The E9X M3 was billed as the Jack of All Trades car – commuting, grocery runs, top down cruising, or trackday thrashing – it offered something for every flavor of car enthusiast. It had to do all of these things well, all of the time. While this made it an exceptional tool for many of these jobs, it also meant that it had to be compromised a little bit here and there to balance these acts.
But thankfully, the aftermarket scene offers countless options to configure your M3 to your taste: go, show, slow, fast, hardcore, OEM+, whatever your heart (and wallet) desires. Companies provide complete suspension overhauls down to the bushings and spindle assemblies, driveshafts, differentials, superchargers, custom seats & interiors, bespoke wheels, endless exhaust configurations, etc.
And over the years I have been gradually shifting the balance of my E92 M3 to tip the scales more towards the sports coupe end of the spectrum…
Enter: the elusive, unicorn Bilstein B16 Damptronic coilover system. I have been on the hunt for this kit since buying my car in February of 2016. The availability (or lackthereof) of this kit has been discussed endlessly on the forums; it’s been on a perpetual cycle of delays and backorders for the last four years. I literally had email alerts set on multiple Bilstein vendors for whenever it returns to stock.
Why was I hell bent on this kit?
Simply put, it is the only aftermarket coilover system for the E9X M3 that integrates with the factory EDC system to retain the adjustable dampening with the push of a button. An important note: as my car is a ZCP model, this means even these shocks provide dynamic dampening at all times based on road conditions, monitored by the EDC and DSC system individually on all four corners. All other kits have static, manual dampening adjustments and require coding out the factory EDC system or using error cancellers. The KW DDC kit uses an aftermarket controller to handle the different suspension modes – hardly a clean/OE interfacing solution.
Most importantly, I sought out a ZCP E92 M3, so if am going to remove the factory EDC system for traditional coilovers anyways, then why did I bother to buy such a spec’d car in the first place? And I have to admit, having such a dual purpose kit that can change the dynamics of the car’s handling instantaneously is absolutely terrific.
Bilstein shipped the kit in a dual box setup with ample protection and bubble wrap for the components, all of whom were individually wrapped as well. While the packaging can look banged up, rest assured the parts will be okay.
You’ll immediately notice the beautiful chromoly steel finish on the shock bodies and the soft blue powdercoat on the springs. All parts are corrosion resistant including the threads, though I have no plans to ever winter drive this car so I can’t attest to that longevity. The entire kit is backed by a lifetime warranty as well.
Bilstein includes all the necessary wiring that connects to the OEM EDC harness, along with lots of accessories (zip ties, clips, etc) to make the wiring clean and tidy. A fully illustrated instruction manual with detailed install tips and manufacturer specifications on the parts make installation a breeze as they guide you on routing the wires safely and neatly.
Everything fits perfectly like the original parts. No surprises here. The kit is compatible with the stock front upper mounts. I tied up and tucked the excess Bilstein wiring by the coolant reservoir and airbox so it stays secure and out of the way.
Having a spare pair of mounts or aftermarket camber plates (I used Ground Control Street version) saves you from having to disassemble the stock strut/spring assembly and makes for a quicker job.
Height settings: The front struts/collars were set to three threads from the bottom up front out of the box. In the rear, I set the collars to 9 threads from the bottom. This sits at exactly the same height as the H&R Spring combo. **Note: I am using Ground Control Street camber plates which adds approx 5mm to the stack height. You may want to set your fronts with 5 or 6 threads showing if using OEM top mounts.
Adjustment is made using the two spanner wrenches to turn the collars and locked in place by rotating them in opposing directions. Height adjustment is as simple as removing the wheels. Nothing further needs to be unbolted or changed.
Comparison on the road.
The factory EDC struts combined with H&R Sport Plus lowering springs, trimmed top mounts and bump stops were the first stock damper + lowering spring setup I have owned and used that actually worked. In all my previous BMWs, retaining the stock dampers with lowering springs always resulted in a ride that would never have enough suspension travel nor enough rebound to cope with the stiffer spring rates.
Yet in the case of the E9X M3 and all newer BMW M cars, lowering springs do the job for 99% of owners and 99% of street driving. The new-age dampers manage to work in a wide range of circumstances and retain good daily-driveable ride quality without constantly running out of vertical travel and smashing into the factory bump stops. I still felt they were underdamped though, as any situation that compressed the suspension largely would result in a bit of rebound bounce. The car would not feel upset over such road imperfections, but it was enough to be felt and this shortcoming would be exposed consistently when pushed to its limits. This was always in the back of my mind.
After fitting these B16s though… oh man! It’s shocking (heh) how well it stays composed in Normal mode, smoothing out road imperfections every time with the same consistent response. There is less vertical movement of the chassis overall and it is a smidgen stiffer than stock Normal operation; you feel tar strips and dips in the road more than before, but it is never jarring or uncomfortable – just more communicative. Chuck it into a highway ramp and the car hunkers down as fast as you can ask it to, maintaining the utmost composure as you fling it around the winding road. I would have no issues daily driving with this setup.
In Sport Plus mode, the firmness amps up significantly. It feels much more rigid, communicating every detail of the road surface be it pebbles, tar strips, whatever comes your way. It irons out these encounters in one swift vertical movement as you chart your course. Not once does it feel harsh, but it sure tells you it is up for some serious driving. I can’t imagine using Sport Plus on public roads often, it’s simply much more stiffer than one would want to experience on all but the smoothest asphalt.
… And on track.
The duality of this kit comes alive on the track. In Sport Plus mode, they keep the car very flat through the corners. Bumps are also absorbed quickly with authority, there is no excess vertical body motion/compression. Yet, there is just enough lean to let you feel what the tires and chassis are doing as I placed the car on the driving line in high speed sweepers or clipping curbs to gain wider exit.
Given my higher camber and grippy rubber, understeer and oversteer was minimal. The few times I missed the mark or didn’t scrub enough speed, I knew immediately what the front axle was doing. This is also in part due to the tires, but it was confidence inspiring to [I]feel [/I]the car move into and beyond its limits and apply whatever corrections I needed.
The car also puts the power down much better. The rear end permits the right amount of squat to let the tires hook up and maximize traction under full throttle while loading the suspension on corner exit and doesn’t wallow over hitting bumps.
The H&R + stock setup would simply end up being a bit more bouncy over extreme road situations, and the B16 fixes this fault with ease. It does everything the other kit did, only so, so much better in every single situation imaginable with zero drawbacks.
I can happily say the agonizing wait for this kit to resurface was worth it. Had I given in to a traditional static coilover kit like Ohlins DFV or KW V2, I would’ve always wondered what I’d compromised. Now I know what I would’ve lost, and there’s no way I would choose any other kit for this M3 and my intended use of it. Being able to have a much firmer and stiffer suspension setup on track and soften it up for the drive home was an absolute luxury. The B16s are an absolutely badass dual purpose kit!