In a time of increasing technological presence in our automobiles, the intelligence of each component grows exponentially, seemingly by the minute. Contrasted with the olden days before the damper was introduced, when vehicles either had no suspension travel, or bouncy, uncontrolled springs, present-day suspension companies have perfected the art of damping. In order to provide the ultimate ride no matter what road conditions or driving style, auto manufacturers like BMW even equip their vehicles with adjustable damping settings from the factory. This is great for the average consumer who has no intentions of modifying their car; however, it nullifies years of OEM research and development for any performance enthusiast interested in lowering their car, or adding a newer, more capable set of dampers for spirited driving sessions. A question arose within the BMW community: is it better to retain the comfort and versatility of adaptive suspension, or enjoy the handling and style benefits of coilovers? That is, until the masterminds at KW Suspensions introduced their new Dynamic Damping Control Plug & Play (DDC P&P) coilover suspension system.
For this article, we got our hands on a European-delivery individually-colored Ferrarirot F80-chassis BMW M3, and dropped by to see our friends at Thompson Performance Group to install this performance-driven damper setup with integrated adjustability.
We found ourselves at Thompson BMW, a car dealership with a twist, which is situated in the quaint Doylestown, PA area, about one hour north of the Philadelphia metropolis. See, the folks at Thompson had a successful history with installing Dinan products for their customers, and realized that there was a large demand for dealer-installed aftermarket modifications in the BMW world. In 2014, headed by Matt Bean and Laura Zimmerman, Thompson Performance Group was formed to offer sales and installation of other product lines.
The morning of the install, we arrived in the rear of the dealership and were greeted by Bean, Zimmerman, and BMW Master Technician Mike Samlal, who himself has more than 15 years of experience at Thompson BMW. The car in question was fitted with adaptive damper settings from the factory, and while the owner was looking to achieve a lower ride height with more capable dampers, retaining the electronic suspension adjustment integrated into the vehicle was also important.
Enter KW Suspensions’ new DDC P&P coilover suspension system for the F80-chassis BMW M3. Part of an intelligent suspension solution, this package combines the advantages of an adaptive damping system with a vehicle-specific aftermarket suspension. All displays and factory interior control elements of the vehicle remain fully functional, while polished stainless steel construction provides the dampers with protection against the elements.
Along with the coilover install, the team at Thompson installed Eibach Pro-Spacer 10mm wheel spacers and a gorgeous MotorRennGruppe titanium stud/lug nut conversion. So let’s get to it…
Mike started by routinely disassembling various pieces of the M3’s engine bay, including the chassis’ famous carbon reinforcement bar.
The next step was to put it up on the lift and remove the factory lug studs and wheels.
In the front, this opened sight of the factory damper and spring combination, which Mike swiftly removed from the accompanying suspension pieces like the sway bar and hub.
At the top, he detached the electrical connector for the factory damping settings, and loosened the top bolts holding the strut in place.
Once removed, it was clear to see how much more compact the KW unit was compared to the factory damper. This new damper setup provides not only height adjustment, but eliminates any wider wheel fitment issues caused by the larger diameter spring of the factory unit.
Since the KW DDC kit utilizes the factory BMW top hat, Mike enlisted the help of Thompson’s trusty spring compressor to safely disassemble the tightly wound suspension setup.
Back at the car, the top hat was fastened to the new coilover using a specially-made tool from KW, which contains an opening for the wires, a hex head to hold the shock’s piston in place, and a larger hex head to secure the top hat’s hardware.
With the help of Matt Bean, Mike torqued the top hat onto the new damper to 40 lb-ft, and then, using this KW-supplied gold spacer, prepped the hub for the new damper’s installation.
With the top hardware secured, it was electrical connector time. The KW kit comes with replacement electrical connectors, which still produce a factory appearance, yet recreate a connection with the KW electronics built into the damper. Mike simply used a pick to de-pin the BMW connector, and fitted the new one in its place on both the chassis side and the suspension side to create a perfect OEM-type connection.
Using Bean’s help again, Mike raised the hub into its position on the strut and secured the associated bolts. After fitting the BMW module to the strut body, and re-connecting the sway bar, one corner of the installation was complete. Mike repeated this step for the other front corner before moving onto the rear.
In the rear, Mike removed the OEM fender liner to access the suspension pieces located behind it.
The F80-chassis uses a separate spring/shock setup in the rear, so while the same components must find their way onto the car, the process for doing so is different than what is required in the front.
After removing the bolts from the top and the bottom and disconnecting the strut’s plugs, the rear factory BMW was pulled from the chassis.
Yet another look at the differences of the OEM strut next to its replacement from KW reveals external reservoirs, which are fitted to the car much like the process for the front.
The BMW electronics were then removed from each shock, and are subsequently reassigned to their new home on the KW piece.
Using the supplied KW tool, the top hat of the rear strut was removed, placed on the new damper and again torqued into place.
Similar to the process at the front, the rear connectors were de-pinned and replaced with KW-supplied alternatives.
The strut was fastened into place at the top, which left the bottom open to aid in removal of the OEM rear spring.
With the lower control arm/spring perch secured underneath, Mike removed the remaining bolt holding it to the chassis and began slowly lowering the arm, until the spring no longer had tension.
The spring’s adjustment collar was placed above the spring and helper spring, closest to the body, and the lower control arm was raised back into place. All associated bolts were then torqued to 100 lb-ft to complete the rear coilover installation.
Bean and Zimmerman stepped in to apply the finishing touches to the vehicle: the Eibach Pro-Spacers and MRG titanium stud conversion. Bean used a wire wheel to clean up and polish the exposed hubs to a like-new shine. After this, the wheels needed to be test-fitted for clearance.
The 10mm spacers were greased and installed with the wheels. It was at this time that ride height was set and clearances were checked. The car was lowered from the lift, test-driven, brought back into the shop, adjusted, and test-driven again several more times until the team was confident they had the ride height just right, before starting on the stud install.
The factory steel lug studs can be a hassle to use, especially once hubcentric OEM wheels are no longer on the car. As a bit of preventative modification, the owner wanted to do this stud conversion before new wheels were purchased. The MotorRennGruppe stud conversion with lug nuts is not only a lighter solution—made entirely of titanium—but also a better-looking option with gleaming polished hardware peaking out of the wheels. To begin, the studs were treated to thread sealer to stop any vibrations from loosening them inside the hub.
The studs were then torqued into their resting place in the hub, with the spacers, wheels, and titanium lug nuts torqued into place to complete the entire setup.
A quick start-up revealed no warning lights on the dash, and all of the factory electronic controls still in working order.
All of the bracing and trim underneath the hood was then buttoned up to reveal a nearly factory appearance.
The car was driven out of the install bay for the final step of the installation—the alignment.
The team at Thompson uses a pair of in-ground Hunter Hawk Eye laser alignment machines to accurately align any car.
Mike centered the wheels, placed the sensors on the hubs, and made all the adjustments as needed until the screen showed green.
Matt made one last check to measure the ride height, and the car was driven out of the alignment bay completely finished.
With its new adjustable ride height, factory-adjustable damping settings, 10mm Eibach Pro-Spacers, MRG Titanium stud/lug nut conversion, and a fresh alignment, the now KW DDC-equipped BMW is that much closer to being the “Ultimate Driving Machine” as described by the marque.
To get in touch with the fine folks at Thompson Performance Group, you can visit their Instagram. And if you want to learn more about the DDC Plug & Play suspension program, or see the application list, you can visit the KW Suspensions website.