Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: July 12, 2016
As summer sixteen heats up, Canadian Auto Review has been busy gearing up for some pretty sizzling cars. With all that work going on with vehicle reviews, we’ve been asked if we had forgotten about Project 1. Fear not, as we have been busy with our first update, something that transpired after a drive through some particularly nasty roads in downtown Toronto.
Those local to the city know that driving in the downtown core is far from ideal. Traffic is a nightmare, construction is everywhere, and the roads look like they haven’t seen maintenance since hailing a carriage was the norm.
After being tossed pretty much every way inside the Project 1’s cabin, I realized that the ride quality had diminished over the 80,000 kms since the car left the production line in Leipzig. Going over bumps felt harsher than before, and there was a lot of side-to-side jolt in the ride too. Thus, we got in touch with Neo Motorsport, a local aftermarket manufacturer that produces coilovers and big brake kits for various popular tuning platforms.
*Full disclaimer: we reached out to Neo Motorsport, and they provided us with a set of their Neo Motorsport Dynamic Purple Coilovers*
After outlining our goal to build a comfortable daily and a competent back roads dancer, we were assured that the Neo Motorsport Dynamic Purples were the right product for us. Thus the 135i happily crawled its way through the city traffic to Neo Motorsport’s HQ in Woodbridge, Ontario for a giant box of suspension goodies.
Funny story here, the assistant manager at Neo-Motorsport actually owns a 135i too! When asked if he was running their products, he informed me that the factory M-sport suspension was already too low for his daily-driver needs, rather quizzical considering the Dynamic Purples offer full height adjustability.
Nevertheless, in addition to full ride-height adjustability, our new set of coilovers feature all aluminum construction, a thicker 25mm diameter piston, and 32-way rebound damper adjustability. Rust won’t be an issue with these puppies, a significant bonus as most competitors at this price point offer galvanized steel housings.
The front struts are mated to a 20 cm spring rated at around 446 lb/in. Out back, a set of ~446 lb/in 22cm springs work with the rear dampers to smooth out bumps in the road. On paper, these Dynamic Purples certainly looked perfect for the first step in Project 1’s suspension over-haul. A word of caution though: as auto-journalists, we’ve grown accustomed to reading spec sheets with a bucket of salt.
This bucket turns into a mountain when you factor in their origin of manufacture. Hailing from the same factory in Taiwan as other brands like Megan Racing, Skunk2, and BC Racing, there exists a lot of chatter on the internet about their quality – and for the most part they are negative. One look at Neo-Motorsport’s social media page though and it is evident that the company has its roots in motorsports – after all, their tag line is “track proven”. Perhaps they can prove once and for all you that you can have quality at a fair price.
Let’s talk installation for a moment. We had our friends at Paradigm Performance Autos – a BMW specialty shop – assist in the install. Thanks to the 135i’s multi-link rear suspension design, swapping in the rear springs and struts were a cinch. We had the rear end all buttoned up within 40 minutes and I’ve got to say, the bright orange powder coat looked good inside the wheel well.
Fitting the fronts wasn’t all that difficult either. Bolting them into the strut tower was pretty standard and completed fairly quickly – the pre-constructed nature of the coilovers meant that installation could be completed without using a spring compressor. That’s where the first problem arose.
Due to the length of the springs, the front struts and locking rings were clamped tight against the wheel. Trying to drive the car as is would burst the tire sidewalls and leave the driver wrapped tightly around a tree. This would be understandable had this installation been completed with an aftermarket rim. Rather disappointingly, the wheels used here are the factory style 264 wheels (a 7.5-inch width in the front), granted, I was running a slightly wider tire (225 section fronts as opposed to the factory 215).
Based on calculations though, the difference would have been minimal (a maximum of 5mm clearance) given how tightly the locking rings were clamped to the sidewall. After speaking with Richard, the Assistant Manager, we were informed that the Dynamic Purples used were identical to the E90/E92 platform (the BMW 3-series).
While it is true that the suspension set-ups between the two platforms are identical, it’s been a long standing truth within the enthusiast community the best coilovers come from manufacturers that perform application specific testing to ensure fitment. In this scenario it looks like Neo-Motorsport had fallen prey to a mere assumption and in doing so made the obvious blunder of showcasing where they had tried to cut costs.
That said, kudos to Neo for coming up with a quick solution – an 18cm spring to help clear the front wheels as well as a 3mm spacer for that extra security. I can’t help but feel a missed opportunity here to ensure proper fitment, especially since they have such ready access to a factory-spec 135i. Additionally, I was told that one other customer had run into a similar situation with their 128i. However, Neo-Motorsport had assumed the fitment issues arose from the owner’s choice of wider aftermarket wheels.
After bolting everything in and ensuring clearance, all that was left was some fine tuning. We were mindful of the original ethos of the car and attacked the ride height with a function over form mentality (as cool as hard parking at local meets is, we had to maintain some level of usability). The final ride height was set to 22.5” all around for a nice even stance.
It looks visibly lower, but not overly so. Access ramps are still easy to crest without worrying about scraping the bumper on the floor. We played with the damper settings for quite some time to get things right. This was the difficult part. The actual adjustment is a snap, pop the hood (or crawl into the trunk) and twist the knob (clockwise for a softer ride, counter clockwise for a stiffer ride). We tried many different combinations, and no matter what we just felt the rear of the car was too bouncy. We ultimately set it at 8 clicks from full soft all around.
Tossing the car in a hard corner and it certainly feels more planted. Body roll is minimized and the 135i feels hunkered down. It’s also far firmer too. All good signs of a sporty suspension set-up.
There are some caveats to this extra sporty feel; namely the jolts when going over road bumps. Small dips are just fine; where the suspension falls flat is over undulating surfaces in the road. In those conditions, the back and front end bounces for what feels like an eternity. Perhaps the dampers are set too soft thus causing the car to bounce like a pogo stick? Not quite so: turning up the damper settings increases the bump steer too – the phenomenon when the car changes in direction after hitting a bump in the road.
Worst still is what occurs over huge dips on the highway. Exiting them sometimes will throw the back end up in the air momentarily, so much so it will actually trigger the traction control to kick in.
Over the course of the last two weeks, everyone I’ve given a ride in have mentioned that it felt uncomfortable. In fact, I drove my friend’s car equipped with a similarly priced set of coilovers for a quick comparison, and his ride quality was top notch, almost OEM like, offering a similar level of planted-ness and firmness without all the negative attributes of feeling like a set of dice in a Yahtzee cup.
It was hard to believe the staggering differences between the two. I don’t like using the term night and day, but for once it actually felt so. Neo’s coilover system certainly has the benefits of a sporty ride, and all the adjustments you need to be competent at a weekend track event, but ultimately the struts and springs just aren’t able to live up to harsh requirements of our pot-hole ridden streets.
For those looking for a complete system offering all the benefits with few drawbacks, you’ll have to look higher up the pricing ladder from competitors that have a longer history in suspension work. As the saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Neo-Motorsport has a lot of work cut out for them to make it on the BMW platform before they could be regarded as “The One” – to buy of course. They may be rough around the edges, but they have the potential to turn their products into something great.