Project E90 M3: Part 1 - ESS Tuning’s E-Flash ECU & Performance DCT Software

by Billy Johnson, photos by Brian Humphries

Unfortunately, when a motor is as well-engineered from the factory as the S65 in our E90 M3, it leaves little for the aftermarket to improve upon without spending big bucks building the motor or going forced induction. However, ESS Tuning has years of experience with BMWs and provided us with their E-Flash ECU Software as well as their Performance DCT Transmission software to squeeze out even more performance from an already highly-strung motor.


Our M3’s S65 4.0L V8 is a marvelous engine. Pumping out 414hp with an 8,300rpm redline, it’s in an elite company of cars that make over 100hp/L. But what makes the engine's figures impressive is also what makes it incredibly difficult to extract more power from. The M3’s naturally aspirated competitors have an extra 1-2L+ of displacement in order to make similar power. While less efficient, anything you can do to free up the intake and exhaust of those big motors yields significant power gains.

In order for the M3 to be competitive, the wizards at BMW’s M-division maxed out the motor from the factory with 8 individual throttle bodies, a massive intake plenum with a giant tube going to the air filter, and proper 4-1 equal length headers with spiked merge collectors. This means there’s really not much to be gained from intake or exhaust modifications, so we will have to look elsewhere for power.


ESS Tuning’s E-Flash software kit gives you the ability to switch between tuned and stock software, as well as read and clear OBD-II fault codes. The kit comes in this nice little box which includes a USB flash drive with the software that you upload to your computer, and the USB to OBD-II cable to connect to the car’s ECU. It’s amazing that a claimed 10-15whp comes in such a small package.

European Supercharging Systems  (ESS Tuning) was founded in 1995 in Aremark, Norway and is the world’s largest BMW supercharger system manufacturer. With facilities in Europe, Southern California and Phoenix, ESS spends countless hours on the dyno, road, and track testing all over the world to ensure that their products and software are of the highest caliber and enhance the performance of the car without compromising comfort, drivability, durability, emissions and fuel economy under all conditions. They even put their development cars through 50,000 mile long term track, extreme heat and cold, extended high-speed Autobahn, and normal everyday driving testing.


We baseline tested our bone stock 2009 E90 M3 DCT on a Dynojet 224xLC load-bearing dyno and put down a fairly typical SAE 337 whp and 241 lb/ft of torque.

We got our tuning kit and made a short trip just down the street from my home in Mooresville, NC to my buddies at Roush Yates Performance. As some of you might know, I drove for Roush in the Grand-Am Continental Tires series for 4 years and our #61 Mustang GS racecar has been on their Dynojet 224xLC series load-testing dynamometer many times, as well as countless NASCAR Trucks, NW, and Sprint Cup cars. This loading-dynamometer is similar to the more conservative reading Mustang dynos and my own E36 M3 read exactly the same output on this Dynojet 224xLC as it did on a Mustang 1100SE on the same day. For good measure, Roush Yates also has a Dynojet 248 sitting right next to the 224xLC.

Strapped down to the Dyno and after a few runs, our E90 M3 pumped out an average of 337whp @ 8,200rpm 241 lb/ft of torque @ 3,900rpm. We dyno’d our 7-speed DCT transmission in 5th gear. Despite 7th gear having a 1:1 ratio its final drive would have the rollers spinning too fast so 4th and 5th gears are typically used in DCT equipped cars.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014 7:46 AM
Amazing gains from a tune.

Not in favour of the test pipes on a street car, but who needs the environment right?

Sorry for the Canadian "ou" spelling.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014 2:59 PM
The secondary cats will remain. Stay tuned for Part-2!

With the secondary cats in place, the car really does not produce any smells.

And as far as the environment goes, greenhouse gases from energy production is TWICE that from total transportation (and airplanes pollute a ton) and forestry, agriculture and industry are all bigger contributors of GHG's. Leave cars alone and go bug farmers, lumberjacks, industrial workers, and cows.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014 3:31 PM
Nice bang for your buck...I've been eyeing E90's for a while and I've heard good reviews w/ the same upgrades from ESS for the E60...you gotta love the HP you're able to unleash w/ BMW's...Curious how good the software upgrade is for the E60's SMG...

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 7:45 PM
E9Xs are great cars and their DCT (as well as those in all the new BMWs) are excellent. I really like the E60 and the extra 2 cylinders and ~90hp is awesome, but the single-clutch SMG is not quite as good in terms of speed and smoothness as a DCT.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014 9:02 PM
That's a nice power gain from an off-site email tune. I think I've seen that car around town, there aren't a lot of white M sedans in the area...
Thursday, February 06, 2014 9:22 AM
Sure, lots of things pollute. I don't see how that is an excuse to create more yourself.

Just my $.02. I know lots of people remove their cats to get a couple hp and it's a drop in the pollution pool. Seems like a bad idea to post your intent to do that on a publicly accessible site. Bad PR for us enthusiasts.

Anyways, it's a good discussion topic but maybe this is not the forum for it. Nice car and looking forward to more. It would be great if you can get a video of the new shift programming in action.
Thursday, February 06, 2014 1:05 PM
How is it bad PR when there are a ton of states (including the one where Project E90 resides) that do not have emissions testing and cat deletes are legal?

There are far more effective ways to help save the environment than to get upset over a project car build on an online performance car/enthusiast website.

To paraphrase the great Ron White "I'm eating the cows, what are you doing to help the environment?"
Thursday, February 06, 2014 1:44 PM
Yeh, I know we're talking apples and oranges w/ DCT vs SMG, but I kind of need the space w/ the family...interested in how much crisper the shifts get w/ ESS E60's software, etc...we'll see, the DCT is definitely more appealing, though I'm leaning toward n/a bigger HP, I may wait a bit for the F80...

Btw, how was that Corsa machine? And unlucky w/ those yellows in Conti, wonder where you end up w/ a little more top end...
Thursday, February 06, 2014 1:46 PM
People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but this conversation reminded me of a quote from our beloved Dave Coleman.

"I am a mammal, and as such, I'm smart enough not to shit on my own dinner plate, or to poison my own air. Well, at least not any more than is absolutely necessary to keep myself entertained. So this engine will breathe through a cat."
Friday, February 07, 2014 6:30 AM
@urbanjacup - Have you sat in an E90? They're as big as a E39 5-series! I drove a E60 M5 for about two months and loved the car, but the craps-shoot of getting one with electrical gremlins steered me away.

F80 should be awesome. There are a lot of things I like and dislike about the interior compared to the E90, but I can't quite accept the arbitrary ipad sticking out of the dash screen that everyone seems to be going to these days. Can't argue with the torque out of the new M3.
Saturday, February 08, 2014 1:45 PM
Glad to see this project. I'll be needing to ditch my S2000 for a more practical 4-door sports sedan in the not too distant future. So I'm paying close attention to both the used E90 market and waiting with bated breath for F80 reviews and availability to test drive.

One more thing, and I hate that I care about this so much, but those factory wheels ruin the car for me visually. Style 359 competition package wheels should have come standard on every single one of these fantastic cars.
Sunday, February 09, 2014 7:00 AM
E90s are deceivingly big, but I could not agree more w/ reasons not to get an E60 M5...honestly, think there has always been more cons, ironically another article pops up describing this, despite the theme: http://becausecar.kinja.com/the-e60-bmw-m5-was-the-last-four-door-supercar-1448937181/@ballaban

Almost bought an E46 comp, put off the E90/92 and the F80 are going to be a wait and see (love the exterior, CBFR now w/ 4 door)...coming from a turbo app that's not going anywhere, a n/a V8 is really what my heart desires... @ LJD, +1, 2011+ E90 comp pack is at the top of my list...

Looking forward to your updates...
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