A semi-voluntary, job related, change of location had left me at an impasse. I moved from Las Vegas where a day below 40F is a rarity and snow is an out-right calamity to Washington D.C. where pothole ridden streets are common and surprise snowstorms in April aren’t much of a surprise. This is all wheel drive country and my previous E92 and F80 M3s equipped with R-compound tires wouldn’t make it far on these snow and ice laden roads. In addition to the terrible driving conditions, the real estate contrast between the two cities meant I had a serious garage space problem in my price point. The golden days of a daily beater and a garage queen show car were over, meaning I would have to combine project and daily cars. My family had grown to two kids and a large dog, which meant my new AWD project daily needed to be versatile and have plenty of hauling space. Was this the life change that would finally bring my sports/show car days to an end?
After weeks of test drives I had narrowed my decision down to the 440i XDrive Gran Coupe and 330i XDrive Wagon. Fall programs greatly favored the F31 so I made the decision to pick up the new ‘Smash Wagon’ project! Over the years of modifying BMWs I recall my initial mindset of caring only about cheap speed. Which brings us to the first phase of my build, which I have dubbed OEM++. This phase is comprised of M Performance front splitter, rear diffuser, side skirt extensions, BMW Roof Rack system and 320 Roof Box for the exterior additions. For performance enhancements, I chose M Performance brake kit, DINANTronics tune, and DINAN sport exhaust w/black tips. Over a multitude of aftermarket options I chose to go with DINAN for the performance enhancements of sport exhaust and tune. The DINANTronics tune nets an impressive 40HP and 60lb/ft bump over stock and their sport exhaust is the perfect balance of aggressive growl without intrusive noise. Coming from the M3, I obviously was left wanting with the factory power.
Thankfully the DINAN parts transformed the smash wagon from slouch to ‘spirited’. The B48 motor is still pretty new and one of the first companies to come out with parts was DINAN due to their close relationship with BMW and skilled team of engineers. From years of experience of modding BMW motors, I have learned that cheap speed often comes with limp mode, boost leaks, problems at the dealership, and flame wars when troubleshooting/notifying the community of your problems. As a refreshing contrast, DINAN parts come with a limited warranty on top of your existing warranty and typically are sold/installed at your local BMW dealer. Keeping in line with the no-compromise nature of this build, I returned to a series of brands I like to call ‘the usual suspects’ for the second phase of the project. These companies have earned my loyalty through industry leading quality and technology and have never let me down. Under the fenders are 20″ HRE FF04s in special order color ‘stone gold’ wrapped in Michelin PS4S tires 235/35/20 and 275/30/20 mated to KW DDC Coilover Suspension. The finishing touches are iND Distribution paint matched reflectors and Macht Schnell racing stud kit.
The suspension industry is filled with spring companies whose products only differ by the price tag and the color of paint on the coils. BMW M Performance Suspension kits are in fact KW produced and just painted red and blue. All coil springs come out of a very small number of metal working factories whose main business is producing springs for the OEM factories around the E.U. What sets suspension companies apart is their strut technology. KW is one of the few suspension companies who produce their own struts in-house and have a long running race heritage with BMW. Despite running other suspension brand logos on BMW M235i Racing customer sports cars, if you look in the wheel well you will see the iconic purple and yellow. The fact that BMW Motorsports rebrands KW products and uses their suspension in reputation setting competition is more than enough for me to feel confident I’m running the best!
For the F31 project I chose their DDC Coilover kit and they are a home run! They are similar to V3 in construction, but instead of the adjustable dials for stiffness they plug directly into the OEM Dampening Control modules. Now I control my ride stiffness through the cockpit rocker switch and they feel nearly as comfortable as stock in comfort mode! In sport mode, you can immediately tell the difference in feedback and stiffness when paired with my Michelin PS4S. This suspension transforms my sporty commuter to a capable road coarse weapon!
Just like the suspension industry, the wheel industry is full of brands that all source their products from the same few manufacturers. One important distinction is the Department of Transportation (DOT) does not require aftermarket wheel brands to adhere to DOT standards, meaning a large majority of aftermarket wheels do not meet federal safety standards that OE manufacturers are held to. HRE Stands out because they not only have their own facility and mills for their forged wheels, but they also have chosen to ensure all of their designs meet DOT standards but also stringent European TUV standards as well.
That said, I couldn’t afford a $10k set of bespoke forged HREs for the wagon, so I chose their entry-level line of flow form products, the 20″ FF04s. Flow forming is a type of casting and just like with their forged line, HRE Flow Form Wheels adhere to all the safety regulation, but are mass produced in Japan and imported. HRE is also known for their wide palette of colors available for their wheels. For these FF04s, I chose a finish called ‘Stone Gold’ which has granite like appearance to it with a very complex texture, don’t ask me how they do it but it looks really cool! The wheels come with model specific aggressive offset that is perfected for the F3X with no need for spacers and no worry of fender contact.
When you look for the ‘best’ Ultra High Performance tire the search is short. Since its release in winter 2016, the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S has won every empirical test it has entered. Just like with my ///M cars, I chose to run Michelins because they are simply the best in nearly every category; well worth the extra premium which has actually become a much smaller gap from the leading competitors lately. The wider FF04s enabled me to fit 235/35/20 in front and 275/30/20 in rear. The increased contact along with UHP compound provides a dramatic improvement over the stock all-seasons (which I will still put on when snow is in the forecast). Best of all, the PS4S compliment and further amplify the application of more power, better braking, and improved suspension.
The touring design has always intrigued me and I’m happy that when life changes suspended my M car days I was able to finally try one out. The wagon is indeed a compromise, but it fits perfectly into my needs as a cool, unique, and versatile daily driver. With the carefully selected modifications to appearance and performance, the Smash Wagon has gotten much closer to a 5-door version of my previous M3s. My history of BMW ownership has been an interesting evolution from tweaked out 335i to two unique individual color M3s with all the name brand parts now culminating in a fun OEM ++ family workhorse with refined modifications. The Smash Wagon is proof that regardless of your life circumstances, there will always be a BMW model that can fit into your current definition of an ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ — Curt Wilson