BMW Group scores with four, six and eight cylinders at the 2012 International Engine of the Year Awards. A good opportunity to have a closer look at the technology of the engines: BMW TwinPower Turbo and more closer the VALVETRONIC technology.

Here is a bit more info on the technology:

The technology package employed in this engine comprises a supercharging system operating according to the Twin Scroll principle, High Precision Injection with direct fuel injection, VALVETRONIC variable valve control and double VANOS variable camshaft control. This combination guarantees not only spontaneous throttle response and sporty power delivery continuing into the high load range, but also fuel economy that is outstandingly favorable even for a petrol engine of this performance class.

The Valvetronic system is a variable valve timing system to offer continuous and precisely variable intake valve lift,[1] from ~0 to 10 mm, and duration. It typically works in conjunction with the independent Double VANOS system that continuously varies the timing (on both intake and exhaust camshafts). Valvetronic-equipped engines rely on the amount of valve lift for load control, rather than a butterfly valve in the intake tract. In other words, in normal driving, the “gas pedal” controls the Valvetronic hardware rather than the throttle plate.

Cylinder heads with Valvetronic use an extra set of rocker arms, called intermediate arms (lift scaler), positioned between the valve stem and the camshaft. These intermediate arms are able to pivot on a central point, by means of an extra, electronically actuated camshaft. This movement alone, without any movement of the intake camshaft, can vary the intake valves’ lift from fully open, or maximum power, to almost closed, or idle.

Because the intake valves lift now have the ability to move from almost closed to fully open positions, and everywhere in between, the primary means of controlling engine output is transferred from the throttle plate to the intake valvetrain. By shortening the duration of the intake instead of throttling, pumping losses are reduced and fuel economy is improved. By reducing the valve lift, asymmetrically on 4-valve engines, swirl is generated in the cylinder, leading to a better air/fuel mixture. By avoiding a large air reservoir between the throttle and the engine responsiveness can be improved, though it depends on the speed of the electric motor actuating the second camshaft.

However, the throttle plate is not removed, but rather defaults to a fully open position once the engine is running. The throttle will partially close when the engine is first started, to create the initial vacuum needed for certain engine functions, such as emissions control. Once the engine reaches operating speed, a vacuum pump run off the passenger side exhaust camshaft (on the N62 V8, exhaust cam on the N52/K) provides a vacuum source, much as a diesel engine would, and the throttle plate once again goes to the fully open position.

The throttle plate also doubles as an emergency backup, should the Valvetronic system fail. In this case, the engine would enter a “limp home” program, and engine speed would once again be controlled by the throttle plate.

First introduced by BMW on the 316ti compact in 2001, Valvetronic has since been added to many of BMW’s engines. The Valvetronic system is coupled with BMW’s proven double-VANOS, to further enhance both power and efficiency across the engine speed range. Valvetronic was not coupled to early BMW’s N53, “High Precision Injection” (gasoline direct injection) technology engines due to lack of room in the cylinder head. New generation ‘compact’ Valvetronic allows for direct injection to utilized in the N55B30 turbo engine, as seen in the 2010 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo.

Valvetronic was initially used on BMW’s mass-market engines, mostly of the naturally aspirated variety such as the BMW N42 straight-4, N62 V8, N73 V12, and N52 straight-6. Valvetronic was not found on the directly-injected N53 straight-6, nor was it on the N54 straight-6 and N62 V8 (the latter two directly-injected and twin-turbocharged).

Directly-injected and turbocharged engines introduced in 2009 such as the single-turbo N55 straight-6 and the twin-turbo N74 V12 also make use of Valvetronic.

Until 2012, no high-performance M-series vehicle uses Valvetronic, instead continuing to utilise multiple throttle-bodied designs. The 2012 BMW M5 (F10), however, will use an updated S63 engine that adds Valvetronic technology in lieu of the individual throttles found on its equivalents in the BMW X5 M and X6 M. The 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe will also feature a Valvetronic update of the N63 engine.

[Source: Wikipedia ]