BMW 1 and 3 Series Tuning: The Best E8X and E9X Exhaust Options
These options could be your ticket to evacuating exhaust pulses in a more enthusiastic manner.
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When it comes to affordable modern BMWs with real performance potential, it's hard to beat an E9X 3 Series or E82 128i. Sure, they have their weird reliability issues here and there, but thanks to their enthusiast-beloved naturally aspirated N52 3.0-liter inline-six, these are potent and torquey cars. There's a myriad of options out there to boost the N52's power output, but I think one of the most pressing modifications lies in how this engine sounds: It's too quiet and should be freed to sing the song of its people.
An aftermarket cat-back exhaust system is the standby method for accomplishing that goal This is the quintessential modification to improve car ownership and something to bond over with our fellow car nerds. Who doesn't dig the sound of a roaring, baritone inline-six? Let's dive in and discuss all of the cat-back options out there and how they stack up with one another in terms of price and tone.
High-End European Stuff: Remus, Eisenmann, and Supersprint
Supersprint is an Italian company that's been in the exhaust game a long time. Its systems are generally regarded as top quality, both in construction and sound, and are popular choices for the E9X suite of 3 Series as well as the E8X 1 Series Bimmers. There are a bunch of options available to determine how to send exhaust gasses from the headers to the rear tips, but it seems like the cheapest cost of entry is doing just the rear muffler, rather than a more complete system with a resonator. This is actually more like an axle-back exhaust system, but surely a big improvement in tone nonetheless.
Germany-based Remus and Eisenmann are up there in price and quality as well. Like Supersprint, these brands are widely accepted as top-tier manufacturers that produce exhausts with great tones. Different price points offer different levels of cat-back exhaust tuning, including just an axle-back solution to cure the N52's overly muffled blues. Remus' most basic axle-back option is much cheaper than Supersprint, though it doesn't include tips. Eisenmann's is a work of art, and its price tag reflects this.
Between all three, it's tough finding exact comparisons to get an idea of how each system sounds. Few videos on YouTube seem to demonstrate how just the cat- or axle-back system sounds, many also include deleted resonators, or one or more catalytic converters deleted. But from my research, it seems like Remus could be the most chill-sounding, followed by Eisenmann in the middle between chill and loud, and then Supersprint sounding the loudest.
More Value in American and British Options
If the above systems are a tad too rich for your blood, thankfully good ol' American ingenuity is here to the rescue.
MagnaFlow is based in Southern California and is one of the top choices for exhaust systems for a wide variety of applications. This includes lining up pipes behind BMW's N52 inline-six, and its great-sounding cat-back option (Heads-up, at the time of this writing, there's a sale on it for 128i owners).
Then, one can't discuss Southern California exhaust system companies and not mention Borla. This brand's full cat-back system appears to be a solid value over the European options and sounds really good to boot.
Two other brands that are in the sub-$1,000 range are Scorpion and Active Autowerke (AA). AA's system is hard to beat for the price, and the embedded clips in its listing sound so good. Scorpion is a British company with a system that comes in at just less than $1,000 and is a little quieter than AA, so for anyone after a quieter, more chill tone, this could be the best bet.
Peruse and Know Your Options
There are more options out there for cat-back and axle-back exhaust systems, but these seem to be the most popular. There are other methods of loudening N52-equipped cars, as well, such as having an exhaust shop delete the rear muffler and mount up a 2.5-inch pipe with a proper tip instead. Or, just having an exhaust shop weld up an entirely custom system with any muffler that your little heart desires.
Some 128i owners swear by doing a rear muffler delete and keeping the OEM resonator, which could be a good way to not only improve the exhaust tone, but also drop weight over the rear end, as mufflers get pretty heavy. This is definitely a good budget option that sounds great, though my only concern would be any potential droning or having to convert it back to stock for resale. Still, a v-band could be integrated into the piping to make that much easier.
It's tough getting a solid idea of what cat- and axle-back systems sound like, especially with cat deletes and aftermarket headers thrown in the search results, too. Got any more suggestions for improving the exhaust tone of the BMW N52? Let's discuss in the comments! Also, never fear: I plan to cover aftermarket N52 intakes in a future blog.