It’s been 12 years since BMW offered a four-cylinder engine on a US-market offering, but starting this October, US dealers will begin offering new “TwinPower”four-pot versions of the Z4 roadster and 5-series sedan. And, as BMW’s US-market boss Jim O’Donnell explains to Automotive News [sub], there’s no reason to fear the four… anymore.
It wasn’t in line with our image, because it didn’t have the performance of the six cylinder. We were selling ourselves as the ultimate driving machine and really it wasn’t. Now that the engines have developed so far, it’s not an issue at all.
But now BMW is offering four-bangers because they offer an even better driving experience, right? Less weight, better turn-in, that kind of thing… right?
Uh, not so much, no. O’Donnell continues
CAFE is definitely driving this. This is huge for us. If we get this wrong, it screws up all of our plans in the U.S.
And O’Donnell is right to reference the risks involved. After all, Ford is already learning the hard way that charging high prices for downsized, fuel-efficient engines doesn’t always pan out, as its Explorer Ecoboost was mauled for lackluster performance by even the traditionally toothless Motor Trend. On the other hand, the CAFE-related problems with not offering smaller engines are even worse:
Failure to meet U. S. requirements produces fines of $55 per mile below the requirement multiplied by the total number of vehicles sold, Greg Schroeder, a research analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said in a telephone interview.
Selling 200,000 vehicles with a CAFE 20 mpg below the target, for example, would lead to an annual fine of $220 million. “As the fuel economy doubles they have to change their plan,” Schroeder, the industry analyst, said. “They’re going to have to improve fuel economy, they can’t just sit and pay fines forever.”
But don’t start bemoaning a new CAFE-induced Malaise era just yet: the new four-pot base engine may be down 6 percent compared to the previous entry-level six in the Z4, but it boasts an 18 percent improvement in torque. The new Z4 is .1 seconds faster to 60 MPH than its six-equipped predecessor, while the new four-cylinder 528i should shave .4 seconds off its predecessor’s 0-60 time. But for image-conscious luxury brands, the challenge isn’t simply proving that the performance numbers show progress… after all, they’ve spent decades leading consumers to believe that the number of cylinders was a key to premium-ness.
“The challenge really is for us as a company and you as media to look at how we describe performance, which tradition would tell is the number of cylinders and how big they are, and that determines a premium car or a high-performance car versus another car,” Ian Robertson, head of BMW sales, said in Carmel, California. “That is not the relevant measure anymore.”
That sell would be a lot easier to make if the new four-bangers sounded as good as we know BMW can make them. Check out the following video (starting at around :47) to see what we’re talking about.