If you have taken a look at some of my articles or my YouTube channel you have probably noticed that I have nothing but praise for many of BMWs older generation 3 Series vehicles such as the E30, E36 and E46 generations. Contrast this with my many critiques of the more recent 3 Series generations such as the F30 and G20, and you will probably get the feeling that I am a little bit of an old-soul when it comes to modern vehicle engineering.
Well that is not exactly true, although I do envy the days when BMWs were known for their longevity and performance, and not for their costliness and reliability issues, the E90 does not really fit into this latter box. So where does the E90 BMW fall in BMWs ever-changing approach to how it manufactures its cars? Overall, the E90 was a huge success for BMW and for the many happy owners of this 3 Series.
In this article I will discuss what made the E90 unique, what people love about this generation and what people don’t love so much about this generation of 3 Series.
My E90 Ownership
I wanted to start off by saying that I have never personally owned an E90 as a long-term daily driver. I have flipped E90s, repaired them, and driven them as a daily for a couple of weeks while they waited to be sold, but I have never owned one as a long term-daily. Why not? I still enjoy my E46 325i far too much to consider looking at an E90 as a daily, maybe one day I will break up with my E46 but I’m not certainly not ready for that yet.
The E90 generation 3 Series was the next generation after the E46 and was introduced in 2004. Production lasted until 2013 when the F30 was introduced. The E90 was offered in the coupe, sedan and convertible body styles. Most of these body styles continued to offer inline four and six cylinder options.
One of the common criticisms of the 3 Series is that they have increased considerably in size over the past several decades. The E90 is no different, it was larger than its E46 predecessor which was larger than its E36 predecessor and so on. The larger size gives passengers significantly more space as compared to my old E36. The E90 was also far more luxurious, as demand for more and more fancy cosmetics has increased over the years BMW has continued to update their vehicles with the newest technology.
The E90 was such a big home run for BMW that it was the best selling luxury car in the United States and Canada from 2006 until 2010.
What Makes the E90 Special?
The E90 was the first 3 Series to offer stock turbochargers and it did so in several of their engines.
The E90 was the first 3 Series to offer run-flat tires. What is a run flat tire? Basically if your tire is punctured while driving on the road you can continue to drive it “flat” for 50-100 miles to get your car to the mechanic. The idea is that drivers will no longer have to pull to the side of the road immediately and change the tire. BMW was able to ditch the spare tire in the trunk by offering four run flat tires instead. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of run flat tires, they are considerably more expensive than normal tires and in my opinion they run rougher than normal tires. But this was the first generation BMW introduced these tires so I figured it was worth mentioning.
I have yet to see a 3 Series that disappoints in the handling department but the E90 really hit it out of the ballpark. This is probably my favorite feature of the E90. The E46 handled rather well, but the E90 blows it out of the water. The handling is absolutely superb, I remember a time when I was driving an E90 on the highway and almost lost my sh@$ when I realized I was driving just under 100 mph. I figured people were just driving slow, but nope the ride is just that good.
The E90 takes advantage of updated technology, a wider wheelbase and hydraulic steering to give drivers an excellent experience. The steering wheel also has different settings to give you a heavier wheel.
What 3 Series review would forget to discuss the M3?! For those of you who are not already familiar, every 3 Series has an M class which has for years basically served as the standard for a variety of sports cars. The M3 features a larger engine, sports suspension and some cosmetic changes.
The E90 M3 was produced from 2008 to 2013. It was the first to be offered in a v8 4.0 liter engine as previous models were inline sixes. The E90 M3 blew the E46 out of the water in terms of horsepower, the E90 had a horsepower of 420 and could do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. The E46 could do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and had 343 horsepower.
The E90 also had the typical M3 upgrades such as a better suspension, bigger brakes and light weight panels.
If you like raw horsepower the E90 is a major upgrade from the E46. Some of the engines even offered a turbocharger and for those that did not they still offered a performance increase from previous models. Although the power in most E90s is not going to blow your socks off, I will certainly say that it was a huge improvement over the E46.
This is a mixed bag for some people but the VAST majority of E90 drivers love how gorgeous the interior is and the number of electronic gismos. The E90 also came with a variety of optional luxury packages such as Cold Weather, Sports, Technology and Premium.
The exterior has had a lot of mixed reviews. Opinions certainly do not run overly negative (F30), but they are not overwhelmingly positive (E36). Overall, I like the E90 exterior I think it’s a nice modern twist to the E46, and truthfully BMWs last attractive 3 Series. But I will leave the ultimate determination to you because at the end of the day exterior attractiveness is extremely subjective.
This is by far the most infamous problem on E90 BMWs. It’s such a scary issue because if a rod bearing goes bad it can severely damage the engine, resulting in engine replacement or a complete rebuild. For this reason some people replace the rod bearings preventively. Paying a mechanic to replace the rod bearings can rack up a bill in excess of $1500.
Hope this does not freak you out too much because there is a silver lining. First, most people get an oil analysis done instead of spending a ton of money to have the bearings replaced preventively. An oil analysis can accurately tell you the condition of your rod bearings and it is relatively inexpensive to have done. Second, you should know way ahead of time before your bearing is shot because they make a distinctive noise when they are close to failing.
Throttle Position Actuators
This is an extremely annoying problem on the V8 M3s. The M3s have eight throttle bodies, yes one per cylinder! If that was were not crazy enough, it also has two throttle position actuators. Unfortunately when one of these goes out it puts the vehicle in limp mode. If you are paying a mechanic to replace the actuator it will typically cost at least $1000 a pop, and guess what? BMW strongly recommends that you replace both of them at the same time!
Maintenance Can Be Problematic
The E90s don’t have the reputation for unreliability like the F30 and G20 do. Although the E90 has certain issues that are unique to it, overall it’s a pretty reliable car. However the E90 has a list of basic maintenance items that are really par for the course for 3 Series BMWs.
The two biggest maintenance increases that I have noticed from the E46 are oil changes and run flat tires. The oil changes are far too expensive, I used to be able to get away with cheaper grade oil with E36s and E46s but I never cut corners when I have an E90 in my garage. I use Mobil1 only and this tends to make oil changes too expensive for comfort. The second thing is the damn run flat tires. E90s eat through these tires significantly faster than previous 3 Series vehicles. If I ever owned one long term I would probably just replace the whole set with normal tires and get a freaking spare tire like a normal person.
Common issues include: valve cover gasket leaks, the Vanos solenoids can fail prematurely due to oil sludge, the CCV valve can rupture, turbocharged engines have carbon buildup issues on the intake valves (big surprise!), turbocharged engines also have high pressure fuel injection systems that can give your wallet some pain.
Things to Look For If You Are Interested In Buying One
If you haven’t noticed yet, I really hate the tires on these cars. Run flat tires are one of those ideas that look great on paper but when applied to the real world they have the effect of shredding my wallet. Normally tires are such an obvious thing to take a look at when you are checking out a used car that I don’t even mention it. However, run flat tires are not stock on most vehicles and they come with unique issues. Namely that they often wear unevenly which is a major annoyance when you consider that one of them costs several hundred dollars.
The newest E90 is now at least seven years old, and many have over 100,000 miles on them at this point. However, there are plenty of deals to be had and these vehicles have depreciated significantly since their original sticker price of $50k+.
If you are specifically looking for an M3 than you can probably expect to spend at least $12-$15k on a decent model depending on your area. Where I reside currently in Washington D.C I frequently see them listed for $15,000 with around 100,000 miles on them. If you are looking for a pristine example with less mileage expect to spend closer to $25k on an M3.
What about the rest of the 3 Series? The vast majority of examples I see are well under $10k, probably averaging out at around $6000. Of course price isn’t everything, something I learned about buying used BMWs over the years is that if you maintain them correctly they can last 200,000 miles or more, but if they were not properly maintained by the previous owner they can be a dumpster fire! The E90 is no different, and since this 3 Series is known for having several extremely expensive problems it would behoove you to have any E90 you are seriously interested in inspected.
Here is my YouTube video on things to look for when checking out used cars.
Do some research on the E90s up until 2008 before you consider buying one. The rod bearing issue is apparently far more common on the earlier E90s. Another thing to consider is that if you are looking into the turbocharged E90s be weary of the earlier models. Many of the issues with the turbo were remedied when BMW replaced the N54 twin turbo with the N55 single turbo in 2010.
Overall the E90 was an excellent vehicle and it has always been a pleasure for me to drive whenever I get the chance. These cars are relatively reliable and pack some meaningful upgrades when compared to the E46. What’s even better is that these vehicles have gotten significantly less expensive and now can be purchased for under $10,000! I hope this article was helpful and it aided you in your decision making if you are considering one of these magnificent cars!