The Modern, Family Friendly Turbo Charged Terror

Photo of BMW E90 with Kris Looney and children.

By Rob Anthony with Photographs by Christina Anthony

BMW’s first production turbocharged car, the 2002 turbo, was introduced in 1973. The car was notorious for its “Jekyll & Hyde” personality, with turbo power coming on hard and fast once the single turbo charger’s boost kicked in. Despite most 2002 turbos being painted in the relatively tame hues of Chamonix (white) and Polaris (silver), they featured aggressive styling, including optional motorsports stripes to establish dominance on the autobahn.

Production of 2002 turbos was ultimately short-lived, and it would take another 30 years for a production turbocharged BMW to reach North America. Introduced in 2006 with the E90 3-series platform, the twin-turbo N54 6-cylinder engine brought BMW turbo technology to the masses. And what an engine it was, producing 300 ft-lb of torque and 300 horsepower.

But what if that isn’t enough?

“It’s pushing 400 horsepower and 430 ft-lb of torque on standard gas, more if I can find E85,” Kris Looney calmly states as he stands next to his 2009 335i sedan on a beautiful late fall afternoon in Albuquerque, New Mexico, flanked by his sons Clayton (8) and Mateo (6).

Although Kris’s white E90 wears the same color as many 2002 turbos, the understated nature of the modern sedan represents a dichotomy between the two cars. Only 19” wheels sourced from an E90 M3 hint at this car’s potential, even to the trained eye. A pair of car seats in the back further add to the contradiction.

“It’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” laughs Kris.

Kris explains that in 2015, he specifically sought out a LCI (post 2009) E90 with the N54 engine due to the combination of stealth and the ability to tune the engine to extraordinary power with relatively minimal modifications.

“Within two months, I was running MHD software. Then I began adding hardware upgrades such as a higher flow downpipes and a larger intercooler to get even more power gains,” explains Kris. “I had to source a coolant expansion tank from a 335d to move it over to the other side of the engine bay to create room for my freer flowing intakes and a new charge pipe to make it all fit.” Kris described being the ‘go to’ guy for helping other N54 owners modify and tune their cars in Albuquerque for a period, offering assistance with coding and injector upgrades.

After discussing the car and snapping some photos in front of one of the Duke City’s many murals, Kris handed me the keys, and we headed out on I-25. Cruising along with traffic, the car was content in “Dr. Jekyll mode,” offering a smooth ride and all of the creature comforts you would expect from a luxury sedan.

“You’re not driving it hard enough!” goaded Kris. So, I strategically waited for an open section of freeway and unleashed Mr. Hyde with my right foot. I will admit I was not prepared for what transpired next.

You know that amazing scene from Star Wars “A New Hope,” when Han Solo first makes the Millennium Falcon jump to lightspeed and the stars sort of distort into lines? It was like that, only the stars were billboards and traffic signs as we raced by. I giggled uncontrollably and quickly backed out of it before I risked jeopardizing my license. “This car is fast!”

After swapping seats, Kris gave me a spirited drive back to where our wives and his kids were waiting. “Do you want to ride with me or with your dad?” asked Andrea, Kris’s wife. “With Daddy, we love his car!” chimed the boys, and with that, they were off to Taekwondo practice.

Kris’s E90, in my opinion, rebukes the oft-repeated claim made by many (myself included) old-school BMW enthusiasts: “modern BMWs have lost their soul.” When discussing this subject with like-minded enthusiasts, we all seem to agree that a car’s “soul” refers to the emotional connection we make with the car through its tactile responses to our driving inputs, our ability to customize these sensations to our own desires and caring for the car’s needs. The BMW 2002 was brimming with “soul,” leading to the formation of the BMW Car Club of America as a way for passionate 2002 owners to engage and build community.

Today, in his own garage and community, Kris maintains and has transformed his modern, turbocharged BMW into an absolute monster that is full of tactile sensations as he passes his passion on to the next generation of BMW enthusiasts.

Phot of BMW E90 N54 six cylinder
Chris Looney’s 2009 BMW 335i