BMW 3 Series E90 2006-2011 (5th Gen) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used 3 Series 5th Gen

Read in this article:

5th Generation BMW 3 Series: What Owners Say

  • A perennial BMW strong point, the BMW 3 Series 5th generation (E90) was lauded for its driving dynamics, delivering a ride that is firm and superbly damped, but not harsh, and best-in-class handling. Rated as the best driver's car in its class, its sporty, plugged-in feel made it a popular choice for enthusiasts.
  • The upmarket and well-constructed cabin earned the E90 many points too, and it was both elegant and modern in design, and solid in execution.
  • The E90 was offered in various configurations, with just the normal four-door sedan bearing the E90 code. There was also a Coupe (E92), Touring wagon (E91), and Convertible (E93). All these various body styles, plus the availability of xDrive all-wheel drive, meant that there was a 3er configuration for every taste and requirement, even a fire-breathing, high-revving V8-powered M3.
  • Owners have experienced engine trouble on many 5th generation BMW 3 Series versions, less so the naturally aspirated N52 engines. The later N54 engines could suffer from expensive high-pressure fuel pump failure, while other, less prevalent issues were also noted, such as turbocharger and wastegate problems.
  • There were various issues with the electrical system but, thankfully, most of these should have been fixed for free, because most problems led to a recall. Issues included battery-connector shorts, melting PCV heater cabling, failing blower-motor wiring, and electronic steering-lock failure.
  • General reliability is patchy and highly dependent on the engine fitted to the car you consider. The direct-injected turbocharged engines exhibit far more issues than the naturally aspirated ones and a full service history is not negotiable. The E90's reliability score was also tainted, perhaps unfairly, by the Takata airbag recall, which affects all years of the E90.

2009/2011 BMW E90 Facelift

The sedan and wagon models received a mild facelift for the 2009 model year to address criticisms of the 3 Series appearance. The Coupe/Convertible was largely untouched as it was always attractive and less in need of a refresh. They were subtly facelifted for the 2011 model year.

2009-2011 3 Series Sedan 5th Gen Facelift Front Changes

The sedan's front end was subtly restyled with a brand-new bumper featuring sharper creases that flow down from the inner edges of the headlights to the lower facia 1. The lower air intake's frumpy downturned edges that gave the pre-facelift its "frown" was replaced by upturned edges giving it a "smile" 2. The headlights were revised 3 and the kidney grilles are contained entirely within the bumper, losing their upper "rabbit's teeth" chrome inserts that used to be attached to the hood 4. Said hood was a new pressing with scallops in its front edge to clear the new grilles and extra creases in the middle, flowing out from the BMW logo to the windscreen like a ship's wake 5. In 2011, the Coupe and Convertible got a new, more aggressive front bumper with a one-slot lower air intake with horizontal slats.

2009-2011 3 Series Sedan 5th Gen Facelift Rear Changes

The sedan's most noticeable change is the restyled, darker, monotone taillights using LEDs, hiding the previously contrasting backup lights by replacing them with thin reverse-light strips that hardly break up the uniformly all-red clusters 1. The units also regained their trademark L-shape that BMW used for years. The new taillights that reach in further towards the middle of the car necessitated a new trunk-lid pressing with a more upright numberplate recess. The lower fascia is more dynamic, with pronounced horizontal creases 2. In 2011, the Coupe and Convertible received new all-red taillights with thin reverse-light strips and a more aggressive new bumper with sharper creases.

2009-2011 3 Series Sedan 5th Gen Facelift Side Changes

New wheel styles became available on the sedan and wagon 1. The side marker lights at the front were moved from the headlight clusters to the wheel arch and the side skirts got a sharper crease for a more hunkered-down, dynamic look 2. The restyled front and rear lights are easy to spot from the side too 3, as is the slightly lower-profile shark-fin antenna. For the 2011 model year, the Coupe and Convertible got new side skirts with more pronounced creases.

2009-2011 3 Series Sedan 5th Gen Facelift Interior Changes

Changes to the interior were relatively minor for the 2009 facelift, including chrome accents on the dash-mounted cupholders and a newly revised iDrive controller. This comes with preset shortcut keys to more quickly and easily call up telecommunications, navigation, radio, and CD-player menus.

Engine, Transmission and Drivetrain

The 2006 E90 arrived with a 3.0-liter naturally aspirated N52 inline-six engine in two states of tune - 215 hp/185 lb-ft in the 325 models and 255 hp/220 lb-ft in the 330 models. Both are offered with either rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel drive and either a manual or automatic transmission, both with six speeds. All the rear-wheel-drive manual and automatic sedans and coupes with either engine output achieved an identical EPA-estimated 21 mpg on the combined cycle, dropping to 20 mpg in all the xDrive sedans, the wagons (available in 325i xDrive only), and RWD-only convertible 325s. The heaviest on fuel is the 330 Convertible, with a combined 19 mpg. For the 2007 model year, the 328 replaced the 325 and retained the same engine, albeit upgraded to230 hp/200 lb-ft, with economy improving to anything from a best of 22 mpg combined to a worst of 20 mpg, depending on configuration. A new twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter inline-six N54 engine replaced the high-output N52 in the erstwhile 330 models. Renamed 335, these came packing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Manual and automatic transmissions are still offered and all 335s achieve either 20 or 21 mpg combined, virtually matching the 328s. For the 2008 model year, RWD wagons became available - still only available in naturally aspirated 328 format - and the xDrive option was offered on the Coupe for the first time with either engine.

To coincide with the 2009 facelift, a new 335d model was launched, using an M57 3.0-liter turbocharged 265-hp/425-lb-ft inline-six diesel engine - but only as an automatic RWD sedan. It achieved 27 mpg combined and was only ever sold in low numbers. It's rare today. The drivetrains remained unchanged through 2010, but for its final model year, the 2011 335i models got a new N55 single-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six engine, dropping previous years' costly piezo-electric injectors for more conventional items, but still delivering the same 300 hp/300 lb-ft. It achieved slightly better fuel economy, with the most thrifty 335s getting 23 mpg combined. However, the old twin-turbo engine was retained for the new-for-2011 335is Coupe and Convertible models, uprated to 320 hp/332 lb-ft.

3.0-liter Inline-Six Gas Engine
215/230/255 hp | 185/200/220 lb-ft
Horsepower
215/230/255 hp
Torque
185/200/220 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

BMW's aluminum-and-magnesium 3.0-liter N52 engine is smooth and refined in the best BMW straight-six tradition and does service in the pre-facelift 325 and 330 models as well as the facelift 328 models. With its conventional manifold injection, it's fairly reliable too, without any of the direct-injection or turbocharger maladies of the 335s. However, it does have a design flaw and that's a cylinder-head design that allows for insufficient oil flow to the exhaust-side hydraulic valve lifters, especially in neglected engines. Otherwise, it is a delight to use and more enjoyable through the six-speed manual transmission. It develops 215 hp/185 lb-ft in the 325 and 255 hp/220 lb-ft in the 330s. In the facelift 328, its outputs are 230 hp/200 lb-ft.

3.0-liter Inline-Six Twin-Turbocharged Direct-Injection Gas Engine
300/320 hp | 300/332 lb-ft
Horsepower
300/320 hp
Torque
00/332 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

For the 2007 model year, the 3.0-liter high-output naturally aspirated N52 engine was replaced by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged N54 with direct injection, developing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. This engine is superb and exhibits nearly no turbo lag while delivering excellent performance and very good fuel economy. Enthusiasts can delight in the fact that it's even available with a manual transmission. The new engine suffered from a variety of problems over its lifetime and is not as reliable as its predecessor. This engine was replaced with a single-turbo N55 engine in the normal 335s for 2011 but remained in uprated, 320-hp/332-lb-ft form in the 335is Coupe and Convertible.

3.0-liter Inline-Six Turbocharged Direct-Injection Gas Engine
300 hp | 300 lb-ft
Horsepower
300 hp
Torque
300 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

In its final model year, the 2011 BMW 3 Series gets a new N55 engine to replace the twin-turbo N54. The new engine is simplified with one turbocharger and without the N54's expensive piezo-electric injectors. Nevertheless, outputs remain the same and fuel economy is slightly improved, so it's a win-win situation all-around. Unlike the aluminum-and-magnesium construction of its predecessor, the N55 uses an all-aluminum engine block derived from the E46 3 Series' naturally aspirated M54 engine, because BMW didn't deem the N52 engine suitable for turbocharging.

3.0-liter Inline-Six Turbocharged Diesel Engine
265 hp | 425 lb-ft
Horsepower
265 hp
Torque
425 lb-ft
Transmission
Six-speed automatic

Since its 2009 facelift, the E90 was available as a single rear-wheel-drive automatic model using the M57 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six diesel engine with 265 hp and a torque output of 425 lb-ft - more than any other E90. Being a diesel, it achieved a combined 27 mpg but it was a slow seller and is rare today.

5th Gen BMW 3 Series Real MPG

The EPA publishes real-world miles-per-gallon figures that motorists submit once a car has been on the market for a certain period of time and enough people have submitted figures to arrive at a reasonably accurate average. Usually, turbocharged cars don't fare too well and produce worse real-world consumption figures than those estimated by the EPA. However, the 5th gen BMW 3 Series seems to be above average on this score and many of the brand's models improve on the EPA estimates on the road. A few examples are the naturally aspirated 3.0-liter engine in the sedan and coupe, coupled with the manual transmission - whereas the EPA estimates a combined figure of 22 mpg, users report anything from 23.4 to 28.8 mpg combined. Even the turbocharged engines do well and automatic rear-wheel-drive pre-facelift twin-turbocharged sedans and coupes achieve anything from 22.4 to 28.6 mpg combined, compared to their EPA estimate of 21 mpg. The diesel is a star performer too, easily beating its 27-mpg EPA estimate with real-world figures of 31.8-33.4 mpg combined. The BMW E90 gas tank size is 16.1 gallons on all models.

EPA MPGREAL WORLD MPG *
3.0 NA six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD manual19/28/2223.4-28.8 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD automatic19/28/2222.1-29.6 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD manual17/26/2024-28.2 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD automatic18/25/2019.7-27 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder wagon RWD manual17/27/2128.8 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder wagon RWD automatic18/27/2125.6 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder wagon AWD manual17/26/20N/A
3.0 NA six-cylinder wagon AWD automatic18/25/2021.8-25.2 combined
3.0 NA six-cylinder convertible RWD manual17/27/21N/A
3.0 NA six-cylinder convertible RWD automatic18/27/2120.9-22.8 combined
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD manual17/26/2019.9-23.3 combined
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD automatic18/26/2122.4-28.6 combined
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD manual16/25/1918.2-21.5 combined
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD automatic17/25/2023.3-24 combined
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder convertible RWD manual17/26/20N/A
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder convertible RWD automatic17/26/20N/A
3.0 twin-turbo six-cylinder "s" coupe/convertible RWD automatic17/23/1928.3 combined
3.0 turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD manual19/28/22N/A
3.0 turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe RWD automatic19/28/2223.4 combined
3.0 turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD manual19/26/2123 combined
3.0 turbo six-cylinder sedan/coupe AWD automatic18/26/2121 combined
3.0 turbo six-cylinder convertible RWD manual19/28/22N/A
3.0 turbo six-cylinder convertible RWD automatic19/28/2228.3 combined
3.0 turbo six-cylinder diesel sedan RWD automatic23/36/2731.8-33.4 combined

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.

Safety

The fifth generation BMW 3 Series is now pretty old and, simply put, old cars aren't as safe as new ones. Still, compared to its contemporaries, it was good, scoring four stars overall when tested by the NHTSA. Just keep in mind that these results are for the less strict pre-2011 crash-test criteria; that star rating will drop even further when updated to the 2011 criteria. However, the 2011 3 Series was never tested against the new criteria. Suffice to say that, while the basic safety features are there, you will be worse for wear after a crash compared to a new 3 Series. That's just par for the course for old cars. The IIHS has also increased the demands of its crash tests over the years but, for what it's worth, the first 2006 3 Series achieved a Silver Top Safety Pick rating, even though it only scored "Good" in two tests (moderate front overlap and the old, less strict side impact). Back then, the small-overlap front crash was not being done yet and, not being designed for it, the E90 would probably fare poorly, as all cars of that vintage would.

All that being said, the 5th gen 3 Series was among the best at the time in terms of standard safety equipment and you won't do much better shopping elsewhere in the class. Even the base 2006 car comes equipped with six airbags, run-flat tires, tire-pressure monitoring, ABS, stability control, automatic headlights, and rain-sensing wipers. HID adaptive headlights were standard on the 330s only and options included adaptive cruise control and rear parking sensors. Coupes and convertibles were generally a little better kitted out, coming as standard with features such as HID headlights. The convertibles also had pop-up rollover hoops. A few more safety features were fitted over the years; in 2007, traffic updates were added to models with navigation and in 2010, automatic high beams became optionally available.

Pre-2011 US NHTSA Crash Test Result (2006+)

Overall Rating::
(4/5)
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating::
(4/5)
Side Crash Rating::
(5/5)
Rollover Rating::
(4/5)

2006-2011 BMW 3 Series E90 Trims

At the time of the 2006 launch, there were a variety of 325 and 330 models, both with the same naturally aspirated engine in different states of tune. A turbocharged engine replaced the high-output version from the 2007 model year, coinciding with the 330 becoming the 335, but the base engine remained in uprated form, getting a name change from 325 to 328. All-wheel drive was optional on some trims and there were four body styles: sedan, coupe, convertible, and wagon. The standard equipment fitted is more or less the same on 325/328 and 330/335 models respectively, but with a slightly higher number of features on coupes and convertibles.

325
2006
Engine
3.0-liter inline-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission
Drivetrain
RWD or AWD

This trim is available as the 325i sedan, 325xi AWD sedan, and 325xi wagon. There was no E90-based Coupe and Convertible for the 2006 model year, with the previous-generation E46-based Coupe and Convertible soldiering on at first. So the only E90s for 2006 were the sedans and wagons - and the latter was only offered with xDrive AWD. The 325s use the 215-hp/185-lb-ft 3.0-liter inline-six engine, runs on 16-inch alloy wheels, and has halogen headlights, a power moonroof, heated mirrors, keyless entry, one-touch power windows, automatic climate control, manually adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, four cupholders, cruise control, and a 10-speaker CD/MP3 audio system. Safety fare includes six airbags, stability control, ABS, tire-pressure monitoring, and run-flat tires. From day one, all BMW E90 headlights on all trims were switched on and off automatically.

330
2006
Engine
3.0-liter inline-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission
Drivetrain
RWD or AWD

The 2006 330 has everything the 325 has but with a 255-hp/220-lb-ft version of the 325's naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-six engine. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension, power front seats with memory, and a premium Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system. Various options could be specified, such as the Performance Package with even sportier suspension, sport seats, and performance tires.

328
2007-2011
Engine
3.0-liter inline-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission
Drivetrain
RWD or AWD

The 328 replaced the 325 for the 2007 model year, using the same 3.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-six, but uprated to 230 hp and 200 lb-ft. The previous-generation coupe was finally dropped and the brand-new E90-based E92 Coupe joined the lineup. Because it shares its platform with the E90 sedan, the Coupe was also offered with xDrive AWD. The redesigned E93 Convertible only joined the lineup halfway through the model year, with a folding hard top. From this year, the wagon could also be had with rear-wheel drive. The sedan and wagon inherited the old 325's standard equipment for the new year.

The Coupe and Convertible are slightly better equipped than the sedan, with standard 17-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, sports suspension, and the Harman Kardon audio system. In 2009, a facelift introduced a restyled exterior for the sedan and wagon and a much-revised iDrive controller with revised menus and new shortcut buttons, as well as a new optional navigation system that is hard-drive-based and comes with real-time traffic. The 2010 328 lost its standard sunroof but gained standard HD radio while automatic high beams became optional. For 2011, the iDrive system was further improved. The Coupe and Convertible also got a subtle facelift, with a new front lower fascia incorporating a one-slot lower air dam with horizontal fins and revised side skirts with sharper creasing. The rear boasts all-red taillights and a more aggressive new bumper.

335
2007-2011
Engine
3.0-liter inline-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission
Drivetrain
RWD or AWD

Except for a brand-new N54 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, the 2007 335 received the same standard equipment as 2006 330 models. A brand-new E92 Coupe and E93 Convertible were launched with this new N54 engine as well and, late in the model year, an AWD 335xi sedan was added to the range. For 2008, an all-wheel-drive 335Cxi Coupe was also added to the lineup. 2009 brought in the facelifted range with a reworked front and rear end on the sedan and wagon and a revised iDrive system on all models. A 335d turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine with 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque joined the lineup late in the 2009 model year; it was only offered as a rear-wheel-drive sedan with the automatic transmission and it was similarly equipped to the 335i models. From 2010 onward, automatic high beams were offered as an option. In its final year on the market, the 2011 335 trims received a brand-new N55 3.0-liter engine with a single turbocharger, but with the same outputs as the old N54 engine. The 2011 335 also got a new leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel and an improved iDrive system.

335is
2011
Engine
3.0-liter inline-six
Transmission
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission
Drivetrain
RWD or AWD

For the final model year, a new 335is trim was launched at the request of BMW North America and built in a unique specification for this market. It was the only trim to retain the old twin-turbocharged N54 engine for the 2011 model year, but uprated to 320 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque - temporarily upped to 370 lb-ft on overboost. It was also the only 3 Series to get an optional new Getrag-made seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; the European 335is used the normal ZF six-speed automatic. A manual six-speed was the standard transmission. The 335is trim is only available with the Coupe and Convertible bodies and comes with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard.

Fifth Generation BMW 3 Series Sedan Features

325330328335335is
Back-Up CameraN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Bluetooth ConnectionN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Leather SeatsN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Apple CarPlayN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Keyless EntrySSSSS
Keyless StartN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
HD RadioN/AN/ASSS
Alloy WheelsSSSSS
SunroofSSN/ASS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

The BMW 3 Series E90 sedan is surprisingly accommodating inside, with excellent build quality and carefully chosen, high-quality surfaces and materials. Up front, there is plenty of room, but the rear is a little more confining and although two adults will fit, they will complain about restricted headroom if they're tall. Three across is a definite squeeze but can be done for short trips. The Coupe is even less accommodating and involves the contortions required to get into the back of a two-door car. The Convertible's rear seats are only suitable for two small children. Cargo space is competitive for the class, with a trunk big enough for a minimum of 9 cubic feet of luggage in the Convertible (11 cubes in the Coupe and 12 in the sedan) to a maximum of 60.9 cubes in the wagon with the seats folded.

The two basic trims for the 2006 cars are 325 and 330, in a choice of sedan and wagon; the Coupe and Convertible of this year are not E90s and still belong to the previous-generation E46-based 3 Series. In 2007, E90-based Coupe and Convertible models joined the range and the default trims changed to 328 (replacing 325) and 335 (replacing 330). In the last year (2011), a special 335is trim was added. Keep in mind that the E90 is now an old car and no trims received Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. However, a smartphone interface with BMW Apps was optionally available, so you'll have to check if this was fitted to a car you consider. Bluetooth wireless connectivity and navigation were extras too and not standard.

Trim325330328335335is
Beige, Black, Gray, Terra leatherette seats (sedan)SSN/AN/AN/A
Beige, Black, Gray, Terra leatherette seats (wagon)SN/AN/AN/AN/A
Beige, Black, Oyster & Black, Brown Chestnut, Brown Saddle, Gray leatherette seats (sedan)N/AN/ASSN/A
Beige, Black, Oyster & Black, Brown Chestnut, Brown Saddle, Gray leatherette seats (wagon)N/AN/ASN/AN/A
Beige, Black, Oyster & Black, Brown Saddle, Gray, Red & Coral Black leatherette seats (coupe, convertible)N/AN/ASSS

5th Generation BMW 3 Series Maintenance and Cost

There is a long list of things that can go wrong with the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 E90 BMW 3 Series models and virtually no configuration is free of problems. That said, many of the issues can be avoided and/or postponed with meticulous maintenance. Service intervals should be no longer than a year apart, even on low-mileage vehicles that travel little. BMW recommends that gas engines' oil should be replaced every 15,000 miles or once a year (or 13,000 miles for the diesel), but given the number of issues that can be avoided by keeping the oil fresh, we would halve these distances. For severe use on dusty roads, freezing temperatures, and very long idling (like taxi use), replace the oil every 5,000 miles.

To give you an idea of the tasks that must be performed at every basic oil service, BMW dealerships replace the engine oil and oil filter, burnish the brake pads, and the air-conditioning's microfilter on all cars and on the diesel they also change the diesel exhaust fluid. At every third oil service, they replace the air filter on the gas engines. At every second oil service, they replace the diesel's fuel filter, while also checking, among others, all models' batteries, steering systems, and all the other fluid levels. The brake fluid should be replaced every two years. The spark plugs on the N52 engine last 100,000 miles but those on the N54 last only 45,000 miles.

2006-2011 BMW 3 Series Basic Service

Engine Oil Change Including Filter (Gas)

BMW E90 oil capacity for 3.0-liter naturally-aspirated N52 gas engine: 6.6L (7 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 5W-30 high-performance fully synthetic oil, OEM part number 07 51 0 017 866

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $100-$150

Oil capacity for 3.0-liter turbocharged N54 & N55 gas engines: 6.5L (6.9 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 5W-30 high-performance fully synthetic oil

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $100-$150

Engine Oil Change Including Filter (Diesel)

Oil capacity for 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine: 7.5L (8 quarts)

Recommended type and viscosity: 5W-30 Castrol SLX Professional OEM fully synthetic oil, part number 07 51 0 037 195

Replacement: Every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on use.

Average cost: $100-$150

Sparkplugs

Naturally-aspirated N52 3.0-liter gas engine

Part code: 12 12 2 158 253

Replacement: Every 100,000 miles

Average price: $69 for six

Twin-turbocharged N54 3.0-liter gas engine

Part code: 12 12 0 037 244

Replacement: Every 45,000 miles

Average price: $65 for six

Turbocharged N55 3.0-liter gas engine

Part code: ZR5TPP33

Replacement: Every 60,000 miles

Average price: $95 for six

Air Filter

Naturally-aspirated N52 3.0-liter gas engine

OEM part number: 13717571355

Average Price: $48

Twin-turbocharged N54 3.0-liter gas engine

OEM part number: 13717556961

Average Price: $48

Turbocharged N55 3.0-liter gas engine

OEM part number: 13717599285

Average Price: $48

Turbocharged M57 3.0-liter diesel engine

OEM part number: 13717797465

Average Price: $80

Battery

3.0-liter naturally-aspirated N52 gas engine

Type: Bosch Premium/AGM, part code S5532B-INT/S6585B-INT

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Average Price: $181/$297

3.0-liter twin-turbocharged N54 gas engine

Type: Bosch S5 Premium / AGM, part code S5532B-M814/S6587B-INT

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Average Price: $240/$308

3.0-liter turbocharged N55 gas engine

Type: Bosch S5 Premium / AGM, part code S5533B-M814/S5572B-M814

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Average Price: $252/$306

3.0-liter turbocharged M57 diesel engine

Type: Bosch S5 Premium / S6 AGM, part code S5532B-M814/S6588B-M814

Replacement: Every 3-5 years

Average Price: $240/$489

BMW E90 5th Gen Tires

BMW E90 tire size for 325 & 328 Sedan; 325 Coupe, Convertible & Wagon
Tire Size:
P205/55HR16
Run-Flat Tires:
$755-$816 per set
328 Coupe & Convertible; 330 & 335 Sedan, Coupe & Convertible
Tire Size:
P225/45HR17
Run-Flat Tires:
$911-$1,090 per set
335is Coupe & Convertible
Front Tire Size:
P225/40R18
Rear Tire Size:
P255/35R18
Run-Flat Tires:
$1,138-$1,573 per set

There is no BMW E90 spare tire compartment, since all models run on run-flat tires.

Check Before You Buy

Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:

Relatively reliable motoring is possible with an E90 BMW 3 Series, but you have to buy smartly and avoid the models with the most common problems. Alternatively, buy one that has already seen the problem areas attended to. However, a full service history at BMW is important, more so than with many other used cars out there. Some of the most significant 2006-2011 BMW 3 Series problems revolve around the engines and these are sensitive to the model and year. Besides breakdowns, there are also wear-and-tear items such as the Vanos system that periodically require overhauling. Fifth generation 2006 BMW 3 Series transmission problems seem quite rare though, the six-speed ZF being a solid transmission.

That being said, BMW E90 automatic gearbox and transmission problems do crop up and have mostly to do with neglecting transmission oil changes; the manufacturer's interval for this might be too long. Thankfully, BMW E90 3 Series throttle body, air conditioning (AC), central locking, immobilizer, mechatronic, mirror folding, brake, ABS, accelerator pedal, steering, transmission oil cooler, head gasket, manual gearbox, and steering problems tend to be few and far between with proper maintenance, but a few glitches have been noted on individual models in all these systems from time to time. However, these are not the most common BMW 3 Series E90 problems and tend to be the exception, not the rule. One would imagine that the naturally aspirated N52 engine is solid and indeed, 2009 and 2010 BMW E90 3 Series engine problems are at a series-wide low for these years, but this engine should be avoided for the 2007-2008 model years, as we explain later.

A few relatively rare BMW 3 Series E90 problems that do rear their heads from time to time include:

  • Fewer than 600 cars' engine-cooling fans failed, which could cause the engine to overheat. This was an NHTSA recall item.
  • In another NHTSA recall, a total of 3,450 cars were affected by incorrect crimp connectors used on front side airbags and seat-belt tensioners.
  • The E90's engines can be sensitive to worn spark plugs and ignition coils. Spark plugs overdue for replacement can also hasten the demise of the ignition coils. Ignition coils should be replaced at least every 60,000 miles.
  • Take note that the E90's ignition key has to be removed in a certain way by pushing it in first. Some owners have neglected to do this and forcefully removing the key without following the correct procedure can damage the ignition slot.
  • Some E90s' 17- and 19-inch alloy wheels have been known to form hairline cracks, especially if used on rough roads or driven too fast over speed bumps.

It's worth keeping in mind a few common error codes:

  • P0456 on a BMW 3 Series means there is a problem with the evaporative emissions system
  • The BMW 3 Series code 4E24 refers to errors detected by the transmission controller relating to solenoids in the valve body
  • The BMW 3 Series P0304 code indicates that there is a misfire in the number four cylinder
  • The BMW 3 Series P0305 code indicates that there is a misfire in the number five cylinder
  • The P0012 BMW E90 error code is an ECM code indicating incorrect intake-cam timing
  • The P0015 BMW E90 error code is an ECM code indicating incorrect exhaust-cam timing
  • The BMW E90 P0442 error code indicates that there is a small leak in the evaporative emissions system
  • The P0174 BMW E90 error code indicates that the ECM has detected that the air-fuel mixture is too lean
  • The P0128 BMW E90 error code indicates that the engine coolant is taking too long to warm up, which could be an indication that the thermostat has failed in the open position

The BMW E90’s Common Problems

Vanos Failure

Eventual failure of the Vanos variable-valve-timing system is part of life in a modern BMW and the one in the E90 generally tends to wear out every 70,000 miles or so. The Vanos solenoids can fail even sooner or cause poor running if oil changes have been neglected, which causes oil sludge that, in turn, blocks the solenoids. This is one of the reasons why frequent oil changes are so important on these engines.

Mileage: Every 70,000 miles on average

Cost: $180 for the solenoids and $200 for the labor

How to spot: Difficult starting, poor economy, power loss, poor idling, limp mode

Exhaust-Valve Hydraulic Lifters On N52 Engine

There is a design flaw on the cylinder head of the naturally aspirated N52 engine used on 2006-2009 E90s that allows insufficient oil to reach the hydraulic valve lifters on the exhaust valves, especially on short trips and around town. Persistent ticking from the lifters is the first sign, but this often goes away if they can usually be successfully bled by doing a brisk highway run in a low gear at 4,500 rpm or more. Frequent oil changes and sufficient highway driving can sometimes keep the problem at bay, but it will likely return and replacing just the hydraulic lifters is false economy, because of the inherent flaw in the cylinder head. It is best to avoid these engines, because the only permanent fix is an expensive cylinder-head replacement.

Mileage: 50,000 miles on average

Cost: $2,000-$3,000

How to spot: Ticking sound from cylinder head, especially on short trips

Camshaft Bolts

More than 156,000 2010 and 2011 E90s were recalled by the NHTSA for the bolts holding down the Vanos mechanism either loosening or failing altogether. A further 170,000 cars were not covered by the recall, but received extended warranties to address the condition. Failure or loosening of the bolts will have similar symptoms as a failing Vanos system.

Mileage: Any mileage

Cost: No-cost repair under recall or warranty

How to spot: Difficult starting, poor economy, power loss, poor idling, limp mode

Water Pump Failure

The E90 engines use electric water pumps and these typically fail at around 80,000 miles, often when plastic internal parts like the impeller start to break. Many owners replace these pumps with ones that have metal impellers for a longer life. Replace the water pump at the first sign of symptoms, because total failure can cause your engine to overheat and ruin it. Typical BMW E90 water pump failure symptoms include water leaks and overheating.

Mileage: 80,000 miles on average

Cost: $410 for an upgraded pump and $400 for labor

How to spot: Overheating, steam from engine, fan comes on, even when engine is cold, leaks

Thermostat Failure

The main BMW E90 thermostat problem is that this item tends to fail at around the same time as the water pump, so it's best to replace both in one go. The thermostat is designed to fail in the open position so as to not cause an overheating condition. However, this will cause an overcooling condition, which will accelerate engine wear if not attended to quickly. In a few instances, these thermostats can fail in the closed position and sometimes cause catastrophic damage due to overheating.

Mileage: 80,000 miles on average

Cost: $70 for the thermostat, $150-$200 for labor

How to spot: Coolant leaks, erratic temperature changes, slow warmup (when stuck open - accompanied by error code P0128), quick overheating (when stuck closed)

High-Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) Failure On N54 Engine

The twin-turbocharged N54 engine is notorious for its failing high-pressure fuel pump (HPFP). A recall was issued in 2010 for 130,000 vehicles and there was even a class-action lawsuit because of this problem. When the pump starts to fail, it no longer supplies the correct amount of fuel to the engine, causing poor running. BMW extended the warranty period to ten years / 120,000 miles to cover this problem. Don't buy a vehicle that displays HPFP symptoms and falls out of warranty. Check its VIN on the NHTSA website to see whether it qualifies for a free recall repair or walk away, because the cost of putting the problem right is prohibitive.

Mileage: Any mileage

Cost: $850-$1,050 for the pump and up to $260 for labor

How to spot: Check engine light, slow starting, low power, surging while driving, limp mode

Turbocharger/Wastegate Failure On N54 Engine

The N54 engine is also known for turbocharger and wastegate failures, although these are not nearly as commonplace as the HPFP failures. Still, a rattling wastegate might be your first sign to stay away. Sometimes, the wastegate can be adjusted, but in other instances, both the wastegates and turbochargers can fail. Some aftermarket suppliers sell rattle fix repair kits for around $85. Meticulous maintenance and frequent oil changes are critical on the N54 engine and it should operate quietly and smoothly, both at idle and under power. Various parts used for the wastegates vary in price and the turbochargers themselves cost $800 or more, so the costs soon add up.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Up to $4,800 for turbos, wastegates, and labor

How to spot: Low-boost engine codes, power loss, rattling noise from engine

Fuel Injector Failure On N54 Engine

The N54 twin-turbocharged engines use expensive piezo-electric fuel injectors that are prone to failure - and are expensive to replace. These injectors were replaced by conventional ones on the N55 engine that replaced the N54 in the normal 335 models for the 2011 model year. In fact, there was a 2010 BMW E90 injector recall for some cars with failing injectors and BMW extended the warranty period on the injectors to ten years / 120,000 miles. All cars will now be out of their warranty period, so check if there is a recall on a vehicle you are considering, or you will have to foot the bill for new injectors yourself.

Mileage: 80,000 miles on average

Cost: $1,000 for injectors and about $700 for labor

How to spot: Misfires, rough idling, Check Engine light illuminated

Carbon Buildup On Intake Valves

This is a problem on all direct-injected engines and the worst culprit in the E90 generation is the N54 twin-turbo engine. The N55 is less affected and the naturally aspirated N52 not at all, because it uses conventional manifold injection that keeps the intake valves clean. Using a fuel cleaner every 5,000 to 10,000 miles and replacing the engine oil every 7,500 miles will help, but the problem will eventually occur and the reality is that 335 owners probably have to have their engines' intake valves walnut-blasted every 40,000-50,000 miles to clean them at a cost of up to $300.

Mileage: 40,000-50,000 miles on average

Cost: $250-$300

How to spot: Uneven running, power loss, poor economy

Valve Cover Oil Leaks

Valve-cover oil leaks do not usually warrant a special mention, because most cars suffer from this malady when they age. However, it can be more serious in the case of the E90, firstly because it's not necessarily the gasket leaking; the actual valve cover is made of plastic and can crack with age, leaking through the cracks and needing to be replaced. This is one of the fairly common BMW E90 oil leak problems. The leaks will eventually cover the engine in oil and could mask an oil-filter-housing leak, which is even more serious and can cause the serpentine belt to derail, potentially causing engine failure. Always attend to oil leaks, especially ones originating at the top of the engine, like a valve-cover leak, because the spilled oil can cause additional failures, as well as pose a fire risk. This problem seems to affect N52 and N54 engines the most.

Mileage: 50,000 miles on average

Cost: $40 for the gasket, $410 for the valve cover, and up to $500 for labor

How to spot: Cylinder head and block covered in oil, oil in crevices around the engine, evidence of a leak on the floor, smoke, burnt-oil smell

Oil Filter Housing Leak

This is one of the various oil leaks the E90 can suffer from and is potentially more dangerous than the valve-cover leak. Although not common, an oil-filter-housing leak can spill on the serpentine belt, causing it to derail and be shredded to pieces when caught between the pulley and the timing cover, where the pieces can penetrate the engine via the main crank seal, causing catastrophic engine damage that can cost close to $4,000 to fix. A new gasket might do the trick, but otherwise, a new oil-filter housing will also be necessary.

Mileage: 50,000 miles on average

Cost: $30 for the gasket, $400 for the housing, and $150-$200 for labor

How to spot: Spilled oil in the region of the oil-filter housing and evidence on the floor

Transmission Problems

The six-speed ZF automatic transmission in the E90 is a robust unit and potentially reliable, but only if it periodically gets fresh transmission fluid. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 BMW 3 Series 328i and 335i transmission problems are mostly down to too infrequent oil changes. It has been suggested that most transmission failures could have been avoided if the transmission fluid was replaced every 50,000 miles instead of the rather lengthy interval of 100,000 miles that BMW stipulates. Unless an owner has done this more frequently, assume that BMW only would have done it every 100,000 miles, which means that transmission problems can start soon after. This problem is mostly avoidable through meticulous preventative maintenance.

Mileage: Over 100,000 miles on average

Cost: From $1,000 for a rebuilt valve-body kit to $3,000-plus for a transmission rebuild

How to spot: Harsh shifts, transmission slipping, dirty transmission fluid with a burnt smell

Master Cylinder Leak

More than 13,000 2006 E90s were recalled to fix a leaking brake master cylinder that can cause a loss of braking power and lead to a crash. Enter your VIN on the NHTSA's website to see whether a 2006 model you're considering is affected.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Free repair under the recall conditions

How to spot: Loss of braking power and extension of braking distances

Electrical Power Failure

Well over half a million cars were recalled by the NHTSA in the 2007-2011 BMW E90 battery cable recall. A cable between the positive battery terminal and the fuse box degrades, leading to a cut in electrical power that can cause stalling and increase the likelihood of an accident.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Free repair under the recall conditions

How to spot: Hesitating and loss of power/stalling while driving

PCV Heater And Blower Motor Short-Circuit And Overheating Wiring

More than 700,000 2006-2010 E90s were recalled for each of these problems, both of which are common BMW E90 heating problems. In the BMW E90 recall for the blower motor and for the PCV heater, the problems are similar: electrical connectors overheat and melt, increasing the risk of a fire. This can happen even when the vehicle is not in use.

Mileage: From new

Cost: Free repair under the recall conditions

How to spot: Check VIN on NHTSA website to see if the vehicle is affected

Electronic Steering-Lock Failure

The electronic steering lock may start to cause intermittent problems, sometimes locking the steering wheel as intended and other times failing to do so. It might sometimes prevent the engine from starting. It invariably fails completely, disabling the vehicle so that it has to be towed. In fact, this is one of the 2006 and 2007 BMW 3 Series' common starting and electrical problems, even though it doesn't appear on any BMW E90 recall list. Initially, the only remedy was to replace the steering column for up to $1,500 but known workarounds now exist. Reprogramming the steering lock should solve the problem and there are various online tutorials available on how to do this, even at home.

Mileage: Any mileage

Cost: No-cost DIY reprogramming

How to spot: Inconsistent steering locking/unlocking, engine won't start, steering-lock light illuminated

Window Regulators

Window regulators can go bad on the E90, in which case the windows will no longer respond to the switch and you cannot open and close them anymore. The only remedy is to replace the regulator.

Mileage: Any mileage

Cost: $500 for parts and labor

How to spot: Windows can no longer be opened or closed

Airbags

The BMW E90 airbag recall affects all model years, making this an important BMW E90 safety recall. The inflators of the Takata airbags fitted to these cars can rupture and send deadly shrapnel into the vehicle, injuring or killing occupants. In what is the biggest recall in automotive history, all the affected airbags must be replaced. Ensure that the recall work has been done. If not, you can have it done at a BMW dealership at no cost to you.

Mileage: N/A

Cost: N/A

How to spot: Check VIN on NHTSA website

Front Passenger-Seat Occupation Mat

A 2006 and 2007 BMW E90 seat mat sensor recall was issued to deal with a faulty front passenger-seat occupation mat. This pad in the seat determines whether an occupant is using the seat and whether to trigger the restraint systems in the event of a crash.

Mileage: N/A

Cost: N/A

How to spot: Check VIN on NHTSA website

Recalls

There were many 2006-2011 BMW 3 Series E90 recalls. In fact, the 2006 model was subject to no fewer than 13 recalls and among these, we've already covered the airbags, PVC heater, blower motor, front-seat occupation mat, and master-cylinder leak. Added to them are 25 cars recalled for front axle connection that may break and 585 cars for an engine-cooling fan that may fail. The 2007 and 2008 BMW 328i recall list is identical to that of the 335i and down to seven issues each, but inherits many of the same problems. In addition, a faulty battery cable may cut power and cause the car to stall (2007 and 2008) and the wrong crimp connectors may have been fitted on the front side airbags and belt tensioners (2008). The 2009 model is mostly the same and the camshaft bolts undoing themselves are new for the 2010 model. Even the very last model year is awash with recalls - eight in total - with the 2011 BMW 3 Series recall notices containing yet another new item: front driveshaft bolts that may loosen. Overall, not a stellar showing.

Which One To Avoid

The 2006 models had the most problems and of these, the 335 with the N54 engine is the most troublesome. Most of the problems might have been sorted by now, but those cars have mostly accumulated lots of miles and this maintenance-sensitive engine with its twin turbochargers and expensive injectors is too complicated for its own good and should be avoided. The naturally aspirated N52 engine is much better, but the cylinder-head defect means that you cannot take a chance on anything earlier than a late-2009 model. We would avoid the diesel too, due to its expensive and more frequent servicing and potential parts-availability problems. Avoid any E90 without a full service history or with a high mileage without transmission fluid changes.

Which One To Buy

A late-2009 or early-2010 facelift 328 manual is arguably the sweet spot in the range. The traditional, naturally aspirated inline-six and clean-shifting manual transmission is what BMW enthusiasts wax lyrical over as they are truly rewarding driver's cars. An automatic is good too, as long as you have evidence of proper transmission maintenance and the mileage is not too high. 2011 vintage 335 models with the new N55 single-turbo engine are comparatively rare, single-model-year models, but also significantly more reliable than the earlier N54-engined cars, if the naturally aspirated engine just won't do.

5th Gen BMW 3 Series E90 Verdict

The E90 3 Series is a BMW true to form - fun to drive and available with a sweet manual transmission and sonorous straight six. You have to tread carefully among the model years to avoid the unreliable engines - mostly the N54 and the pre-update N52 - but other than that, a well-maintained one can provide reasonably reliable motoring. But we cannot emphasize how important meticulous maintenance is. These cars' engines and transmissions are sensitive and advanced for their time and need clean oil to keep going. If you can get a clean, low-mileage one that's been pampered, you'll have a great used BMW that will put a grin on your face every time you turn the key. If the steering lock isn't playing up, that is.

Back
To Top