0 L N43/N45/N46 I4
  • 3.0 L N52 I6
  • 3.0 L N54/N55 I6 turbo

Diesel- turbocharged:

By making changes to the camshaft profile, the fuelling, mapping and turbos used there were quite a few different power levels offered as outlined below.

Gasoline/Petrol Variants power specs

  • 116i 6AT having 122 HP and 136 lb-ft at 3000 to 4250 RPM
  • 116i 6MT having 122 HP and 136 lb-ft at 3000 to 4250 RPM
  • 118i 6AT having 143 HP and 140 lb-ft at 4500 RPM
  • 118i 6MT having 143 HP and 140 lb-ft at 4500 RPM
  • 120i 6AT having 170 HP and 155 lb-ft at 4250 RPM
  • 120i 6MT having 170 HP and 155 lb-ft at 4250 RPM
  • 130i 6AT having 265 HP and 232 lb-ft at 2750 RPM
  • 130i 6MT having 265 HP and 232 lb-ft at 2750 RPM

Diesel Variant power specs

  • 116d 6MT having 115 HP and 192 lb-ft at 1750 to 2500 RPM
  • 118d 6AT having 143 HP and 221 lb-ft at 2000 RPM
  • 118d 6MT having 143 HP and 221 lb-ft at 2000 RPM
  • 120d 6AT having 177 HP and 258 lb-ft at 2000 RPM
  • 120d 6MT having 177 HP and 258 lb-ft at 2000 RPM
  • 123d 6AT having 204 HP and 295 lb-ft at 2000 to 2250 RPM
  • 123d 6MT having 204 HP and 295 lb-ft at 2000 to 2250 RPM

E81 E82 E87 Mods

Top end power should be your overall aim on the E81 with a nice fat peak torque band.

With our tips your E81 can be a track day fun car and maintain it's reputation reliable daily driver.

Smaller engines do not provide much of a return in terms of power so start with a bigger engine. Engine swaps are a good option if you have a small engine size.

The aim of our advice is to give a brief overview of car tuning mods and help you get started, our forum is the place to go for detailed advice and tips on your car tuning project, the best uprated upgrades and all aspects of modding cars. A fast road camshaft is one of the best NASP power mods you can do with a single part fitted to your engine.

E81 Remapping options

If you don't have a supplier near you it is possible you'll find a local specialist who can regrind your cam to a more sporty profile.

If you want to modify your BMW E81, here are some items to consider because of their high performance and great value for money.

tuned/remapped turbo will give massive power gains and take full advantage of the strength of the block. It is a no brainer when you consider the power gain and ease with which it is realised, often an easy 30% more power with no other mods or even bigger gains if you have other supporting mods as well.

NA (naturally aspirated) engines do not achieve big power gains if you tune/remap them, unless you have done extensive modifications. With turbocharged engines this is another story.

Sprint Booster V3 is worth a mention as it keeps cropping up.
The Sprint Booster V3 is available for both manual and automatic vehicles, so choose the one that meets your needs.

It is a reasonably priced item starting at £199. As a result, it is one of the best options for improving the performance of your car.

Since it is a plug-and-play device, it is not only simple to install but is also extremely effective for reprogramming your vehicle's ECU.

The best part is that you get exceptional performance from your vehicles without having to cut any wires.

When it comes to tunes or remaps there are a few DIY options for these engines...

The iMoss DIY Remapping Tool, as the name implies, is a engine tuning/remapping tool from Mosselman Turbo Systems. It enables users to download ECU files to their computer, which can then be custom tuned/remapped to get the best BHP and Torque figures out of their BMW E81.

They make the driving experience much better.

Remus Powerizer Tuning Module
The Remus Powerizer Tuning module is an excellent choice that can show great results. For example, in the case of the 116d model, it can increase the power up to 135 HP.

Air Flow improvements on the E81 E82 E87  & E88

Intake upgrades are considered vital for enhancing the performance of cars. Thus, if you are looking to get better horsepower and torque figures, consider getting a decent intake modification for your car.  Pulling air and fuel into each cylinder is the main goal to any engine upgrade job.

Contrary to popular belief there is generally very little power gain obtained by fitting an induction kit, they only help and are recommended after you raise the power of the engine to the point where the standard air intake box cannot cope!

The intake manifold takes the air during the suck phase from the intake filter and allow it to be fed into the engine and mixed with fuel.

The structure and flow rate of the Air Intake manifolds can make a large change to fuel delivery on the E81 E82 E87 E88.

Cold air intake systems are the best for increased airflow to the engine, thanks to their high flow intake tubes. The top-tier cold air intakes come with premium quality reinforced silicone couplers and stainless steel components to easily stand the test of time while delivering high-class performance.

The K&N 57i Series Generation Black Cold Air System is one such option that guarantees high performance for your BMW E8x. Another great option in this regard is the Flowmaster Delta Force Cross-Linked Polyethylene Black Cold Air Intake System.


Larger E81 E82 E87 E88 valves, getting port work and head flowing will also raise bhp and torque, and importantly will afford you raising the bhp and torque increase on other parts.

E8x Performance Intercoolers

An intercooler is a must-have for your BMW 1 series if you want low intake temperatures and increased performance on a turbo engine, especially if you are suffering from heat soak.

Intercooler kits from high-end manufacturers like Wagner are mostly made of aluminum, so they are not only light in weight but also perform exceptionally well in their core purpose.

The distinguishing feature of such components is the incorporated air baffle, which ensures that the air in the intercooler is uniformly filled. This not only results in effective cooling but also in low backpressure. Superchargers Superchargers can significantly increase the power of your car from the BMW E8x series.

Wagner Tuning Series Intercooler Kit

Installing an intercooler in the vehicle is one of the finest modifications that I highly recommend for the turbo variants.

The Wagner Tuning Series Intercooler Kit, which works on a variety of BMW models including the E81, is a great option for this purpose.

However, it is worth noting that this is an expensive part but if you've invested in other mods it makes a lot of sense.

The most significant power gains for NA (naturally aspirated) engines usually involve the addition of forced induction or fast road cams.

Turbos are often harder to add than a supercharger. With a turbo the boost curve is related exponentially to the engine speed making it more challenging to map.

It is easier to map a supercharger because the boost is directly proportional to engine speed on a linear curve. To cope with forced induction you will usually need to decrease the compression ratio of the engine .

The intake & exhaust valve timings play a large part in your cars power band, but be careful here, getting this wrong can upset the idle and make the car awkward to drive in traffic. You'd need to follow a cam upgrade with other mods and finish with a tune/remap to fully release the power gain.

Don't forget to look at the fuelling when you are increasing the power - it makes the car more thirsty.

Using high octane petrol is another option if you find you are suffering from detonation or premature ignition on your BMW project after fitting other uprated modifications.  Upgrading the injectors is another beneficial modification and will deliver sufficient fuel.

If you are increasing your fuelling with bigger injectors you will also need to get a bigger fuel pump to supply it.

E81 E82 E87 Intake and Exhaust Tuning.

Breathing mods are usually next up as flow of air into and out of the engine are usually bottlenecks in a tuned E81 E82 & E87 project.

Please note that WE DO NOT FIND IMPROVEMENTS WITH INDUCTION KITS, unless you have tuned your car massively and are finding that the standard air intake has become a limitation.

Induction kits can work well on turbo engines and larger engines (if supplied with a suitable cold air feed or air box), generally though we'd just recommend for E81 engines you should go with a performance panel air filter preferably made from cotton.

E81 E82 E87 performance exhaust upgrades

Do not go with the largest exhaust you can find this will slow the exhaust rate - the best for power gains are usually between 1.5 to 2.5 inches. It is the shape and material more than the bore size.

Depending upon your choice, you can choose from Sport +5DB or Race +9DB exhausts. Eisenmann exhausts are made of high-quality stainless steel, which not only improves the appearance of your BMW E81 E82 E87 but also improves the sound.

Getting the cylinder head ported and polished will further help more air into each cylinder. This is definitely a job for a pro with a flow bench.

When you heavily modify your E81 you will find that the standard clutch starts to fail so get an uprated clutch. The best mods that we recommend for your E81 are a tune/remap especially on a turbo, a fast road camshaft and sports exhaust, with a good air intake.

E81 E82 E87 Alloy wheel upgrades.

Alloy wheels can help the brakes cool down and are generally less heavy than the steel ones. Don't forget that your choice of rubber greatly affects your cars grip and handling. It is not worth compromising performance with cheap tyres when you can buy soft compound performance tires. Large E81 alloys can decrease performance. If you get big alloys you will be changing your final drive ratio.

Due to this we would advise sticking to a maximum wheel size of 18 inches, although we know some of our members have gone larger than this with no problems. It is worth noting that alloy wheels ranging between 17” and 20” fit the vehicle perfectly.

But we've heard a lot of people complain at the larger rim sizes, as the increased weight and tire profile are detrimental to the cars handling. If you want to fit larger brake disks then it makes sense to fit larger wheels, but on everyday roads and the risk of kerb impacts and scrapes and cost of low profile tires we feel you should stick to the smaller rim sizes.

For more information on Tuning your car please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss E81 options in more detail with our E81 owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased BMW tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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

We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which mods work best for them on each model of car. We use your comments and feedback to improve the accuracy of these tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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