Guide to tuning the N54 engine from BMW

The N54B30 won many award during its production run from 2006 to 2016. There are few engines around that can tolerate large power hikes on stock internals.

There are no surprises that Alpina chose this block for some very special limited edition models.

It is regarded as one of the best project engines around and reportedly can handle up to 700hp on stock internals.

Using two small turbos the engine doesn't feel like a turbocharged engine, but gives the impression of a very large capacity high torque engine.

The engines are available in power levels from 302hp, to an impressive 402hp, primarily down to cam profile and engine mapping differences, showing just how versatile this engine block is.

History, Power & Specs of the N54B30

A turbocharged straight 6 which was in production between 2006 to 2016 and used BMW's  direct injection and came with double-VANOS.

One of BMW's first forays into a mainstream turbo application, it shared much design wise with the N53.

Using direct injection BMW were able to keep a relatively high compression ratio and avoid the issue of detonation.

The Alpina tuned version gives inspiration to those looking to tweak this great little engine.

225 kW (302 bhp) at 5,800 rpm 400 Nm (295 lbft) at 1,400-5,000 rpm

  • 2006–2010 E90/E91/E92/E93 335i
  • 2007–2010 E60/E61 535i
  • 2007–2010 E82/E88 135i
  • 2008–2010 E71 X6 xDrive35i
  • 2009–2016 E89 Z4 sDrive35i

240 kW (322 bhp) at 5,800 rpm 450 Nm (332 lbft) at 1,500-4,500 rpm

  • 2008–2012 F01 740i
  • 2011–2013 E92/E93 335is

250 kW (335 bhp) at 5,900 rpm 450 Nm (332 lbft) at 1,500-4,500 rpm

  • 2011 E82 1 Series M Coupe
  • 2011–2016 E89 Z4 sDrive35is

265 kW (355 bhp) at 5,500-6,000 rpm 500 Nm (369 lbft) at 3,800-5,000 rpm

  • 2007–2010 Alpina B3 (E90)

294 kW (394 bhp) at 6,000 rpm 540 Nm (398 lbft) at 4,500 rpm

  • 2007–2010 Alpina B3 S

300 kW (402 bhp) at 6,000 rpm 540 Nm (398 lbft) at 4,500 rpm

  • 2012–2013 Alpina B3 GT3

Power output ranged between 302bhp and 402bhp on the top Alpina version.

Best N54 mods

The greatest tuning parts on an engine are in our opinion the ones that give the best power gain for your spend. We won't be swayed by popular tuning parts, they need to be cost effective and need to raise the power.

N54 Remapping

A remap on the N54 engine will give you around 100bhp more which has to rate as one of the best and most cost effective upgrades, second only to turbo upgrades.

Remapping is always best carried out on a rolling road, where all of your other mods can be taken into account and the fuel and timing advance can be very precisely set up.

We would recommend a BMW specialist, you can't beat experience, and it really pays to use someone who knows the N54 engine.  There are further gains to be had by forcing the car to run on higher octane fuels.

There are good quality piggy back ECU's, aftermarket ecus and plug in remapping solutions, which can be easier to install and set up without requiring a visit to a specialist installer.

N54 Camshaft upgrades

Significant gains can be made from camshaft upgrades. Altering the camshaft profile alters the intake and exhaust durations on the engine and can dramatically change the torque and power output.

Fast road cams tend to increase the power throughout the rpm range, you could drop a little bottom end torque but the top end will be lifted.

We are aware that performance cams are hard to source in some regions, and if this is the case, you may find a local specialist that can regrind your stock cam profile to put the power where you need it most.

When set up correctly you'll get more lift and longer durations, allowing the engine to utilize more air & fuel.

Competition cams, increase the top end band but as a result, the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

On a daily driver must carefully try to match your power band to your driving style. We rarely find a Competition cam is a pleasure to live with when driving in heavy traffic. The low end idle will be very lumpy and irregular, so something you would notice on a track when you drive in the upper third of the rpm band, but on roads this is a serious issue and we've heard from lots of drivers lamenting their decision to add an extreme competition cam profile to their engine.

Different engines respond differently to more or less aggressive cam durations so get your engine on a rolling road and see what it's doing.

Not all engines leaving the factory are the same, and some models were fitted with more aggressive cam profiles than others, so there is little to be gained by adding a performance cam to these.

The engine timing and fuelling also have an effect on the power gains you'll get.

Altering valve durations can alter the power band and on most engines the exhaust and intake durations do not need to match, although most cams and tuners use matched pairs there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations.

N54 air induction upgrade kits

Getting air into the N54 engine is vital to any tuning project. If you have done other mods you could be losing around 20hp if the intake is not upgraded.

An induction kit DOES NOT ADD POWER, it merely removes a restriction. You'll need a cold air feed to your airbox and TorqueCars would recommend that you avoid the open induction kits that suck in warm engine bay air.

Headers take the air from the filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine. The design of the header has a large bearing on performance.

Shape and flow rate of the headers can make a large difference to fuel atomization and engine efficiency.

Most intake headers are crying out for an upgrade, although some makers provide reasonably well designed headers.

Increasing the N54 valve size, doing some port matching and head flowing will also improve power, and more importantly will allow you to get a better power increase on other mods.

N54 Turbo upgrades

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

Going for a big single turbo will help you reach the top end power figures, but you will lose some of that lovely low end instant boost that the N54 is famed for.

We would prefer to mount twin hybrid or upgrade to twin scroll turbos for ease, cost, and overall drivability in everyday conditions.

Adding a front mounted intercooler will allow you to enjoy your cars power for longer, as the OEM intercoolers start to suffer from heat soak and become less effective as they warm up.

We've seen impressive power gains over the smaller stock intercoolers making this a mod worth considering.

When an engine has a turbo already fitted upgrades are relatively easy and most turbo engines already contain stronger components. The Alpina version is a case in point, where revised turbos and mapping significantly increased the power output.

It is important to find these limits and install stronger pistons, crank and engine components to cope with the power. We've seen people spending a lot of money on turbo upgrades on the N54 only to watch the whole thing literally blow up just after it's been completed because it's not been correctly mapped, and suffered from detonation or severe engine knock.

Large turbos tend to suffer from low end lag, and smaller turbos spool up really quickly but do not have the top end power gains. We would recommend a twin scroll turbo, BMW knew what they were doing setting these up. there are some hybrid turbo upgrades around making for a bolt on upgrade, or replacement turbos that require more installation work and setting up.

Twin scroll turbos divert the exhaust into 2 channels and direct these at differently profiled vanes in the turbo. They also improve the scavenging effect of the engine. This means we can enjoy a faster spool up, and allows the turbo to spin at faster speeds, all plus points when you want to make power, and the primary reason why these N54 engines drive like large NASP engines rather than turbocharged ones.

It is common for there to be a restriction in the air flow sensor (AFM/MAF/MAP) on the N54 when a lot more air is being pulled into the engine. We see 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, wheras the OEM air sensor was restricting power at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large power gains, although more complex to setup. We have a twincharger guide if you want to read more.

N54 Fuelling

Fuel injectors and fuel pump will usually need to be upgraded when you start going beyond 20% of a power increase.

It is important to over specify your injector capacity. Most tuners will take the fuel needed and add another 20% when fitting an injector, this allows for injector deterioration and gives a little spare capacity should the engine need more fuel.

Comparing injector flow rates between a NASP engine and Turbo engine, shows the dramatically increased demand for fuel. Injectors were better on the later n55 engine.

6 Cylinder NASP engines

  • 58 PSI 189cc/min 200hp
  • 58 PSI 284cc/min 300hp
  • 58 PSI 378cc/min 400hp
  • 58 PSI 568cc/min 600hp

6 Cylinder turbocharged engines

  • 58 PSI 227cc/min 200hp
  • 58 PSI 341cc/min 300hp
  • 58 PSI 454cc/min 400hp
  • 58 PSI 682cc/min 600hp

N54 Exhaust headers and catback

You only need to upgrade your exhaust if your current exhaust is creating a restriction. Most OEM exhausts flow quite well even on modest power gains, but when you start pushing up the power levels you will need to get a better flowing exhaust.

The downpipe seems to be where most N54 owners make power, with a typical power loss before the upgrade of around 50bhp on a standard remap.

Typically exhaust restrictions come around the catalyst and filters installed, so adding a higher flowing sports alternative is the answer. There are few gains if any to be had replacing the exhaust from the cat to the rear, the stock N54 exhaust flows pretty nicely.

This keeps the car road legal and will flow much better due to its higher internal surface area and design, so has the added benefit of keeping your car road legal.

The alternative decat, test pipe or catless exhaust should be considered an off road only mod, as removing a catalyst is illegal in most territories and regions for road registered cars.

It is also illegal in some regions to even replace the catalyst unless the old one has failed.

Weakspots and problem areas on the N54

The N54 engines are generally reliable and solid units, as long as you follow the manufacturer's service schedules, and use a good quality oil to ensure longevity. Few problems should happen as long as they are regularly serviced and maintained.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will sap power or create flat spots, this is a larger issue on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines. We have tips on removing carbon build up.

Some of our members have had issues with flat spots or glitches after applying mods and upgrades or tuning, this is not usually related to this engine's design, so instead see our article on diagnosing flat spots and problems after tuning which should help you get the bottom of this issue.

Regular oil changes are vital on the N54, especially when tuned, and will help extend the life and reliability of the engine.

High Pressure Fuel Pump failures let to a recall in the USA. The issue caused the engine to stop working and cut out.

Keep an eye on the inlet charge pipe, especially when running more power as the OEM plastic ones can split causing leaks. I heard of one friend who was amazed when his split charge pipe was replaced, it totally transformed the car, which he never noticed had a problem!

Wastegates can prematurely wear causing a rattling noise.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your BMW engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss N54 tuning options in more detail with our N54 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.

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