Four-cylinder BMWs in the U.S – a good or bad idea?

Interesting | October 18th, 2008 by 20
bmw 320si engine

Let me start off first by answering the question myself: YES, absolutely a great idea. In times where the world focuses on eco, green and …

bmw 320si engine

Let me start off first by answering the question myself: YES, absolutely a great idea. In times where the world focuses on eco, green and energy savings, offering a smaller, fuel efficient engine in what it used to be a “hungry for power market”, is the right direction for BMW.  

Despite the enthusiasm of many bimmer fans that are looking to have diversified options when it comes to engines, the fellows at BusinessWeek bring up a good point: will the U.S buyers be ready for them? Will it be difficult to convince the picky American buyers that these smaller engines are powerful enough to justify the price for a premium sedan?

In Europe, the BMW four-cylinder engines account for most of BMW’s sales and it has been widely accepted by the European buyers as a viable solution in their bimmers. As some of you might remember, the 2008 Engine of the Year title has been awarded to the a diesel engine. BMW’s 204 hp four-cylinder diesel with Variable Twin Turbo has earned this award due to a unique combination of performance and efficiency. The engine found in the BMW 123d, it’s the world’s first full-aluminum diesel engine and delivers average fuel consumption of 5.2 liters/100 km in an EU test cycle, equivalent to 45 miles/US gallon, and a CO2 emission level of 138 grams per km. BMW EfficientDynamics technology has been used in the development of this engine.

So, here is one engine that could absolutely be introduced in the BMW’s U.S lineup without much fear of failure. Back in May, we exclusively reported that BMW is working on a four cylinder petrol engine as well, that will be offered in two stages with and without twin-turbos. The high-rev four cylinder is expected to output anywhere from 220 to 260 horsepower and it will fully take advantage of BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology. 

Despite the clear pros of such engines, BMW has to overcome one thing, that has been stuck in the U.S buyer’s mind: the unprecedent failure of the ’98 318Ti model. The hatchback 318Ti compact was introduced in 1995 and it was powered by a four-cylinder 1.9 liter engine, but failed miserably, both in Europe and U.S. 

Majority of the Audi’s A4 models are powered by a four-cylinder engine and based on that, the BusinessWeek folks even go a little bit further, by stating that consumers often don’t place the Audi brand in the same class as Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus. This is obviously a statement that I resent and I don’t believe the Audi’s engine selection is the decisive factor. 

We should also keep in mind that the current market conditions are appropriate for the introduction of the four-cylinder engines, but what if down the line, 2-3 years from now, the automakers will become extremely profitable again, the economy will be booming and the gas prices will be lower than now, will all of these factors make the buyers go back to the large, hungry for gas sedans or SUVs? 

I look forward to your comments since this is a topic that allows all of us to expose our point of view.

[Based on a BusinessWeek article ]