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BMW Coilover Buyer's Guide

There is a large amount of information online about which coilovers are ideal to improve your BMW’s handling. However, we have encountered several misconceptions surrounding which coilovers are ‘best.’ Through years of experience, we have perfected our suspension for both street and track. We would like to provide a technical rundown of the coilovers we have found to be optimal for your BMW. We will address the three main fallacies tuners believe: that ‘expensive means best,’ ‘stiff equals fast,’ and ‘lower equals faster.’ Let’s examine exactly how your suspension functions and show you why these are the coilovers we recommend for your driving style.


Page Index:
1. What do Coilovers do?
2. Three Main Fallacies
3. Turner Recommends for Daily Driven BMWs
4. Turner Recommends for Street/Track BMWs
5. Turner Recommends for Race/Track Only BMWs





What do coilovers do?


The real purpose of upgrading your suspension is to maximize your tire’s contact with the road. If your suspension is too soft, weight transitions in cornering reduce your tire’s contact with the road. This reduces your traction and performance. Inversely, if your suspension is too stiff for the tires, you can cause the car to slide. This is because the tire pressure, size, and compound were not capable of withstanding the stiffer suspension. To properly dial in your suspension for the track, adjustability is key. For the street, look for something designed with fixed damping and spring rates that match factory specifications.


The Anatomy of Coilovers
Spring Rate Explained

The spring rate is the amount of energy in terms of weight it takes to compress the spring by 1 inch. A higher spring rate is stiffer and takes more energy to compress. A lower spring rate allows for lots of wheel travel, but will not take much to fully compress, relatively speaking. Spring rates should be softer on road cars and stiffer on track cars. The reason is simple: the camber angle of the suspension directly relates to the necessary spring rate. You will want stiffer spring rates compared to factory springs for lowered vehicles with more negative camber, but you will not want to over-stress your tires with springs that are too stiff. Spring rates for the track need to keep the lowered suspension from traveling too far upwards, resist change in geometry through corners, and need to be matched with the tire compound and weight of the vehicle for optimal results.

Damper Compression Explained

The damper compression is the travel of the piston as the shock/strut is ‘squeezed’ closed. Fluid channels allow for the transfer of the internal fluid to be regulated at a certain speed and force that determines the shock rate as it is compressed. The stiffer the compression setting, the more difficult it is to compress the damper. This is important in performance vehicles, especially those that see track time. The damper will not allow the suspension to compress too quickly and will keep the tires on the pavement. On road cars, because of uneven surfaces, a softer damper setting will improve ride comfort and will allow the suspension to travel enough that the bumps are absorbed, while still being stiff enough to prevent excessive weight transfer.


Importance of Rebound

The rebound is how quickly the damper decompresses and returns to its resting position. The faster the shock can rebound, the more time it will keep tires in contact with the ground. On road cars, this becomes incredibly uncomfortable as your rebound speed increases, and can hurt performance without proper tires.





Three Main Fallacies

Stiffer Doesn't Equal Fast

You will want to choose your suspension based on what kind of tire compound you will be using. Street tires will not be able to handle an extremely stiff suspension and R compound tires or Race tires perform poorly with soft suspension. The stiffness of your suspension needs to directly correlate with where you are driving, which tires you are using, and how low your ride height is set. While many believe the ride quality is from your springs, the damping force of your struts and shocks actually determines ride comfort. The ability to control body roll for racing and to account for shorter suspension travel with high spring rates is important in race cars, but not necessary in road-going vehicles.

For example, if you are taking your car to the "Tail of the Dragon," your tire compound choice will heavily affect how stiff you will want your suspension. The weight transfer around corners needs to be minimized by stiffer suspension, but still needs to have enough give to maintain contact with the road over changing surface conditions like potholes. Figuring out exactly how to balance the damping force is something you will need to do by feel. It will ideally need to prevent heavy weight transfers under braking, acceleration, and hard cornering.


Lower Doesn't Equal Better

Lowering your vehicle does change the center of gravity, the roll center, and provides an aerodynamic advantage. Some street drivers do like the responsive feedback from that go-kart dynamic, but the importance of suspension travel and optimal function is something drivers should not ignore. You must account for your suspension travel and allow it to absorb high-speed and low-speed bumps. The springs function by absorbing the energy of a bump and using that energy to push the tire back down to its 'at rest' height. This is where spring rates and ride height meet. You will want to keep your suspension from traveling too far, but do not want your spring rates so stiff that there is no travel at all.

Having your suspension stiffness adjusted to the track conditions will keep your suspension arms parallel to the ground and allow you to maintain proper suspension geometry through corners. The suspension travel and position is what will give you the most traction and will force the tire into contact with the ground when the load shifts. Over lowering your vehicle actually reduces traction: some drivers compensate for the extreme ride height by increasing the stiffness of the spring rates. As we covered, this reduces the overall suspension performance outside of track conditions and aggressive tires.


Expensive Doesn't Equal Best

Setting up the perfect suspension for your BMW does not need to include the most exotic coilover set on the market. If you use your car as a daily driver, you will not see benefits in top-shelf suspension. For a street car, you should lower the vehicle for a precise ride height that looks the way you want, maintains the recommended spring rates for your suspension travel, and provides optimal compression/rebound. Plenty of our suggestions are lower cost and better suited to provide the best performance possible for your BMW.





Turner Recommends for Daily Driven BMWs

BILSTEIN Coilovers

The BILSTEIN PSS height adjustable coilovers offer fixed damping and optimal spring rates for your BMW, which allows you to fine-tune your ride height for looks without sacrificing performance on the street. Remember, the idea is to keep the tire in contact with the ground, not to slam your BMW to the pavement. These are a time-tested design with extensive development to provide a true suspension upgrade that offer excellent ride quality. These are an excellent option to choose if you want a comfortable and properly balanced suspension setup for street driving that are specifically designed for your BMW's weight.


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KW Coilovers

The KW Variant 1 'INOX' coilovers offer a fixed damping, height-adjustable, quality solution to provide the driving dynamics and ride height that you desire. These are a great set of coilovers for anyone looking to fit a balanced suspension to their BMW who does not intend to take it to the track or autoX.


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ST Coilovers

Alternatively to the Variant 1 coilovers, ST Suspension partnered with KW to produce a Zinc-coated version of the Variant 1 fixed damping coilover systems. The Zinc coating is less expensive but equally durable than the stainless steel housings used in the Variant 1 coilovers. This makes the ST Coilover Kit a low cost and highly effective choice for a cosmetic upgrade.


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Turner Recommends for Street/Track BMWs

BILSTEIN Coilovers

BILSTEIN PSS9/PSS10 adjustable damping coilovers provide an excellent crossover for someone who takes their BMW to the track but also enjoys driving it on the road. The adjustable damping allows you to maximize the comfort and ride quality for street driving or stiffen your suspension for use with Race compound or R compound tires. The adjustable damping is incredibly important to give you the precision needed to optimize suspension function on the track.


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KW Coilovers

The KW Variant 2 and Variant 3 coilovers are more aggressive and offer adjustable Rebound independently of Compression. You are able to take advantage of sixteen settings of Rebound to dial in the precise driving dynamics you are trying to achieve. The KW Variant 2 and Variant 3 coilovers give you a blend of comfort settings and performance settings, making them excellent crossover choices. The precision given to drivers with these adjustable coilovers allows you versatility in which tires you are choosing and where you are driving your BMW.


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Fortune Auto Coilovers

Fortune Auto coilovers are custom-built for your BMW. Their fully buildable design and affordability make Fortune Auto one of the most widely used competitive track suspension.

The Fortune Auto 500-series are perfect for a daily driven BMW that might see some track or competition use. They are fully upgradeable and feature bespoke rates and settings for each set. The 500-series includes camber plates, pillow ball mounts, and a huge range of adjustability in damper force. These coilovers will give you a perfect ride to the track while allowing you to be competitive with your lap times.

Anyone looking to Fortune Auto for a truly competitive suspension setup capable of street driving should alternatively consider the 510-series Generation 5. The 24-way adjustable rebound, beefier piston shafts, single adjustable mono-tube dampers, and tons of customizable options.


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TC Kline Coilovers

Arguably the widest range of uses, TC Kline Racing Double Adjustable Coilovers feature easily interchangeable springs for different rates without affecting ride height. This alone makes them incredibly popular among people driving their BMW to the track and then racing it competitively. The Monoball shock mounts, camber plates, and Koni dampers with adjustable compression and rebound allow drivers to compensate for nearly every condition. Their coilovers are not only highly adjustable and precisely developed for BMWs, but they are also easy to adjust with minimal effort.

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Turner Recommends for Race/Track Only BMWs

AST Coilovers

For the highest-quality crossover BMW coilovers, AST provides the 5000 Series coilovers. These race-proven, inverted shock absorber, high-pressure gas shocks offer some of the largest displacement and noticeable damper sensitivity on the market. Your precise needs for street and track driving meet with fully upgradable and modular coilovers. The addition of an external reservoir, spherical lower mounts, spherical upper mount assemblies, and are able to be re-valved to create a precise system to handle adverse track conditions. These characteristics give you room to improve suspension as your needs change or you choose more aggressive tire compounds.


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MOTON Coilovers

The Moton Motorsport 3-Way Damping System is the absolute pinnacle of competitive racing suspension technology. We have used Moton suspension on our BMW E36 and BMW E46 SCCA cars, as well as a number of our club racing, builds for this reason. Their adjustable damping with 15 positions for high-speed bump and 15 position rebound adjustment alone means you will have proper control over your suspension function. With the addition of 6-way low-speed bump adjustment, you can fine-tune your suspension for responsiveness and traction to achieve the perfect handling feel on the track. We encourage anyone looking for a strictly track setup to consider these coilovers.


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BILSTEIN Coilovers

The Clubsport Coilovers from BILSTEIN offer their years of expertise building damper solutions for your BMW. These coilovers are perfect for a car that spends its time on the track. With 10 levels of adjustability for compression and 10 for rebound, you have complete control over the feel and balance of your car. These coilover springs are easily interchangeable for optimal spring rates with your suspension geometry, and we keep several options on hand. We highly recommend these coilovers for anyone who enjoys a comfortable drive to the track with the ability to fine tune the suspension for blistering lap times.


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Fortune Auto Coilovers

The heaviest-hitter from Fortune Auto is their Dreadnought Pro Generation 5 series coilover. These ultra-precise BMW racing coilovers offer low and high-speed compression adjustment as well as the 24-way rebound adjustment with three-way independent adjustment for both settings. The external reservoir for added displacement allows for excellent temperature control as well as precision in tuning for the perfect ride and performance. These coilovers are an optimal choice for track newbies or veterans looking for an incredibly competent suspension setup for exclusively competitive use.


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Takeaways

The suspension companies listed above provide a wide range of coilovers for your street, street/track, or track BMW. The tailored functions give you precisely the perfect driving dynamic for your intended use. With the knowledge of how your coilovers should function, picking from any of the manufacturers listed becomes an easy task. Be sure to look for the proper coilovers designed for your driving style and be confident that you are taking full advantage of the handling capabilities found in your ultimate driving machine.

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