Since its inception in 1916, BMW made a reputation for producing vehicles that push the boundaries of performance.
But when it comes down to modifying a BMW, where do you even start?
Don’t worry – we’ve done all the legwork for you!
In this article, we’ll be looking at the eight best BMWs to build, modify & tune: from classic E36s all the way up to modern F90 M5s.
So get ready cause we’re finding out exactly which BMWs deserve a spot on your build list!
Overview: The 8 best BMWs to build, modify, and tune
Are you in the market for a car that will help you stand out – and still provide top-of-the-line performance?
Good news: you no longer have to settle for an expensive, rare sports car.
Thanks to BMW’s mod-friendliness, there are plenty of amazing models available, no matter your budget or desired style.
Here is an overview of our top eight picks for the best BMWs to build, modify, and tune!
|Model||Best For:||Popular Mods||Stock hp||RaceChip hp|
|E46 3 Series||Under $20k||M-Tech II body kit, CSL trunk lid||228 hp|
|E9x 3 Series||Under $30k||Cold air intakes, exhaust systems||326 hp||406 hp|
|F87 M2||Track use||ECU tune, suspension upgrades||370 hp||422 hp|
|E36 3 Series||Under $10k||Coil-overs, fresh paint||193 hp|
|F90 M5||Most horsepower||ECU tune, upgraded downpipes||600 hp||747 hp|
|F80 M3||Overall performance||Upgraded intercoolers, custom wrap||431 hp||517 hp|
|BMW 1M||Driving fun||Improved intake, beefier brakes||340 hp||409 hp|
|F82 M4||Looks||Sway bars, spoilers||431 hp||517 hp|
8 Most mod-friendly BMWs on the market
From powerful sedans to track-ready coupes, let’s take a closer look at the eight most mod-friendly BMWs on the market!
Tip: Are you looking for the best BMW mods? If so, check out this article here!
1. E46 3 Series (Best for under $20k)
The E46 3 Series is BMW’s golden child from the late ’90s to the mid-2000s.
This iconic piece of Bavarian history has made a name for itself as the go-to choice for those looking to step into the world of BMW modding.
The E46 3 Series offers a timeless design, a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution, a rock-solid chassis, and a suspension design that’ll make you feel like you’re dancing on clouds.
This combination of features creates a solid foundation for you to build upon, making it a breeze to turn your E46 into the ultimate driving machine.
You can’t go wrong with the 325i or 330i, equipped with the silky smooth inline-six engines (M54B25 and M54B30, respectively). They pack a decent punch and offer plenty of tuning potential.
However, if you’re itching for that ///M badge, the E46 M3 and its legendary S54 engine will fulfill your high-performance cravings – just be prepared to open your wallet a bit wider.
Now for the fun part: the mods!
The E46’s endless aftermarket support means you can customize your ride to your content.
Popular upgrades include performance air intakes, exhaust systems, and ECU tuning to squeeze out more ponies.
Coilovers, upgraded sway bars, and performance brakes are the go-to options for enhancing your handling game.
And for that extra touch of flair, consider adding an M-Tech II body kit, a CSL-style trunk lid, or a fresh set of aftermarket wheels.
The sky’s the limit, and so is your imagination (and maybe your budget, but who’s counting?).
2. E9x 3 Series (Best for under $30k)
Meet the E9x 3 Series, the successor to the E46.
Produced between 2005 and 2013, this fan-favorite came in various flavors, from the sedan to the convertible.
The E90/E91/E92/E93 3 Series is a modder’s delight, thanks to its engine options and lightweight aluminum components.
For those looking to unleash its true potential, look no further than the 335i with its robust N54/N55 engine.
This turbocharged inline-six engine offers many tuning possibilities, from a simple ECU remap to full-on single or twin-turbo upgrades.
Or, you can even go for the V8-powered M3!
So, you’ve chosen your E9x and are ready to make it your own.
Where do you start?
Well, you can bolt on performance upgrades like cold air intakes, exhaust systems, and intercoolers, which will give your engine some extra pep.
Suspension upgrades like coil-overs and strut braces will tighten your handling for those spirited drives.
Just keep an eye on your budget because modding the E9x can be as addictive as those delicious German pretzels!
Related article: Which BMW 3 Series Is Best For Tuning? (5 Amazing Options)
3. F87 M2 (Best for track use)
Say hello to the F87 M2, the little Bavarian that’s always ready to rumble!
Produced from 2015 to 2021, this pint-sized sports coupe shows BMW’s commitment to pure driving pleasure.
With its athletic looks, nimble moves, and talent for leaving rivals eating its dust on the track, the M2 is a top pick for modification.
The M2’s compact size lends itself to a light, agile feel, perfect for slicing through corners. Couple that with its beefy inline-six engine, a close cousin of the M3/M4’s powerplant, and you’ve got a recipe for fun.
The M2 is available in two trims: the standard M2 with its N55 engine and the M2 Competition, boasting the M3/M4’s S55 engine.
Both engines offer lots of tuning potential, but the M2 Competition will really set your heart ablaze, thanks to its robust forged internals and twin-turbo setup.
Eager to unleash your F87 M2? Let’s talk mods!
Kick things off with an ECU tune or piggyback tuner to release more ponies from that turbocharged engine.
Upgraded intercoolers, downpipes, and exhaust systems will help your M2 breathe easier and belt out an amazing soundtrack.
And don’t skimp on suspension and brake upgrades to keep all that newfound oomph in check.
Lastly, to set your M2 apart from the pack, consider splashing out on aftermarket wheels or a carbon fiber body kit.
4. E36 3 Series (Best for under $10k)
Next, we have the E36 3 Series, the budget-friendly BMW that’s just itching for a makeover!
Produced from 1990 to 2000, this classic is ideal for BMW enthusiasts who want to start building their BMW without emptying their bank account.
What makes the E36 so wallet-friendly for modding?
Well, its well-balanced chassis and abundant aftermarket support provide a rock-solid foundation for upgrades!
And when it comes to choosing a model variant, we recommend the 325i and 328i models, equipped with trusty inline-six engines (M50B25 and M52B28, respectively).
They are popular picks for their balance of power and affordability!
Ready to put your personal stamp on your E36?
Suspension mods such as coil-overs, sway bars, and strut braces will help your E36 hug the curves.
And to truly make your E36 your own, consider adding an M3 body kit, aftermarket wheels, or a fresh paint job.
5. F90 M5 (Best for most horsepower)
The F90 M5 is a vehicle that scoffs at the word ‘overkill’! (It’s one of the most expensive BMW models currently in production.)
Starting production in 2017, this sport sedan offers a thunderous 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 617 horsepower.
Add in its advanced all-wheel-drive system, allowing you to put that power to the pavement without spinning out like a figure skater.
Finally, sprinkle in its luxurious interior and cutting-edge tech, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a high-speed, high-class driving experience.
The F90 M5 comes in three flavors: the standard M5, the more potent M5 Competition, and the M5 CS (which has similar power to a Porsche 911 Turbo S).
Both models come with the monstrous S63B44T4 engine, but the Competition variant has a slight power advantage right out of the factory. However, with a few choice mods, either version can be transformed into a tire-shredding monster.
To turn your BMW F90 M5 into a rocketship, begin with an ECU tune or piggyback tuner to unlock even more power from that V8.
To take it to the next level, consider upgraded turbochargers, downpipes, or exhaust systems.
And to truly set your M5 apart from the pack, consider splurging on a set of aftermarket wheels or custom interior touches.
6. F80 M3 (Best for overall performance)
Introducing the F80 M3, the ultimate all-around performer!
With its aggressive looks, razor-sharp dynamics, and the sweet symphony of its turbocharged inline-six, the F80 M3 is the go-to choice for those who want a taste of everything BMW offers.
The F80 M3 comes with the S55B30 engine, an inline-six masterpiece.
With its twin-turbo setup and robust internals, the S55 offers ample room for growth!
As always, use an ECU tune or piggyback tuner to crank up the power and torque.
Then, upgraded intercoolers, downpipes, and exhaust systems will help your M3 breathe easier, while coil overs, sway bars, and upgraded brakes will ensure your car sticks to the road like glue.
And to set your M3 apart from the crowd, consider adding carbon fiber body parts or a custom wrap.
7. BMW 1M (Most fun to drive)
The BMW 1M is a car that’s got more fun packed into its compact frame than a barrel of monkeys!
Produced for a limited time in 2011, this rare gem quickly became a favorite among BMW enthusiasts, thanks to its dynamics, snappy performance, and good looks.
If you’re looking for a car that’ll make you smile every time you hit the gas, the 1M is your new best friend!
Then there’s the potent N54 twin-turbo inline-six engine, which offers huge tuning potential with its robust internals:
Ready to crank the fun factor up to 11 on your 1M?
Start by boosting your engine with an upgraded turbo and an improved intake and exhaust system.
Also, you can enhance your 1M’s handling with coil overs, sway bars, and beefier brakes to make those twisty back roads even more exhilarating!
8. F82 M4 (Best for looks)
Feast your eyes on the F82 M4!
With its aggressive lines, bulging fenders, and unmistakable M presence, the M4 is a rolling work of art begging to be customized.
Its beautiful design provides a fantastic canvas for aesthetic upgrades.
Add to that its powerful S55 engine, which offers plenty of performance potential, and you’ve got a car that’s not only a head-turner but also a neck-snapper.
Plus, with a wealth of aftermarket support, the possibilities for personalizing your M4 are virtually limitless.
The F82 M4 comes equipped with the same marvelous S55B30 engine found in the M3, which means it’s packing some serious power under the hood.
However, you can get an ECU tune to get even more power out of it!
And if you like spirited drives, don’t forget to improve your M4’s handling with coil overs, sway bars, and beefier brakes.
4 Tips for upgrading your BMW
Are you looking to take your BMW driving experience to the next level?
Upgrading your car can be exciting and rewarding but isn’t always easy.
From finding parts to ensuring you get only the best performance, there are many things to consider for any upgrade.
So, to help you, remember these four tips before starting your upgrades!
1. Always prioritize an excellent maintenance history
When upgrading your BMW, think of your ride as a pet – if you take good care of it, it’ll reward you with love and loyalty (and lots of horsepower, of course).
So, before diving headfirst into the world of mods, ensure your Bimmer has a pristine maintenance history.
That way, you’ll have a solid foundation to build upon, and you’ll know that your ride will be able to handle all the extra power.
2. An engine map is the easiest method to unlock more power
Looking for a quick and easy way to boost your BMW’s performance?
An engine map (also known as an ECU tune) is like the cheat code of car mods – it unlocks hidden power with just a few keyboard taps.
By optimizing your engine’s fuel, air, and spark, an ECU tune can tap into your BMW’s full potential without breaking the bank.
And it doesn’t have to be hard to do it – all it takes is plugging a device into the car’s diagnostic link connector, revealing several engine options from which to choose.
RaceChip is a great company that develops easy-to-install tuning boxes for BMW and most other manufacturers:
By modifying and optimizing the engine control unit (ECU), the RaceChip can:
- Increase the horsepower and torque of your BMW by up to 30%
- Give your BMW up to 20% more MPG
- And include a comprehensive engine warranty!
And the great thing is that you can use RaceChip to tune pretty much every BMW.
Click here to learn more about RaceChip and find the performance increase for your BMW model!
3. Use high-quality parts only
When modding your BMW, there’s one golden rule: you get what you pay for.
Sure, those bargain-bin parts might seem like a steal, but you’re likely to find yourself singing a different tune when your car starts sounding like an asthmatic rhino.
So, do your homework, read reviews, and invest in high-quality components.
Reader’s tip: 12 Best BMW Accessories Of 2023 (Must-Have Products!)
4. Don’t forget to upgrade the suspension and brakes
While it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of adding more power, don’t forget that a well-rounded upgrade plan also includes improving handling and stopping power.
Upgrading your suspension with coil overs or sway bars will help the car’s handling, while upgraded brakes will ensure you can bring all that newfound speed to a stop faster.
Trust us; your fellow motorists (and your insurance agent) will thank you.
From the classic E46 and E36 3 Series to the modern F90 M5 and the always-entertaining BMW 1M, there’s a mod-friendly BMW for everyone, no matter your taste, budget, or need for speed.
And whether you choose to start with a simple ECU tune or go all-out with a full-blown transformation, the most important thing is to have fun, learn something new, and enjoy the journey.
After all, in the words of Ferris Bueller, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it’ – especially when you’re behind the wheel of a modified BMW!
Have a great rest of your day!
More BMW model lists
Interested in other interesting lists about BMW models? Find them here!
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- 12 Best Turbocharged BMWs Ever Made – Ranked
- The 6 Best All-Wheel-Drive BMW Models Of 2023
- Top 8 Small BMW Models In 2023 (Get More With Less!)
- The Best Years Of BMW: 8 Fantastic Models To Consider
- 4 Best BMW Models To Get As Your First Car (On A Budget)
- 18 Most Expensive BMW Models In The World (A 2023 List)