Category: BMW Performance

BMW N54 & N55 Engine Tuning Guide

Radoslaw Zbroinski

May 23, 2023

BMW N54 & N55 Engine Tuning Guide

When you’re powering through a twisty road, you rarely think about what’s under the hood of your bimmer. Is it the BMW N54 engine or the BMW N55 engine? You simply don’t care. You just want to experience each corner, listen to the revs. Most of all, you want to get excited. 

However, start getting technical and you’ll notice that an interesting story connects the two. The story of a bumpy road to evolution… In all seriousness though, the N54 and N55 are both turbocharged inline-six engines with similar power and torque outputs. Both of them were created to fulfill the same role, with the latter replacing the former. It’s when you take a look at the more intricate design details when you notice major differences. 

Want to squeeze more out of your car? Regardless of which of the two engines powers it, tuning-wise they are pretty similar. Read on to find out what sets them apart and how we can help you safely extract the full potential of your vehicle.

BMW N54 vs. BMW N55 – Same or Different?

BMW N54 VS. BMW N55They say there’s always a first time for everything. The same goes for the automotive world and both of today’s main characters were, in a different way, “a first” for the Bavarians.

Introduced in 2006, the BMW N54 was their first gasoline engine with a turbo that went into mass production. On the other hand, the N55 produced from 2009 was their first inline-six that took advantage of a twin-scroll turbo.

Today, the N54 and N55 are regarded as engines with some massive tuning potential – they are generally liked by the tuners, because of how much boost they can safely handle in their stock form. The “innovative” nature of their design led to some technical issues though, especially in the case of the older unit in its early days. This means that in terms of reliability, there’s a lot of room for improvement with engine tuning. 

But before we touch on that subject and on how we can help, let’s get to know our “heroes” better... 

BMW N54 & N55 Engine Specs

Interestingly, when designing their first mass-produced turbocharged gasoline engine, the Bavarians went full-on. Instead of using only one turbine like on the later N55, with the BMW N54 engine they opted for a twin-turbo system. 

The name is pretty self-explanatory and means strapping two turbos to the engine. However, this is a good opportunity to talk about various arrangements used by manufacturers in this kind of setup, before we jump into more details on BMW N54 and BMW N55 engine specs. 

So, in terms of twin-turbocharging, you are most likely to come across the following setups:

  1. Parallel – two turbines of the same size sharing equal portions of the exhaust gasses, which is what is used on the N54. The Bavarians wanted to reduce turbo lag as much as possible, so they used two relatively small turbos connected to three cylinders each. This setup has a major drawback though: the power output at higher RPM isn’t optimal, since the tiny turbines can’t keep up with the flow of exhaust gasses.

    Fun fact: such an arrangement is very popular in V engines, where both cylinder banks get separate turbochargers. The BMW N63 and its high-performance sibling S63 use a common variation of this layout called “hot-vee,” where the turbines are placed between the cylinder heads; but that is a story for another day. 

  2. Sequential – two differently-sized turbochargers operating in different rev ranges. Usually, the smaller turbine swings into action early on and the larger one spools up at higher RPM, with the help of its small “friend.” A setup like this allows to eliminate some of the turbo lag and still keep respectable high-end power. 

    BMW used this layout on their high-output N57S diesel engine, only with three turbines instead of two. Three turbos! Sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? This monster was used between 2012 and 2018 on 50d models like the BMW 5 Series M550d xDrive of the F10/F11 generation.  

  3. Compound – again, two turbines of different size, with the larger (low-pressure) turbocharger feeding compressed air into the smaller (high-pressure) one to further compress the air before finally directing it into the engine. 

    This is the least common twin-turbo setup, since the air that it feeds to the combustion chambers is very hot, which increases the risk of pre-ignition. It’s mostly used on high-performance diesel engines, where fuel cannot ignite prematurely anyways. 

Although having two turbochargers definitely sounds impressive, it also increases the engine complexity. More parts means more weight and more potential failure points. And that’s exactly why the Bavarians decided to try a different solution with the N54’s successor, the BMW N55 engine. 

In the N54 replacement, they chose a twin scroll turbo. A setup like that offers great performance at low and medium RPM sacrificing the high-end a bit, similarly to a parallel arrangement of two turbines. 

Okay, but how do they stack up against each other? Check out the table below.

Engine model BMW N54 BMW N55
Horsepower (and torque)

Depending on the version, 302–335 hp (400–450 Nm)

  • 302 hp (400 Nm) 
  • 322 hp (450 Nm)
  • 335 hp (450 Nm)

Depending on the version, 302–365 hp (400–465 Nm)

  • 302 hp (400 Nm) 
  • 315 hp (450 Nm)
  • 322 hp (450 Nm)
  • 335 hp (450 Nm)
  • 355 hp (465 Nm) 
  • 365 hp (465 Nm)
Redline 7000 RPM
Crankshaft Forged Cast
Piston rods Forged Cast
Engine block Open deck, aluminum
Forced induction type Parallel twin-turbo setup Single twin scroll turbocharger
Fuel injection Direct gasoline injection

As you can see, despite some major differences, the N54 and N55 are still quite similar – this illustrates how the latter was an evolution rather than a revolution. Among some other notable changes between the designs was the addition of the variable valve lift system (the famous Valvetronic, as it’s called by BMW), which improved the overall engine responsiveness, fuel economy, and emissions (by around 15%). 

What’s interesting about both of the engines is the fact that their power figures are often considered to be underrated from the factory. On multiple occasions, dyno testing has shown up to 10% horsepower more. Was BMW being humble…? Anyways, it’s worth checking if your car is one of the books that shouldn’t be judged by its cover. Or rather by the claimed figures. 

However, these are just numbers and raw data. What about their actual reliability though? Did going for a single turbocharger in the newer unit improve anything in this department? Time to find out the effects of the changes made by BMW engineers…

BMW N54 & BMW N55 Engine Reliability

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the reliability of the N54 and N55 engines. They differ quite a lot from one another in this regard, so it would be best to go over them separately. And that's precisely what we will do…

BMW N54 Engine Reliability

BMW N54 Engine ReliabilityAs mentioned earlier, the N54 was far from “bulletproof,” especially right after its introduction. Apart from some problems common to BMW engines, like oil and piping leaks or water pump failures, it also experienced turbo wastegate rattle that resulted in a warranty extension to 8 years or 82,000 miles (132,000 km). 

Anyhow, the above weren’t among the darkest scenarios for this engine. By far the worst of the potential breakdowns N54 could suffer was High-Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) failure.

Without fuel, the engine will stop functioning, along with some of the critical systems like power steering or other driver assists, which could cause an accident. In 2010, 130,000 models (BMW N54 engine years 2007–2010) were recalled and the warranty for this component was extended to 10 years or 120,000 miles (190,000 km).

BMW N55 Engine Reliability

BMW N55 Engine ReliabilityDoes the higher number mean a better engine? In terms of reliability – yes, in theory it should. The N55 was meant to improve on the previous design, although the Bavarians didn’t quite manage that and the reality was slightly different than expected. Meaning less than ideal.

So, the same issues that plague many BMW engines, including the N54, can also happen in this case. Some of the more common BMW N55 engine problems include (but are not limited to):

  • Leaking valve covers and oil filter housing gaskets.
  • Failure of VANOS (BMW’s variable valve timing system) solenoid.
  • Water pump failure.

Despite their slightly problematic nature, the N54 and N55 are still solidly built engines overall. Due to their strong internal components, they can handle power gains easily, while most of the above issues can be easily avoided with just regular maintenance. 

Gaskets, piping, water pumps, and other auxiliary systems usually fail because of too much heat, so if you take that out of the equation, you’ll extend the life of those components. Changing engine oil on time and not overheating your car should be enough, but there is a way to increase its reliability even further – read on to find out what it is. 

Which BMWs Have the N54 and N55 Engine? 

Before we dive deeper into what you can do to improve the “quality of life” of your engine, let’s first take a look at what models were powered by the N54 and N55. Below you’ll find a detailed list of BMWs with these engines. 

If you can’t seem to find your bimmer, but you want to learn what motor powers it, use our VIN decoder. We’ll send you a detailed specification of your car, including the engine model.


Engine Car model Power and torque Years of production
N54 BMW 335i (E90/E91/E92/E93) 302 hp / 400 Nm 2006–2010
BMW 535i (E60/E61) 2007–2010
BMW 135i (E82/E88) 2007–2010
BMW X6 xDrive35i (E71) 2008–2010
BMW Z4 sDrive35i (E89) 2009–2016
BMW 740i (F01) 322 hp / 450 Nm 2008–2012
BMW 335is (E92/E93) 2011–2013
BMW 1 Series M Coupe (E82) 335 hp / 450 Nm 2011
BMW Z4 sDrive35is (E89) 2011–2016
N55 BMW 535i (F10/F11/F07) 302 hp / 400 Nm 2009–2017
BMW 335i (E90/E91/E92/E93) 2010–2013
BMW 135i (E82/E88) 2010–2013
BMW X3 xDrive35i (F25) 2010–2017
BMW X5 xDrive 35i (E70) 2011–2013
BMW 335i (F30/F31) 2011–2015
BMW X6 xDrive 35i (E71) 2011–2014
BMW X1 xDrive35i (E84) 2012–2015
BMW 435i (F32/F33/F36) 2013–2016
BMW X5 xDrive 35i (F15) 2014–2018
BMW X6 xDrive35i (F16) 2014–2019
BMW X4 xDrive 35i (F26) 2014–2016
BMW 640i (F06/F12/F13) 315 hp / 450 Nm 2011–2018
BMW 135is (E82/E88) 2012–2013
BMW M135i (F20/F21) 2012–2015
BMW 740i/Li (F01/F02) 2012–2015
BMW M235i (F22/F23) 322 hp / 450 Nm 2013–2016
BMW M135i LCI (F20/F21) 2015–2016
BMW ActiveHybrid 3 (F30) 335 hp / 450 Nm 2013–2015
BMW ActiveHybrid 5 (F10) 2011–2016
BMW M2 (F87) 365 hp / 500 Nm 2016–2018
BMW X4 M40i (F26) 355 hp / 465 Nm 2015–2018

A lot of models, isn’t it? Just from the scope of their adoption, you can see how important these engines were on the Bavarians’ way to the BMW B58 engine. With so many different applications, they were able to push their turbocharged inline-six formula into the modern era. Interestingly, both the BMW N54 engine and BMW N55 engine were offered in the same generations of BMW 3 and 7 Series.

Okay, enough of that nerdy engineering talk – let’s get to what’s important. Let’s get to perfecting your engine with the N54 tuning and N55 tuning…

BMW N54 & N55 Tuning – Awaken Performance

Diving right into the exciting stuff, what we call Awaken Performance is a remote engine tuning service that will help you bring the excitement back to your car drives.

The N54 and N55 are capable of safely generating even more power in their stock form, while most of their problems stem from operating temperatures that are too high. We are able to address both of these issues in one go by installing our customized ECU (Engine Control Unit) remap.

Why is it better than the mapping your BMW got in the factory? Carmakers have to meet certain emission standards and take into account the fact that even the engines coming off of the same assembly line are slightly different. This is determined by the tolerances, how engine components are put together, as well as by the differences in the surface finish. 

Universal ECU software is a “one-size-fits-all” solution, which means that it’s great for simplicity and cost reduction from the manufacturing standpoint. However, the lack of consideration for variables is also a bit limiting. Additionally, factory tunes run hotter to make the parts wear off faster, resulting in more frequent workshop visits, part replacements, and more expensive repairs. 

Our individual approach will let you deal with both the factory limitations and the adverse operating temperatures of your engine. Be it with the N54 tuning or the N55 tuning. 

What Will Change? 

After our remote tuning session, you’ll experience changes in three areas.

  1. Longevity – by making it run cooler, we’ll take a few years off your engine, decreasing the wear of its components and drastically reducing the chance for one of the typical N54 or N55 failures to occur. 
  2. Performance – our remap will not only increase boost for extra torque, but also improve the power delivery and overall engine characteristics. What it means for you is full confidence when overtaking or merging onto the highway.
  3. Fuel consumption – the gasoline dosing with our new ECU map will be much more precise due to a better control over the injectors, making your everyday commute all the more pleasant and cheaper. 

Doesn’t making your car more exciting, more reliable, and more efficient at the same time sound like doing yourself a favor?

What Does the Engine Tuning Process Look Like?

Engine Tuning ProcessAwaken Performance tuning service can happen without you leaving the driveway. To get started, you have to schedule the remote tuning session with our specialist. We’ll then send you specific coding preparation instructions, but all you need for the entire process is an ENET cable, a laptop, and approximately one hour of your time.

Please note that on rare occasions it might take two coding sessions – for maximum safety and reliability, we want to make sure everything is running smoothly.

More importantly though, you don’t need any technical expertise. Before the session, you’ll be given all the instructions on how to prepare your car and laptop for the engine tuning process. When you connect for the session our specialist will:

  1. Scan your ECU for data.
  2. Install appropriate changes in the ECU and save them.

Despite the fact that engine tuning might seem as a pretty straightforward thing, it actually requires a lot of expertise. Changing the wrong parameters can result in increased wear of engine components or even critical failures. By offering you our know-how, we take care of that: our professional BMW tuner handles the difficult stuff for you.

It’s simple, safe, and effortless.

A couple of things to note though. Firstly, to fully and safely benefit from ECU tuning, your car must be in good working condition. This means there aren’t any engine warning lights on your dashboard and that you maintain the vehicle regularly, changing the oil, filters or spark plugs on time. If you’ve done any modifications before scheduling our session, be sure to let us know. 

Secondly, remember to take care of your car after installing a tune. Apart from performing regular maintenance, it’s worth to:

  • Use high-quality motor oils.
  • Fill your car up with only highest grade fuel, like 91–94 octane in the US or 98–100 octane in Europe.

Thirdly, consider the fact that all forms of engine tuning will void your driveline warranty if your car still has it, regardless of how they affect the engine operation.

Other N54 and N55 Performance Upgrades

We offer Awaken Performance as a standalone upgrade, meaning that you don’t need to install additional performance parts. Remember: the changes we introduce with our ECU maps are within the factory safety margins, so your engine components won’t be strained in any way. 

With that in mind, if you are thinking about taking your car even further than just a reasonable tune, there are two types of parts that will greatly benefit the performance of your engine: intercoolers and downpipes. 

Intercooler Upgrades 

A quick reminder of physics: cold intake air is dense. The denser it is, the more fuel it allows to burn when they are mixed together. The density is different for warm and cold air because of the distance between its molecules – they move further away from each other due to heat, expanding the air volume, but keeping the same mass. 

Unfortunately, compressed air is warmer because it goes through a hot turbocharger first, so before it can get into the combustion chamber, it needs to go through the intercooler to become… well, colder, obviously. If it doesn’t, the chance of pre-ignition or engine knocking increases. Knock is when the fuel detonation that occurs as a result of incorrectly timed fuel ignition causes a loud metallic pinging noise.

Stock BMW intercoolers work just fine with the factory or a moderate tune, but for extreme N55 or N54 tuning it’s better to look into some more efficient aftermarket heat exchangers. They are also another way to radically improve the engine longevity. Although for a vehicle that is used in non-performance applications they might be overkill. 

Downpipe Upgrades

Next on the list of possible upgrade options is BMW downpipe. That is, a part of the exhaust system that connects the turbocharger to the remaining piping. It has a direct effect on how efficiently the turbo can spool up and produce boost, but the factory parts are usually very restrictive, because of catalytic converters or their diameter. 

Keep in mind that after you install any upgrades that affect the engine operation, you should retune your car – the ECU won’t adjust to all changes on its own. The older BMW engine map will limit how much potential of any new parts can be used. 

Is N54 and N55 Tuning Worth It?

Ultimately, whether or not you’ll tune your car is always a personal choice, but the advantages cannot be overlooked. 

If you feel that something’s lacking in your driving experience or if you simply want to make your vehicle more practical… Regardless of your motivation, you’ll get more power and torque, better responsiveness, lower fuel consumption, as well as improved engine longevity. And Awaken Performance tuning can help you achieve all that.

So a better question for you to ask yourself would be “is enjoying my car more and longer worth it?”


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