What’s your favorite BMW engine of all time?

Interesting | November 2nd, 2009 by 52

After the post regarding the 320Si, a few of us began to discuss the different merits of the engine and why technologies such as VANOS and Valvetronic were or were not present and even what things we’d like to see on a similar engine. And that got me thinking – what is the favorite BMW engine of the masses?

I drive an E46 3 Series and I’ve got nothing but praise for the M54B25. It’s not the most powerful engine ever made, not by a long shot, but above 3,500 RPMs the engine absolutely comes alive and pulls with all of its might to the 7,000 redline. The engine’s sense of urgency and pull along with the scream it produces at the back makes for an absolutely wonderful driving experience. One of my favorite characteristics of the M54 is the fact that is bullet-proof reliable while also being able to deliver more than satisfying performance. But, while the M54B25 is a great engine in its own right, the S54 is the king of the hill for me.


With 333HP and 3.2 liters of displacement, the engine found its way into the the world-class E46 M3 followed by the  Z4 M Coupe and Roadster. For those that have driven with the engine or even had the privilege of riding with it, you know how special it can be. Like it’s smaller brother the M54, above 3,500 RPM’s the sedate hum of the engine grows and grows to a full metallic roar, letting you know it means business and won’t dare disappoint on the way up to the 8,000 RPM redline.  It is truly one of the finest examples of BMW’s high-revving inline 6-cylinder engines. What could make it better? A bigger airbox, revised cams and engine management and you’ve got yourself an M3 CSL.

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However, BMW have produced many, many more engines of all sizes and types, many of which have been acclaimed by critics. The M10 block that, in one form or another was in service for nearly 20 years in a bog standard 2002 or the 1983 Brabham-BMW F1 car, or the S62 V8 of the E39 M5 and often-forgotten Z8, they never disappoint.  The current N54B30 twin-turbocharged engine found in the 3 and 5 Series has, by reputation, already become one of those engines that twenty years from now people will look back on and still be wowed by the power, speed and finesse the engine has managed to deliver. A modern day BMW 2002tii? Perhaps, but time will tell.

What about the famed BMW S14 engine that found its way under the hood of the M3 in both road-going and racing spec? The S14 was built to race first and then built to pilot you to the office or track second. It’s hard to deny an engine that dominated DTM and the touring car scene for the latter part of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The S14 was essentially a modified M10 block with the best bits of M88 that powered the M1, M5 and M6. I’ve not even touched on the diesels as I’ve not been able to drive one but the 335d has received rave reviews and even the typically harsh BMW critic Jeremy Clarkson walked away impressed by the 535d.


So, we want to know, what’s your favorite BMW engine? Why? Is it the the 2.0L diesel from its peppy yet frugal demeanor or the potent little S14 for its revs or do you want the muscular S85 V10 engine hiding under the hood of the M5 and M6? What about the monster 600+HP S70 V12 stashed  in the middle of the McLaren F1? Let us know what your favorite BMW engine of all time is!

52 responses to “What’s your favorite BMW engine of all time?”

  1. Ramon Juarez says:

    I would say the V12 N74B60 that the actual 760Li has……OH GOD!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jordan says:

      have u driven the 760Li? any comments on the engine and the drive?

      i’ve driven the 750Li and that engine is fantastic so i can imagine what a BMW twin turbo V12 might be like!

  2. Aaron Marks says:

    The S85 is the king of the hill IMO. With some small tuning that motor has more potential than any other BMW motor.

  3. E46M3 says:

    I would say that the S70B56 in the 850CSi is my all time favourite by far. can’t go wrong with 5.6 liters and 375hp M spec engine. also a very rare BMW engine, only 1500 units ever produced.

  4. Doug says:

    You overlooked the isetta’s 12hp motorcycle engine? Or the isetta ///M with 13hp.

  5. Martin says:

    Both the S65 and the S54 are the best engines for me

  6. Bryce McKenney says:

    I used to have a 1989 BMW 535i with the M30 engine. I would occasionally stop by my local mechanic for small things, and every time I went he couldn’t stop talking about how the car had a “bulletproof” engine. I sold it with 160,000 miles and the guy I sold it to still drives it. I know he hasn’t had anything go wrong with the engine but I don’t know what the current mileage on the car is. By far my favorite BMW yet.

  7. Bryce says:

    Note: It was the M30B35 engine, in an E34 535i

  8. Giom says:

    3 for me…

    S14 and

    All other engines would feature just below these.:)

  9. ///M3 Guy says:


    ITS THE V10

    Do not let the SMG gear box fool you! this engine is a MASTERPIECE

  10. Sheikh says:

    S85B50 !!!!

  11. lennardt says:

    the engine of 750 of early 90s.
    M70B50! The second V12 after ww2 (jaguar was faster..) ;-)

  12. atr_hugo says:

    Oh – since it’s BMW we’re talking about you almost have to restrict the voting to inline sixes and the S54 would be the king of the hill. ; -)

  13. Petko says:

    The 2 liter bi-turbo diesel from the 123d and X1 xDrive23d and the 3 liter bi-turbo diesel from the X3 xDrive35d.

  14. Parker says:

    The S85, and the S54. Both are magnificent.

  15. Stephen Holman says:

    The 1200 cc “boxer” engine on the R1200 GS!

  16. The Lee says:

    Anything with an “S” at the beginning of the engine code and independent throttle bodies.

    The numbers following the S are inconsequential as they all have their specific purpose and perform their functions so well.

    Being a little partial to the inline 6 platform, I naturally fell in love with the S54 and S38. I still can’t discount any of the other platforms, though. Everything from the S14 to S85 (sorry, American versions of the S50 and S52, but you don’t make the list).

    • _Auday_ says:

      Ditto, I would also execulde the S70B56 and the Turbo S engines on the X*M cars.

      My favourties have to be:


      S85 is a great engine from BMW, probably the jewel of the S engines, but personally I think it’s too many cylinders, If I have to pick an engine for a new BMW sports car I will go with one based on S65.

  17. J.T. says:

    I’m surprised no one has said this but, the M20B25. Only because it is built proof. My friend’s E30 is at 300k and still going strong! Behind that would be the N54B30 assuming it will make it past 100k.

  18. VeryBold says:

    I agree, M54B25 is the best engine ever. Although the new V8 in the e92 is lighter and more torque-y the M54 is my high school sweet heart.

  19. Lboogy says:

    My favorite of all time is the S54engine!!!!!!

  20. Zach W. says:

    The S52, Its one little torquey monster


    hello from Lyon, France !

    every day is a joy to read comments and news from this website !

    i had the chance to drive many BMW cars the 20 past years (included M6/M5/M3 csl…) because im a good customer ( 630 in my garage…) ans also because the local dealer is a friend… and my favourites engines whitout hesitations :
    1) S 54 on M3… no comments !
    2) N54 twin turbo : a terrific sound like V8
    3) M52 : old but the begginning of 6 cylinders passion with a 325 touring…

    best regards

  22. jon H says:

    AWESOME article andrew. My first car was an e46 and oh baby did I love it.

    I think I loved it a little too hard, which caused the steering rack to fall out of line, parents sold it so my mother could get her own 3 series!

  23. WLH says:

    I’ve been driving BMW’s since 1969 and the S54 rocks….

  24. tiberiu says:

    Yeap, no doubt M54B25 was one of the best engines….

  25. For me it has to be the S62 found in the E39 M5 and the Z8.

  26. Elgee says:

    I would say the 6.1L V12 in the McLaren F1

  27. Marius says:

    M52B28 in our ’97 728ia, has gone 350k km, never been any problems with the engine or transmission.. just changed oil and filled up gas, and of course sparkplugs every now and then

  28. i’ll also go for the S38B38, what an amazing engine!
    340 horsepower from a 17 year old inline-6!!

  29. Hayden says:

    My M54B30 works like a charm. I could cruise at 120mph all day long. Love it.

  30. GEORGE says:

    I own a e39 m5 powered by a s62 let me say bullet proof and a e30 m3 with a 2.5l stroker s14

  31. ///-Game says:

    M54B25 definetly, but 3.0 in e46 (330 xd) had come as suprise spends nothing, goes crazy.

  32. I will go for the BMW E39 M5 anytime. I just love its design, speed, drift and the red Imola is particularly my favorite

  33. Aaron says:

    I’ve owned a number of BMW’s: 2 Z3’s, a 5, and E46 330 and now a 2006 E90 330xi. All of them were awesome to drive in their own right. But the N52 engine in my current 3er is amazing. It’s powerful, naturally aspirated and never lacks in power when I need it.

    Even after driving an older M3 with the S52 engine and the new 335 with performance chip, I’d say the N52 should be at the top. The new 3ers are faster, but when modified to produce 400 hp, I felt like the car was a bit unwieldy. Untouched, the 335 isn’t that much faster than my 330. And while the E46 M3 throttle response is great—if you’re on the highway traveling in excess of 100 mph—it’s like trying to hold back a monster in stop-and-go traffic.

    In short, all of BMW’s engines I’ve experienced are high-performing works of art. But for various types of driving in mixed conditions (city vs. highway/dry vs. snow), the N52 is still one of the most versatile.

    The one car I would like to drive, though, is the new 3 Hybrid. I’ll take more torque over sheer horsepower any day!

  34. e39 m5 says:

    Call me traditional or conservative but I still favor the good old E39 M5

  35. Magnus Haagensen says:

    Straigh Six from earlier M3s. One of the bests engines in the world.

  36. Richard Harrold says:

    M67D44, no question. The world’s only aluminium-block diesel V8 – it’s a pussycat. It’s powerful enough (330bhp stock, can be tuned up toward 400), but it’s the torque that’s killer – 552 ft lbs in stock form! It sounds wonderful, too – I know a guy who got one and stuck it in his E39 530D and, with M5 suspension, it’s almost as quick both on the straights and in the corners as a proper M5, and as exciting to listen to, but in motorway driving it’ll sit there quietly and happily at 2000-ish RPM (about 80mph) and still deliver over 35mpg. Now BMW are taking it out of production and replacing it with a straight-six! Boo hiss!

  37. Howard Waters says:

    I guess several of the M series engines would probably win most contests but dollar for dollar, I love the N54B30 in the current 335i.

  38. XC says:

    N54B30. It’s such an engine! I can almost feel how it moves and flexes; I feel so connected to it… veritable man-machine communication. And it also suits perfectly my share of daily commuting (strip of highway-city driving). I love this engine! Originally I wanted to ‘upgrade it’ with some BMW Performance parts, but now I’m not so sure since I don’t want to spoil this perfect balance. Maybe just the exhaust would do. If you haven’t tried it, you should…

  39. Gunnar says:

    The E39 M5’s V8 would be my vote.

  40. Charly says:

    M10b18. best BMW engine EVER!!!

  41. Javzwet says:

    I really like the S50B32. Rode in an e30 track car with this swap, 2100lbs and such a beautiful engine. Absolutely love the sound from the I6’s.

  42. Ish Bansal says:

    which is the best engine ever made by bmw!? in terms of high performance, high speed,and latest technology?

  43. Daniel Pope says:

    You forget that the S54 was also in the 2001 and 2002 e36/7 M Roadster and M Coupe. not just the Z4s. Arguably the Z3 M Coupe is the best application of that engine.

  44. Daniel Pope says:

    also what you really want is the BMW 003 :P

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