When BMW enthusiasts discuss the brand’s greatest engines, the usual suspects are engines like the S54 inline-six from the E46 M3 or the S14 four-pot from the E30 M3. Hell, even the current B58 straight-six gets some love as an all-time great. However, one engine I think gets overlooked but deserves far more praise is the N52.
For those who don’t know their BMW engine codes, the N52 was a naturally aspirated inline-six that powered everything from the 3 Series, to the 5 Series, to the first-gen BMW X1. It was never particularly powerful, with its most potent form making about 230 horsepower, nor was it ever fitted to anything truly special. Which is why it’s often overlooked. However, the N52 was, and still is, a great engine that may be among BMW’s best.
What made it so good? Quite a few reasons. One of which is the way it feels. The N52 is among the last BMW engines to have a silky smooth deliver while also retaining a unique feel. You can feel the N52 as you apply throttle in a delicious, engaging way. As good as the modern B58 engine is, it’s completely synthetic by comparison. Yet its power deliver is every bit as smooth as newer BMWs and it revs beautifully.
Another great thing about it is the noise. The N52 might not power anything overly exciting but it does make a great noise. It’s mechanical and metallic, the way a proper BMW engine should be. Even in lowly cars like the E90 BMW 325i, it sounds like a genuine sports car engine when you rev it out. When it powered sportier cars, like the BMW 128i Coupe, it perfectly fit their sporty sophistication.
One of my favorite things about the engine is its relative reliability and ease of maintenance. Of course, the N52 has its recurring issues, and commenters are sure to point out my idiocy about its problems. However, every engine has its own set of issues and compared to many other BMW engines, the N52 might as well wear a Toyota badge.
Why was it so overlooked then? Likely due to the immense success of the turbocharged version, dubbed “N54,” that powered higher trim level cars. However, that turbocharged engine was littered with common problems, making it a headache for owners.
So as forgotten as the BMW N52 engine might be, it’s actually a fantastic one and one that more and more BMW enthusiasts should consider buying.