There are tons of aftermarket BMW E46 M3 wheels out there and if you’re in the market to buy you may consider things like brand, price, weight, etc., so we’re doing an article to review some of the popular E46 M3 wheel choices. Before we break down the wheels down to see which one has the best bang for buck, we’re going to explain the concept of weight in regards to rotational mass as that has a huge factor on track performance if that’s what you’re looking for. The brands we’ll be covering include Volk, BBS, CCW, Apex, HRE, VMR, Enkei, ESR, Gramlights and more. This article provides a basic insight into why strong lightweight wheels are highly desirable and yield such high prices. But first let’s dive into the basics of weight reduction and benefits.

Wheel Weight

There are different types of weights due to static, rotational forces, and spring dynamics. Each weight type will affect the car differently.

Sprung Weight

This is the total weight of all the parts on your car that is held up from your suspension such as engine, exhaust, body, and the interior of the car. Weight reduction is another way of “gaining” extra power. Simply put, less weight equals more power due to a lower weight:power ratio. This means that you will need less hp to drag the same amount of weight. You can very roughly estimate the amount of HP you have “gained” from weight reduction by using the equation in this article for sprung weights. Actual HP gain would likely be less than that value by 2-3% due to drivetrain and other losses here and there.

Unsprung Weight

This weight refers to the total weight that is not supported by the suspension such as the brakes, springs, shocks, links, axle, wheels and tires. Unsprung weight is important because the driving feel of the car is directly correlated with it. Driving feel refers to the feedback and accuracy from the wheels to the driver’s senses. The effectiveness of the suspension is dependent on the unsprung weight – less unsprung weight means that the suspension is able to be more responsive and work more effectively.

Rotational Mass

This weight includes the rotational weight of the car which includes parts that rotate such as the wheel, clutch, flywheel, tires, and drive shafts. Rotational mass affects the car’s ability to accelerate and decelerate. The further away this rotational mass is from its axis point or center, the effects are compounded and multiplied because of the rotational forces. This multiplier is known as the unsprung/rotational mass to sprung mass conversion. The general consensus for the E46 M3 is around a 4:1 ratio up to a 20:1 ratio difference between rotational/unsprung weight versus sprung weight. This means for 1lb of unsprung/rotational mass reduced, you are effectively reducing 4 lbs to 20 lbs of sprung weight.

This means that you should first concentrate on reducing unsprung and rotational mass for immediate performance gains. Lightweight wheels are one of the easiest (and aesthetically pleasing) ways to significantly reduce both rotational mass and unsprung weight at the same time.

Durability

Lightweight, Durable, Affordable. You can only pick two. Many of us have bent or cracked a rim before either on a pothole on the streets or hooning the car on the track too hard. Unfortunately, wheel manufacturers cannot satisfy all three criterias without making a sacrifice in one.

There are three types of aluminum wheels: Cast, Flow Formed, or Forged from weakest to strongest. The weakness of a rim usually comes from the porosity or micro holes in the rim material, a strong rim will have the low amounts of porosity. These are the construction types of wheel manufacturing that are used to form and create the wheel.

Cast Steel

Steel rims are usually used in spare wheel setups but may be found in budget aftermarket rims. These are cheap economical rims that are meant to be used temporarily as they are neither durable or light as their alloy cousins. Usually, most spare steel rims are extremely heavy so narrow widths are provided from the factory. OEM manufacturers use steel rims as spares as a result of their cheap production cost.

  • Weight: Very heavy
  • Durability: Not very durable
  • Price: $
  • Repairability: Easy

Cast Aluminum

Cast wheels are ones where molten aluminum (A356) is poured into a mold to create shape and form. This type of wheel manufacturing is the most basic process that uses pressure or gravity to move the molten aluminum into a wheel mold. Most aluminum alloy wheels are cast – either by gravity, low pressure, or high pressure. Most OEM economy cars use low pressure casting for stock wheels and which is very appealing to manufacturers as it is relatively low cost however due to its porosity (air gaps between material) making it crack easier.

  • Weight: Heavy
  • Durability: Medium
  • Price: $
  • Repairability: Easy

Flow Formed Aluminum

Flow Formed wheels are ones that are formed by both casting and pressure. The material used is the same as cast (A356 aluminum). This category includes rotary forged, liquid forming, spun rim, roto forged, flow forming, rim rolling, and free flow formed. In the manufacturing process, the wheel begins with low pressure casting to create the face. From there, a rolling forming machine is used to spin the wheel and heat the outer edge while applying steel rollers against the rim to form the shape and width. Alternatively to low pressure casting, higher pressure casting is possible through liquid pressure between 3000-5000 tons. The aim of applying pressure to the aluminum is to compact the material denser in order to reduce porosity and decrease the risk of the wheel cracking.

The heat, pressure and spinning simulates a forged process and results in a wheel with the strength of nearly a forged rim at a fraction of the cost. However, it is not a true forged process resulting in heavier and weaker structure than a fully forged rim. These wheels are commonly produced by high end sport car manufactures and high performance editions. Weight can be significantly reduced by Flow Forming technology as you will need less material to have the same strength due to structural rigidity compared to a cast wheel. Each wheel manufacture will have special variants of flow forming with their own concepts, but the main concept is the same among manufacturers.

  • Weight: Moderate
  • Durability: Medium
  • Price: $$
  • Repairability: Medium

Forged Aluminum

Forging is the process of applying thermal and mechanical energy to the metal’s internal structure – which deforms to the shape of the wheel. Forged wheels start out as a single piece of aircraft grade 6061 aluminum, which is then forged with a 10,000 ton press (one of the highest in the world) to give the wheel its shape, structural strength, and other beneficial properties. In short, a wheel manufactured with more pressure means it is stronger. The end product is one with improved durability and structural strength compared to a similarly cast version with less material, making it extremely light.

This method of manufacturing was passed down by F1 technology and research. Forged wheels are the best wheels for racers, but the immense tooling and machinery costs to manufacture these are the worst on wallets. As a result, only a handful of companies have the skill set, technology, and machines to produce these wheels. Like we learned in high school economics class, low supply and high demand calls for high prices.

  • Weight: Light
  • Durability: Excellent
  • Price: $$$
  • Repairability: Difficult

Forged Magnesium

Currently used in F1, magnesium material is used in order to save about 33% more weight over using aluminum. The density of magnesium is 1.78 g/cm3, this is 1.5x lower than aluminum and lower than steel by factor of 4.4x. However, magnesium strength is equivalent with aluminum and slightly less than steel. The true benefit of magnesium wheels is the inherent benefit of vibration dampening properties of magnesium and weight saving. Magnesium absorbs shocks or vibrations better than aluminum by over 100x and steel by 23x. This results in significant reduction of spring forces transferred to the suspension. Special care must be made when using magnesium as a material, only special forged processes will produce a strong enough wheel that will cope with demands of F1 racing also resulting in an very, very expensive rim. Such forging processes are secretive among the manufacturers. Common misconception is with the flammability of magnesium, this is mostly negated with the use of alloys. A notable downside is the rim’s weakness to corrosion which the industry have mostly resolved with surface treatment technology.

  • Weight: Extremely light
  • Durability: Great durability
  • Price: $$$$
  • Repairability: Extremely difficult

Carbon Fiber Woven

This is a newer technology so most of this process is a closely guarded secret by the very few manufacturers that have been involved in research and development. There are several different ways to produce carbon fiber wheels and companies are researching the strongest way and cheapest way to mass produce these wheels. Most carbon fiber wheels are used in hyper car manufacturers such as Koenigsegg. Carbon fiber wheels are about 20% lighter and stronger than forged wheels. These wheels however are one of the most expensive to purchase on the market.

  • Weight: Extremely light
  • Durability: Excellent durability
  • Price: $$$$
  • Repairability: Extremely difficult

Affordability

Below is a chart that ranks price per lb of weight saving per wheel separated by wheel tier with tier 1 being the premium manufacturers. We have used the standard M67 E46 M3 18” rear wheel as a benchmark for further weight savings. We have chosen popular consumer wheels that are between 18×9 to 18×10 which is considered optimal track wheel setup for the E46 M3. We used the conservative ratio of 6:1 for the conversion from rotational/unsprung weight to sprung weight. According to various sources, the rotational/unsprung weight to sprung weight can vary from 5x to 10x. The comparison should scale to other sizes as well.

  • A lower $ amount means that a lower dollar amount was paid per lb saved.
  • A higher $ amount means that higher dollar amount was paid per lb saved.

Tier 1 Wheels

ManufactureRim MethodSizeWidthWeight (lbs)$/Wheellbs Saved Static lbs Saved*Price per lb Saved
Titan7T-S5Forged189.518.3$5258.5451.24$10.25
Titan7T-R10Forged189.518.7$5258.1448.84$10.25
Titan7T-S5Forged181018.3$5358.5451.24$10.44
BimmerWorldTA16Forged181018.95$4997.8947.34$10.54
Titan7T-R10Forged1810.519.5$5357.3444.04$12.15
Apex ARC-8RForged189.519.10$5957.7446.44$12.81
AdvanRZ-DF RacingForged18918.3$7008.5451.24$13.66
VolkTE37SLForged189.518$753.358.8453.04$14.20
BBSRS-GTForged181022$4204.8429.04$14.46
BBSRG-RForged189.519.4$6507.4444.64$14.56
BC ForgedRZ39Forged181019.4$6507.4444.64$14.56
VolkTE37Forged18917.7$8009.1454.84$14.58
VolkTE37RTForged189.518$784.998.8453.04$14.78
ApexEC-7RForged181019.85$6206.9941.94$14.78
ApexARC-8R Forged181020.2$6006.6439.84$15.06
VolkG2Forged18917.8$8219.0454.24$15.13
BBSRFForged18918.50$760.008.3450.04$15.19
BBSRG-RForged181019.8$6507.0442.24$15.38
VolkZE40Forged189.518.1$826.58.7452.44$15.76
VolkTE37Forged189.518.5$8008.3450.04$15.98
VolkCE28NForged189.518.2$8508.6451.84$16.40
Apex EC-7RForged189.520.6$6156.2437.44$16,43
Advan GTForged189.519$8037.8447.04$17.07
VolkTE37Forged181019$8127.8447.04$17.26
BBS REForged189.521.3$7005.5433.24$21.05
CCWLM20Forged18921$7855.8435.04$22.40
BBSREForged181021.8$7005.0430.24$23.14
CCWClassicForged181021$8175.8435.04$23.31
BBSRGRForged181021.2$8055.6433.84$23.78
BBSRS-GTForged189.521.1$9005.7434.44$26.13
VolkMagForged Mg189.517.2$17009.6457.84$29.39
WorkMeister S1Semi-Forged189.522.9$7703.9423.64$32.57
BBS RE-MgForged Mg189.516.7$215010.1460.84$35.33
Dymag MotorsportCarbon Fiber18914$237512.8477.04$30.82
BBSDTMForged189.521.8$1199.645.0430.24$39.67
BBSLMSemi-Forged189.523.30$9603.5421.24$45.20

Tier 2 Wheels

ManufactureRim MethodSizeWidthWeight (lbs)$/Wheellbs Saved Static lbs Saved*Price per lb Saved
ESRRF2Flow18920$247.256.8441.04$6.02
ApexARC8 (ET35)Flow189.518.84$3148.0048.00$6.54
ApexARC8 (ET22)Flow189.519.2$3247.6445.84$7.06
EnkeiRaijinFlow189.521.2$2405.6433.84$7.09
ForgestarF14Flow189.518.4$4008.4450.64$7.89
ForgestarF14Flow181018.4$4008.4450.64$7.89
SSRType-CFlow189.517.7$4419.1454.84$8.04
ESRRF2Flow189.520$3496.8441.04$8.50
BBSCHRFlow188.523$2003.8423.04$8.68
EnkeiNT03+MFlow181020.5$337.56.3438.04$8.87
Vorsteiner VFF-103Flow189.519.50$423.757.3444.04$9.62
ApexPS-7Flow189.521.5$3195.3432.04$9.95
ApexFL-5Flow189.520$4096.8441.04$9.96
ApexSM-10Flow189.520.3$4096.5439.24$10.42
ApexEC-7Flow189.521.75$3195.0930.54$10.44
Gramlights57CRFlow189.520.1$4286.7440.44$10.58
HREFF15Flow18919$5757.8447.04$12.22
AdvanRSIIFlow189.518.4$6208.4450.64$12.24
BBSSuper-RSFlow181022.7$3134.1424.84$12.60
EnkeiRS05RRFlow189.519.81$6007.0342.18$14.22
WorkWork Meister S2RFlow18922.3$4254.5427.24$15.60
AdvanTC3Flow189.520.4$639.756.4438.64$16.55
AdvanRGDFlow189.520.4$6466.4438.64$16.71
VMRV702Flow189.524$2892.8417.04$16.96
EnkeiNT03RRFlow189.521.51$5405.3331.98$16.89
HRE547Flow181023$4003.8423.04$17.36
HRE445Flow181020.4$7006.4438.64$18.11
Dinan/BMWFiskeFlow18918$10008.8453.04$18.85
FikseFM-10Flow189.520.9$7505.9435.64$21.04
BMW/BBSMotorSportFlow181022.8$6004.0424.24$24.75
HardMotorSportSTW Center LockFlow189.524.5$4002.3414.04$28.49
HRE 447Flow181025.3$3751.549.24$40.58
BBSLMFlow189.523.3$939.993.5421.24$44.25
HRE540Flow181026$292.50.845.04$58.03
BBS RS IIFlow181025.4$9001.448.64$104.16

Tier 3 Wheels

ManufactureRim MethodSizeWidthWeight (lbs)$/Wheellbs Saved Static lbs Saved*$/lb Saved
TRMotorsportC4Cast189.522.05$1654.7928.74$5.74
D-ForceLTW5Cast189.518.4$2998.4450.64$5.90
Enkei RP-F1 consumerCast189.517.2$3699.6457.84$6.37
AdvanRSCast18917.7$3989.1454.84$7.25
TRMotorsportMT1Cast181020$3146.8441.04$7.65
OZAlleggerita HLTCast18919.6$3397.2443.44$7.80
AdvanRacing TC IICast189.517.5$5009.3456.04$8.92
BBSBBS RCCast181019.5$4007.3444.04$9.08
OZUltraleggeraCast18920.8$3736.0436.24$10.29
Racing Hart C2Cast181024$2752.8417.04$16.13
AdvanRGCast18919$7607.8447.04$16.15
OZVelaCast18925.3$1651.549.24$17.85
OZChallengeCast189.524$4492.8417.04$26.34
VMRVB3Cast189.524.4$443.752.4414.64$30.31
EnkeiRZ-5Cast189.526$1810.845.04$35.91
WorkVS-XXCast181026$7000.845.04$138.88
BBSRW IICast181026.3$6500.543.24$200.61

*We used the conservative ratio of 6:1 for the conversion from rotational/unsprung weight to sprung weight.

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