By on April 4, 2011


The real big deal at BMW’s Innovation Days in Munich is the launch of a new family of engines. Actually what BMW launched was a single cylinder. That single, standardized cylinder becomes the basic building block of a series of in-line engines. They will have six, four, and (gasp) 3 cylinders. They will burn gasoline and oil. They will change the company. And possibly the way the ICE will be built. Gallery (for true pistonheads only) after the jump.

As independent car companies go, BMW is not the largest. They have sold an impressive 1.4 million units, but according to industry pundits, you need to sell at least 5 million for survival. Looking at the health and profits of BMW and other makers in its class, this is obviously not true. If you can’t compete on volume, you must compete on smarts.

Developing a kit from which many engines can be derived is a smart move. The new BMW power plants use a standardized set of design principles and a high number of common components for both petrol and diesel engines. The backbone of the BMW modular engine system are the standard cylinder, the in-line engine principle, and the TwinPower Turbo.

Using basically the same technology in smaller or bigger packs, BMW can power a broad range of vehicles spanning several segments and achieve scale effects which are inaccessible to manufacturers who have a dizzying array of engines that use multitudes of different technologies.

At the Innovation Days, BMW Group showed a new 2.0 liter four cylinder Gasoline engine and a new version of their new version of the 3.0 liter six cylinder in-line diesel unit.

The new engine propels the new BMW X1 xDrive28i in 6.1 seconds from zero to 100 km/h. It uses only 7.9 liters per 100 kilometers (29.8 mpg, non-EPA), 16 percent better than the previous model. The new diesel gives the BMW 530d xDrive similar acceleration while using only 5.7 liters per 100 kilometers (41.3 mpg, non-EPA).

Both engines will hit the European market shortly. Availability in the U.S. is still being researched.

The arrival of the 3 cylinder engine is not imminent. Suggestions that the 3 cylinder will be mostly used as a provider of a generator in a hybrid are not being denied out of hand at BMW. This gets a “sure, for that also” remark. However when you hear BMW folk sing the praise of the 3-pot having “a Laufkultur approaching a six cylinder,” when you hear them refer to the enginelet  as a “halber 6-Zylinder” or “6-cylinder lite”, then you get the distinct feeling that this engine will not just be making electricity.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: “What’s all this 3, 4, 6 talk? I didn’t hear one mention of the 8 cylinder. It’s the Innovation Days, where they give a look into BMW’s future. Does the 8 cylinder have not future at BMW?”

It put this question to Ralph Huber, Chief spokesperson for Technology at BMW in Munich. He said “The 8 cylinder has a bright future at BMW. This was all about inline engines. The V8 is no inline engine. Our V8 is in a class of its own and has a life of its own.”

With these reassuring words, we conclude TTAC’s BMW day.

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42 Comments on “BMW Pulls 3, 4, 6 Rabbits Out Of One Cylinder...”


  • avatar

    I’m just a little bit dismayed (though not at all surprised) that BMW isn’t using this opportunity to bring back the straight eight. Oh well, a fascinating development in any case.

    • 0 avatar
      KitaIkki

      Mid or rear mounted transverse straight-eight with center power take-off …
      Mid engine for a 2 seat sports car.  Rear engine for a 5 or 6 seat sedan.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      The straight eight disappeared in the 1950s because it was too heavy and too hard to build so that it could rev. Mercedes did solve the rev problem in their 3 liter race cars of the mid 50s. The cars had a straight 8 cylinder engine with a desmodromic valve system* so it could be reved up to numbers that were then unthinkable. It made 310 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, and the 300SLR weighed a mere 880 kg. (1940 lbs.). I assume they never commercialized that engine because it was way too expensive.

      *A system that uses positive actuation instead of springs to close the valve. <a href=”http://www.ducati.com/bikes/techcafe.jhtml?artID=2&amp;detail=article&amp;part=technical”>Explanation by Ducati</a> the only current users of the system.

      <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_300SLR”>Wikipedia Article on the 300 SLR</a>. I don’t think anyone has used a straight 8 since then.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I believe there were a few Italian race cars that ran straight 8s here and there… It seems to me that Alfa in particular did this occasionally into the 60s if I remember right. But probably not for any good reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      Alfa produced their last straight 8 in 1938 and their last straight 6 in 1968.  After that it was a mixture of straight 4, flat 4, V6, and V8 and a flat 12 for racing.  (This list does not include aircraft engines.)

      Also, their use of the straight 8 was not occasional but was their mainstay. For example, their 4 consecutive LeMans victories (1931-1934) were with straight 8 engines.
       
       

  • avatar

    Straight eight? Straight twelve!

  • avatar
    twotone

    I’m waiting for the new BMW 1 Series 0.5 single cylinder model. They could just start using their two-cylinder motorcycle boxster engines.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I owned a BMW thumper (rebadged Aprillia/Rotax, mostly) and I can tell you, a single-cylinder is about as much fun as having your teeth removed by a proctologist. They claimed it made about 65 HP… I’m pretty sure it was closer to 25.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    At least BMW is getting their engine DNA straightened out, going all inline, much like Subaru and their focus on boxers.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Can anyone interpret for me what makes their cylinder so special? I can’t believe that someone has taken a march to reinvent the wheel and succeeded after all these years. I can see similar cylinder geometries between TFI and TDI type engines tho.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Making compression ignition (diesel) and spark ignition (gasoline) engines common is not trivial. If done wrong it can be a disaster. Also, the idea of a “modular” engine was tried at Ford with mixed results. Only a 90 degree V-8 and V-10 ever came out, even though an I-4 and V-6 were originally promised.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Isn’t Mazda doing something similar to this with their new ‘Sky’ engines? They’ve designed their ‘Sky” engine as common for diesel and gasoline by raising the compression ratio of their gasoline engines and lowering the compression ratio of their diesel engines to the same general range (at least that’s how I understand it). If it works it would seem to be a great cost-saving approach.

    • 0 avatar

      Color me sceptical too. Last time Benz built diesels out of gas engines, the bottom ends of them had no end of problems. Blown seals, busted bearings. But if you make an diesel that works, it’s too heavy and expensive as a gas block.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Tell GM about the problems of using a gas and a diesel in the same block.

      Also didn’t GM intend its Atlas engines to be modular. They came out with a 4.2 liter straight six and a 3.5 liter 5 cyl. I am not sure they are still making them.

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      There is also a 2.8 litre Atlas 4 cylinder. The engines were meant to be modular and they are still in production for the Canyon and Colorado small trucks. At such low volumes, I doubt there is much profit in them, though.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I think those 3-cylinder engines are destined (for now) for the next Mini and whatever other FWD heresies BMW cooks up.

    500cc per cylinder isn’t very forward-looking; 300cc would be better, and might encourage the engineers to cut some blubber out of the lineup.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Fascinating stuff.

    I think the trick is to design it to be a diesel first, gasoline second. The extra cost of the heavier duty diesel bits can be made up in the higher volume. And these days there is not that much in it – this isn’t the 70s where a gas engine was 7:1 and a diesel was 20:1 compression ratio. Nowadays a gas engine can be 12:1 and the diesel is still 20:1 or so. And everything has to be designed to be turbocharged anyway, which ups the stresses that much more..

    Assume that the four cylinder is what they are going to sell to Saab?

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Is this like when Mercedes reinvented the engine with their modular SOHC 3 valve 90 degree V6s and V8s? That was awsome. For Lexus.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Very good, this brings down the overall development cost while lending itself to a great deal of design flexibility-provided they can pull it off, and if anyone can it is BMW.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I love my  2.7L  I 6  m20.  With  decent  care  they  can  go 400k miles without  an  overhaul.  The  biggest   trouble  with  modern  BMWs is  their  lousy  cooling  systems.

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    Reminds me of the old Detroit-Diesel two-strokes. They had a few piston/cylinder bore sizes (such as 53 CID/cylinder, 71, 92, etc..), but used them in a ton of engines.
    You could get engines like 2-71s (inline, two cylinder) 6-71s, 8V-71 (Vee, 8 cylinder), 12V-71s, 3-53, 6-53, 6V-53, 8V-53, etc..
    So, it’s nothing really new.
     
     

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    If BMW doesn’t bring wagons back to the states I could care less what powers their cars, because I won’t be buying one.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Eventually they’ll realize that this standardized approach means no engine can be optimized, and they will abandon it.  Not every decision can be about cost.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Run-flat tires, Active steering, Menu driven user interfaces, turbocharged engines, mandatory automatic transmissions, and open differentials; these are just the compromises that ruin the driving experience for enthusiasts. There is plenty of other evidence that BMW knows who it wants to lease their cars to and also knows that they don’t know anything about what is under the rapidly dated skin. Nothing is sacred at BMW, and they’ll keep jerking around until status seekers move on because something else has better marketing or the near luxury segment dies out.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    Ahhh, the BMW wonderwagens. The really perplex me. I admire how they can get away with charging outrageous prices for cars with such obviously poor reliability. Given that they make only 1.4m units a year, they have to charge high prices for them but, in my opinion anyway, much of their cachet is simply marketing anyway. They have been brilliant at that, making people fork out a ton of money for a car that will they will never drive anywhere near its full potential.
     
    This engine series seems to be trouble in the making but, for the time being anyway, it doesn’t matter. In may ways, BWM reminds of me of Apple. Great design, poor execution and reliability but since so many people bearing cash are willing to drink the cool-aid, it doesn’t matter much.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      BMW outrageous prices?  Seems like they’re in line (like the pun?) with MB and Audi.  Or am I missing something?
       
      Now, I agree that all 3 charge outrageous prices, and that is proven through the deep depreciation that all 3 experience.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      5 years later, my Apple iMac is running the latest version of OSX buttery smooth.  My 4th gen iPod hard drive bit the dust after leaving it in my car all summer long a few years back.  I can’t really blame that on Apple though. 

      (’07 macbook, original iPod Mini, original iPod shuffle, ’10 macbook air, 3rd gen iPod nano, 4th gen iPod nano, and (2) iPhone 4s working perfectly, still, btw)

    • 0 avatar

      Knucklehead indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Well, as someone who has a new 328i wagon on order, I think I can make some comments.

      Nobody, and I mean nobody, makes a car that drives like a BMW. Everyone else TRIES, which is why BMW is still the gold standard. Admitedly, the average BMW leasor doesn’t REALLY appreciate that fact. But none of us here are average, are we? Well, other than those obviously below-average Panther freaks.

      BMWs are at thier best when they are at thier simplest. The less crap on the car, the less stuff there is to fix someday. BMW is great at engineering the “bones” but they are no good at the tinsel. And if you order less tinsel, the car is cheaper too. My car has no iDrive, no adaptive headlights, no active steering, no failure prone HPFP (since it is not a 335i), no turbos, no automatic, and no AWD. Just a sweet, basic 230hp inline 6 and a 6spd manual transmission.

      Personally, having owned a couple BMWs with actual limited-slip diffs, I am happy with the electronic version. A real one is a double-edged sword in the snow – it will help you get going, but it will also compromise stability VERY easily. A track-toy is one thing, but  a daily driver is quite another.

      Runflats suck from a cost perspective, but I can appreciate BMWs reasoning from an engineering point of view. They have also finally managed to engineer around thier ride limitations. But that said, I have every intention of putting non-RFT tires on my car, and carrying a slime/inflator kit. I have not had a flat on the road in 20+ years, I am not worried about it.

      As far as the cost of the car, well, let’s face it, a $10K Nissan Versa will serve the most basic purpose of shuttling your butt from place-to-place. Spending more than that gets you features and toys. $20K gets you a mid-level Camry. If you are happy with that GREAT – don’t spend more. $40K gets you a basic 328i Wagon with a nice stereo and heated seats. It’s worth it to me, if it is not worth it to you, buy a Camry. Ain’t choice grand!

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      krhodes – congrats on the 328i sport wagon.  I so nearly ordered one a few years back very much like your’s.  I just couldn’t justify the cost at that time in my life, though.  Some day, assuming BMW keeps offering a 6MT 328i, I’d really like to do European delivery on one.  Seems like a proper way to break in a BMW and I’ve hit about every European country around Germany all while managing to not visit Germany. haha

  • avatar
    blowfish

    because they’re aiming for a 14:1 compression ratio for both the gasoline and the diesel

    heard newer dsl have lower CR, 16 to 1 or so.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    The  biggest   trouble  with  modern  BMWs is  their  lousy  cooling  systems.

    i heard they heads needs new coolant every yr or else u buy anew head real soon.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      That is generally no longer the case – the e46s had lots of crappy plastic parts in their cooling system, but the e9xs seem to be holding up much better. BMW is capable of learning a lesson.


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