Would a 4 cylinder diesel engine make sense in the U.S. market?

3-Series | August 23rd, 2009 by 29

Ever since BMW announced the introduction of the 335d and X5d in the U.S. market, we’ve been asking ourselves if a smaller, more efficient, but …

Ever since BMW announced the introduction of the 335d and X5d in the U.S. market, we’ve been asking ourselves if a smaller, more efficient, but still powerful diesel engine would make sense in our, still uneducated, American market.

By uneducated, we’re referring to the long time opposition and reluctance in regards to diesel powered cars. While the European market has been embracing the diesel power for many years now, those of us that live in the U.S. have been spoiled with large, powerful and less efficient gasoline powerplants.

Several myths surrounding the diesel engines have been going around for years now, from the loudness of a diesel engine and diesel engines lacks the punch, to “diesel is dirty” and diesel fuel is found mainly at truck stops. Every one of these myths have been demolished in the past years when automakers introduced new, clean technologies that make diesel engines a viable and attractive solution for many people.

Would a 4 cylinder diesel engine make sense in the U.S. market?

When BMW announced a few days ago the introduction of the 320d Ultra Efficient 57 mpg vehicle, BMW community began to discuss the business logic behind the introduction of a similar engine in the our market. 320d is powered by a four cylinder 2.0 liter turbo diesel engine with maximum power of 120kW (163hp) made between 3,500rpm and 4,200rpm. Peak torque is 265 lb-ft (360Nm) and it is available from 1,750rpm to 3,000rpm. Performance is good with a 0-60 mph (0 – 100km/h) time of 8.2 seconds and a top speed of 140 mpg( 225km/h).

The opinions are split, including ours, some believe that BMW has to maintain the image of a premium automaker in the U.S., automatically implying powerful and larger engine displacement. The introduction of a four cylinder diesel powerplant in the U.S. is seen by some as brand-diminishing, a move that could hurt BMW’s reputation.

On the other side, many people argue back that things are changing, evolving, every automaker is looking to position themselves for the future and  that BMW’s EfficientDynamics program is a step forward towards a more profitable brand.

There is no secret that BMW’s future strategy revolves around efficiency and next models will fully take advantage of existing and new technologies.

In our opinion, the BMW 320d, a possible 323d and especially the 123d Coupe would be ideal for our U.S. market and in time and the right marketing campaign, consumers will come to appreciate the value of a clean, powerful and very efficient diesel engine. Of course, it will be a niche when compared to the gasoline powered bimmers, but in time, things could shift in their favor and the profit margins become larger.

So, what do you think?

[poll id="42"]

  • Alex M.

    I would love to see cars like this in the U.S. but I believe it won’t happen for a long time. Like you said, BMW has to keep up an image of luxury performance in U.S. (although this diesel really isn’t that slow). There were rumors about MINI planning a John Cooper Works Diesel earlier this year and some people were saying MINI was testing a 2.0L BMW unit. I think if BMW isn’t going to bring this engine to the U.S. in a 3-series, they could easily market it in a hotted-up diesel MINI. The success of the VW diesel Jetta is proving that Americans WILL buy smaller displacement diesels, I just don’t think this is the right engine for a BMW, but the perfect engine for a MINI, IF they can squeeze it under the hood.

  • L1ndja

    I think its going to be a really tough job to convince americans for 4cylinder diesels.I heard that they even dont appreciate the 6-er ones

  • john

    i would love a 5door hatchback 123d

  • RDF

    I sold my X5 last year when the VW 2 Liter 50 State legal Diesel became available. Getting over 40 miles per gallon really got my attention. By the way, the VW Sportwagen is great and no I don’t miss the X5.

  • michael

    There’s been no problems with BWM 4 cylinder diesels here. BMW is a prestige brand.

    But I think diesels and european cars are more readily accepted by the Australian market. And here European cars & diesel engines almost go hand in hand. Mercedes have had diesels available here for over 30 years.

  • PVF

    I think the American market should changes their philosophy…Diesel cars have much more torque, today are as green as gasoline cars or even greener, run for miles and miles and here, in Europe, is the most selling type of engine in new sold cars! People let´s get realistic…Diesel engines are today more advanced than petrol engines…USA should follow the steps of Europe!

  • http://www.twitter.com/rchitour RHC

    HAHA! Great comments so far (and great site too). Conclusions as follows:
    Diesel is absolutely the interim solution as battery technology moves forward with increased funding for R&D. With this in mind, diesel is absolutely the right solution for the US market, satisfiying our craving for efficiency and not sacrificing power. Heck, the new diesels are so clean they even get tax credits!!!!

    @RDF — exactly the right move, the Jetta Sportwagen with 40mpg is amazing. Golf VI TDI with 2.0L diesel is coming to the US this fall and I would be surprised if (now, if not soon) Auto Union is not keeping a close eye on the diesel sales in the US. The VW diesels are taking off (almost always wait lists from what I hear) and are in high demand. VW is simply not allocating enough diesels for the US yet, and hopefully this will happen.

    The correct answer is yes, America needs european diesel cars. The 1 series is the perfect platform for BMW to launch another diesel model and really get more people in the cars at a lower price point. I encourage more users who have experience with Audi/VW/Porsche/MB diesels to talk about their experiences. Us Yanks don’t get diesel and I frequently find myself educating ALL OF MY FRIENDS about the amazing-ness that is diesel!!!!

  • joe

    diesel performance is definately chatching up fast. bmw and audi are doing great job in this field. ( 535d 0 to 60 is 6.4 sec. and audi a5 3 liter tdi 0 to 60 is 5.9 sec.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/johannduplessis Johann Plessis

    I can’t see why Americans would not embrace these cars once they are introduced. I currently drive an E46 320d, and it is awesome. It is still seen as a premium car where I live (South Africa), even though it is 5 years old by now. It’s NOT dirty, it’s very fuel efficient (45+ MPG) and it has more torque than a 330i. It’s as quick off the line as my dad’s E39 530i Auto. The E90 320d is even more powerful, more refined and it is an even better car. Also, in my experience BMW is way, way ahead of MB, Audi, VW and everyone else when it comes to diesel power.

    I think BMW should just start introducing these to the American market and wait it out until sales start to pick up. It will take a couple of years, but once everyone gets used to the idea that diesel is in fact pretty cool, they will sell diesels like hotcakes.

  • Gord

    I think the 4 cylinder diesels are fine for America.

    Not everyone needs a fast car, most probably just want a quiet car to bumble about daily and for the occasional vacation.

    And since the 4 cyclinder is less expensive than a 6 cylinder, the difference can be used for extra goodies.

  • Parker Despain

    BMW bring the 320d! I will buy one :D

  • viper

    I dont understand why wouldnt they?…if they are good for europenas who have better roads than in the US also less furl consuption and more torque…it should be good for everyone especially for US

  • PVF

    I have a 2009 BMW E92…320d…it is fast and it eats the road when I push him in a climb! Diesel engines have HUGE POWER…You should try one…and if they aren´t sold in the US…hey, come here to Europe, buy one and import them to you country! Altought i´m only 24 years old I can assure you…DIESEL RULLES IN EUROPE FOR SOME REASON! ;)

  • badger

    of course it would make sense!
    Diesel would at least help car makers to start
    thinking of making more fuel efficient vehicles.

  • michael

    Gord – the BMW diesels aren’t just for quiet bumbling around town. They are still BMWs to the core ;)

    take the 330d for example.
    http://www.themotorreport.com.au/13687/2009-bmw-330d-on-its-way-to-australia/

    “Powered by a six-cylinder 3.0 litre turbo-diesel engine, the 330d provides V8 rivaling torque with efficiency akin to a four-cylinder. In fact, with 520Nm on tap from just 1750rpm, the turbo-diesel motor is even gruntier than the M3’s 4.0 litre V8.

    The new generation all-aluminium engine pumps out 180kWs and a huge 520Nms. Peak power is reached at 4,000 rpm but peak torque is available from as low as 1,750 rpm and up to 3,000 rpm. The 330d is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission.

    Returning fuel efficiency figures of 6.8L/100kms and emissions of 180 g/km, the 330d will incur less Luxury Car Tax (LCT) as a result. These figures, combined with the Beamer’s stump-pulling torque, should make it a popular additon to the updated 3-Series range.”

    I think part of the misconception that a lot of people have is that fuel-efficient = boring. I think BMW is trying to disprove that. Look at the ActiveHybrid X6 as an example as well.

    But I’d be curious to know the price differential between diesel and regular fuel in the US. Part of the Australian experience is that when fuel prices skyrocket – sales of diesel cars also increase.

    • Doug

      I had to check the mileage to see. 50mpg is excellent… but why is it so much better than the 335d @36mpg ?? The city mileage disparity is similar.

  • jkp

    Yes, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. In fact, I don’t see BMW having much of a choice if it wants to meet the new CAFE standards.

    In any event, a reasonably-priced 1er coupe or 3er sedan or X1 with the 4-cyl turbodiesel from the European 123d would go a long way toward convincing Americans that fuel efficient engines needn’t be a return to the dismal 1970s.

  • PVF

    The same way I don´t understand why in USA people don´t know how to drive Manual Gears…Could someone explain?

    • Doug

      Because the vast majority of cars have automatic transmissions, which most people have learned on. Manual transmissions are less desired except in niche situations like saving a few hundred dollars or you are a true sports car enthusiast.

      Moreover, how can you talk on a cel, drink coffee, or put on lipstick if you are constantly jiggling the shifter?

  • Doug

    Americans just want more powerful cars than europeans, it’s just part of our automotive heritage and culture. Petrol engines have the performance and characteristics we’re used to and like.

    Having driven some diesels, I can’t say I’m fond of the experience. They can be fairly quiet and smooth, but fundamentally, diesels *are* noiser and rougher vibration & acoustic damping etc.. They also sound gross, subjectively speaking.

    So I have several questions about diesel:

    1) While delivering considerably more torque, the actual acceleration performance (eg 0-60) doesn’t seem to increase noticeably. Is this because the benefits are only at low speeds where the lower horsepower has an easier time overcoming resistance?

    2) While diesel delivers 40% less fuel consumption when hypermiled, what efficiency gains (over gas) does it give when driven all-out, where consumption rises exponentially?

    3) Can the US supply chain and points of sale actually accommodate a large shift toward consumer diesels? If not, is that capital investment better allocated to other strategies with similar [altruistic] goals?

    • Doug

      edit: diesels are noisier without *extra* vibration and acoustic damping to compensate.

    • Jeffery Haas

      Much of what you refer is centered around the luxury/sport market, and that part of the market is more than saturated.
      The average American is stuck in traffic in mind-numbing commutes to work and back, hauling kids around or driving long distances as part of their job, and THAT part of the market has been ignored for decades, to the extreme pleasure of the oil companies, who do not want to see a doubling of fuel efficiency across the board for this larger market segment.

  • http://www.steveharrell.com Kayaxeman

    I drive a ’98 318i (last of the 4 cylinder American BMWs) and love it. Previously, I had a 4 cylinder 320i (1980). These are just great cars. I wrote and called BMW numerous times concerning their release of the European 1 series in the States, and they pretty much said “Americans won’t buy 4 cylinder cars, or hatchbacks”. I’d love to make my next car a 120d. We need to make some noise.

  • David

    When the gas crunch came on the scene in the early 70′s, Ford bought BMW 6′s to put in Lincolns but I am not sure it ever was finalized due the lead time it took to acclimate the two. GM rushed the 5.9 and then the 6.2 in Oldsmobiles, I had to work on them, a real nightmare. VW took the engineers approach and worked it all out, now look what they are doing! I have seen older 1.6 turbo diesels (VW) get over 60 MPG on long flat runs across the SW USA! The new TDi’s are amazing and powerful enough to put into a “sports car”. Most european manufactures have had incentives to build small econo-boxes for years. We in the States, tax the hell out of diesel fuel due to the trucking industry and make the fuel too expensive to consider as an alternative to gasoline. I would buy a diesel golf if I could find one I could afford. Or how about a hybrid diesel electric…VW is working on a production car now, I hear. Hmmmm. Controled engine operation to minimize pollutants, and power to run a generator, almost sounds like a Chevy Volt?

  • NELS

    Iv been hunting every where for a small diesel for a daily driver. diesel is way more reliable, better options for alternative fuel, andmore bang for your buck. most gas engines cant do what a diesel does…… i think all the auto makers should provide diesel cars and small pickups not luxery and not all working size vehicles.
    make em friendly for the daily consumer!!!

  • Jeffery Haas

    Anyone who still thinks that small and efficient diesel engine cars and light trucks are not appropriate for the US market is either extremely ignorant or working for the oil companies, END OF DISCUSSION.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Joel Davila

    I’m a current driver and owner of a 09 Jetta TDI and absolutely love it. The car was engineered to succeed! If VW can hit the nail on the head with this car, imaging what BMW could do introducing a 3 series model with a turbo charged 4 cyl engine. I would probably sleep at the gate of the dealership to put my hands on the first one. In fact, I do have my eyes on the 335d as we speak. Right now I love getting the 40+ average MPG on the Jetta. BMW, hello, BMW, a 4 cyl turbo charged 3 series car for the US is a no-brainer!!!!!

  • http://www.yahoo.com Joel Davila

    Oh, before I forget, diesel engines enjoy a historic and proven technology over electric/battery operated cars. Hey, I like the way this came out: a battery operated passenger car! It tastes the it sounds. Don’t get me wrong, if you prefer Duracell, more power to you! Hey, I like how this one came out too!:a Duracell battery operated passenger car! OH god, having too much fun here. BMW, bring it on. I’m sending you guys a check as a down payment for that first 320d.

  • kevin

    If it can be put in a truck and be able to pull a horse trailer then it would be great!

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