Whilst almost every BMW i3 will spend its life being serviced by the dealer, there are times when you might like to make changes that are not on the factory parts list and BMW’s are a popular choice for aftermarket performance enhancements. We investigate making changes to our 2014 BMW i3 and in the process discover a world beyond the dealer that makes us rethink how cars are serviced and why you should too.
As you might know, the Transport Evolved writers fleet includes a 2014 BMW i3 owned by the intrepid ElectraGirl. It comes from the factory as an accomplished car with sound handling and a good balance between long-range comfort and zippy back-roads fun. However, we sought to shift that balance more towards the back-road fun end of the spectrum and selected an aftermarket spring lowering kit that features a firmer, more sporty ride along with a lower, more aggressive look.
To carry out the upgrade, we contacted our local BMW Performance Specialist – Redline Speed Worx of Greenbrook, New Jersey.
As an aside, anyone who’s watched the Fast and Furious movies might associate after-market upgrades with the tuner crowd; NOx, boost pressure and other assorted technical terms. Well, so did we however, as it turns out, shops like Redline Speed Worx are perfectly approachable and, very helpful and knowledgable. No question was a dumb question. But, back to the story…
We reached out to Redline Speed Worx to talk about what we wanted to do. We were greeted by a small team of experienced and enthusiastic mechanics who were keen to take a look at the i3 and explore the possibilities. We had already settled on a set of H&R springs for the BMW i3 and decided to investigate the suspension alignment at the same time. As you know, we’re no fans of the irritating ‘Whub-Whub’ noise generated by the tires on the i3 so, decided to explore sacrificing some of the cars steering feel for a more efficient, set up that might reduce the effect and, potentially, increase the efficiency and reduce tire wear at the same time. For those unfamiliar with the concepts of steering set up, it’s usual for manufacturers to angle the front wheel in or out a little, in the form of a ‘V’ to create a positive tension on the wheels as you drive. This gives the car a greater sense of stability at the expense of tire wear and a little reduced efficiency. Dialing this out reverses this and, to be honest, we don’t know what the result will be so, well, here goes…
We arrived at the facility on a crisp New jersey November morning and parked up the car whilst we went in to discuss the changes with JR Martorano, one of the owners. The facility is superbly presented, a quick tour took me around the pristine workshop, kitted out with the latest and most sophisticated equipment from simple tire service through the zero-height alignment bay, to the welding and fabrication tooling where the team can fabricate bespoke parts as needed – these guys will take on seemingly any work from basic servicing to custom engine swaps and tuning. All with a real warranty.
Whilst I set up for the morning in their conference room, coffee at hand, they got on with the work. From time-to-time they invited me in to view the progress and snap some pictures for the album.
Talking to John Miller, previously with Porsche, I got a clear sense that they knew their stuff, took pride in their work and had an eye on the future. They’ve not seen many EVs yet but know and welcome that they’re coming, even commenting on further options that I might consider to reduce weight and hence improve performance on the i3.
Prior to the work, I took some measurements. The i3 has a ground clearance of 140mm (5.5″) and sits with the top of the wheel arch at 737mm (29″) from the ground at the front, 754mm (29.7″) at the rear. The gap between the tire and the arch is about 65mm front, 70mm rear.
After the upgrade, the car was lowered by 28mm (1.1″) at the front and 20mm (0.8″) at the back. Ground clearance is down to 112mm (4.4″) at the front – still plenty to cope with NJ roads and speed humps!
The four-wheel alignment threw up some surprises – four wheels all pointing in different directions! We decided to normalize them and bring the alignment into a consistent light toe in. We’ll experiment more in a future alignment after the springs settle in.
Visually, the car takes on a forward leaning pitch with the clearance between the tire and arch at the front now 1″ less. However, the biggest surprise comes when you get into the drivers seat – you have to remind yourself that it’s only a one-inch drop – the impression is significantly more.
On the road, the change is evident in the feel of the car. The change in alignment has reduced the cars almost positive desire to turn in, but the biggest change is the lowering of the center of gravity. Whilst previously low, it’s now an inch closer to the road and this shows in cornering. Even at low speeds, it feels yet more planted but, apply some speed and turn in and, it’s fast, flat and fun – what a difference an inch can make! to quote EG. Really push it hard and the car can be thrown into a wonderfully flat, balanced slide that delivers an ear-to-ear grin. The next upgrade might need to be bolder seat bolsters.
Redline Speed Worx
The biggest discovery made during this experiment was Redline Speed Worx – a group of enthusiastic mechanics able to take on any work but, most importantly a group that gave me the feeling that they’d really take care to ensure that the work was done well and that the result worked… This has, sadly, not been my experience at most of the shops that I’ve used so far. To be fair, not all are bad but, I do get a sense that here, we’re dealing with people that can diagnose and repair rather than read-the-machine and replace.
Why does it matter?
As we move towards a world of software driven cars (quite literally) we run the risk of falling into a trap where we let the manufacturers and dealers be the only option when it comes to servicing. At the same time, as cars need less and less basic maintenance, we will have more time and money available to customize and enhance our cars to match our desires and personality. Outfits like Redline Speed Worx allow us to indulge that opportunity and so, we should encourage and support them whenever we can.
The bottom line
The cost of the work was:
- $280 Spring kit
- $640 Specialist installation and alignment
- $1h Time spent figuring it out
Money well spent for an enhanced BMW i3 that now has all four wheel pointing the same way!
Are you tempted to explore some suspension updates or a new wheel & tire combo to change the look of your car?
Note: All costs for this project were born by the author.
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