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What the hell is a BMW LCI update?

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This week, it’s a phrase every BMW fan loves to talk about – LCI. Great if you have it, sad face if you don’t. Still true?

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Mike – I saw a bunch of images floating around the internet that shows the G80 M3 with an LCI facelift.

What is that? Should I wait to buy one until BMW releases this version?

– Fred


Fred, stop reading this right now, head to your BMW dealer, and go buy that M3 before it’s too late!

Just kidding – don’t stop reading.

Because I can help explain what a BMW LCI is, and why you might actually want an M3 without one.

Wasn’t always the case.

First, what is a BMW LCI?

The new M2 is…well, it’s new, so there is no LCI yet.

Gotta love the Germans. They just need to use letters. Here, LCI means Life Cycle Impulse, and it’s just a fancy way of saying that a model is half-way through its life cycle, so it gets an Impulse, or updates. Could be minor, like new taillights, or major, like new bumpers, headlights and additional technology.

This started in earnest with the E46 generation. Take a look at a pre- and post-LCI 3 Series, and you’ll notice different headlights, taillights, revised interior items, wheel designs, etc.

Every model is different, so there is no “official” LCI update. BMW decides what changes.

Why does BMW even do an LCI?

F90 M5
A BMW F90 M5 with the LCI treatment.

It’s not just BMW that does it (even cars like the lowly Altima get updates), but they seem to be a real thing in the culture.

Why? If you purchase a BMW when that model first comes out, then it stands to reason you’ll be ready for a new one when your three-year lease is up. BMW does not want to sell you the same exact car you just had – they must give you a reason to spend for a new one. Overall, this ensures that you’ll either get an LCI update, or an entirely new generation, depending on how the years fall.

There’s nothing wrong with your pre-facelift model at all. I’d call LCI updates “nice-to-have” but not required, aside from a few examples.

BMW LCI in M cars

F8X M3
An F80 M3 with post-LCI headlights.

Fred, buckle up, because now it gets confusing. M cars do get LCI updates, but because they are already modified from regular BMWs, they might not be as extensive.

As an example, the E46 M3 and E9X M3 did not receive the new front-end that the regular 3 Series they were based on did. They did get new taillights and other bits, but for the most part, the cars remained the same throughout their production run. My buyer guides will help you decipher specific model-year changes.

E46 m3
The E46 never received the regular coupe’s facelift.

But move on to the F8X generation, and those did receive new taillights and headlights. Same goes for modern M5s, M6s, and M8s. Whether or not the updates improved the look of the cars is up to you, but they do also receive some useful iDrive changes that made life a bit easier.

So here comes the G8X LCI update

G80 M3
The lasers are going away.

Some good stuff coming for 2025, Fred. Just know that nothing here is official yet:

  • A bump of 25 horses to 525 in Competition
  • Revised taillights on the M4 Coupe and Convertible, though not the same ones the CSL has.
  • New LED headlights (laser lights are killed).
  • That silly honeycomb grill on the lower intakes finally goes away, replaced by the scoops I have, though I believe carbon fiber is still an option.
  • Don’t forget the single screen they made this year on the M3 – that’s coming to the M4 too.
  • Possibly some new wheel designs

The stick stays, but does not get the horsepower increase. Of larger concern is the deletion of laser lights. The U.S. Government has given BMW a hard time certifying these, and so they have killed them across the board.

BMW M340i
The LCI M340i gives a clue as to what the new M3 headlights will look like.

In its place are LED headlights that are fine, but don’t really seem to fit the car as well. If I did not currently have one, this detail would not stop me from purchasing one Fred. But I gotta tell you – the lasers are cooler.

Can you do it on your own?

This F80 has GTS-style taillights, but it’s a pre-LCI car.

Sort of.

Stroll the Sunday car show lot, and you will undoubtedly see a few things that are a bit…off. LCI taillights on an F80 M3 that has pre-LCI headlights. E9X buds often changed out their rear lights for LED ones as well.

You can update the front-end lighting, but at significant cost. A pair of headlights can go for well over $1,000. Add the rears, and it’s probably just easier to find a post-LCI car if that’s what you really want.

Coding! Also important – you must tell the computer that there are new and different lights in the car, and that’s where coding comes into play. Find a reputable shop to do this.

Will the G8X generation be the first to seek pre-LCI lights on an updated car? Perhaps. One thing is for sure Fred – get one, any one, before it’s too late.

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