Confession: I've Stopped Caring How Many Cylinders Are Under The Hood

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Updated with pricing more reflective of the U.S. market for this M-B Canada press car.

There’s no replacement for displacement. Or so I was taught during my formative years, a period in which I read multiple buff books per month and listened to old men attempt to define torque.

But Audi USA announced last week it would slot the engine from its smallest sedan, the A3, under the hood of Audi’s largest utility vehicle, the Q7.

This week, I’m driving a 4,045-pound, $70,465 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan. Labelled the E300, this heavily optioned E-Class is equipped with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine related to the 2.0-liter in the company’s front-wheel drive, entry-level sedan, the CLA.

4,000 pounds. $70,465. 2.0-liter inline-four. Y’alright with that?

The reason additional cylinders were sought after was not always torque alone. Throttle response. Engine sounds. The underlying awareness of surplus. Other factors besides outright numerical supremacy were, and are, at play.

But this current age of 2.0-liter turbocharged engines is also the age in which General Motors’ 5.3-liter V8s provide disappointing eco-minded response upon first application of throttle. Are you there, V8?

This age of direct-injection 2.0-liter turbocharged engines that sound like diesels at idle is also the age of 600-horsepower Nissans in desperate need of aftermarket exhausts. Moreover, additional cylinders are no guarantee of surplus torque. Our long-term Honda Odyssey’s 3.5-liter V6 maxes out with 23 fewer lb-ft of torque than the 2.0T with which it’s sharing a driveway this week — and it needs an additional 3,500 rpm to achieve its high-water mark.

This isn’t to say a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine will always have better throttle response than an overhead-valve V8, nor that it will sound better than a twin-turbocharged V6 or generate more torque than a naturally aspirated V6. One thing is for sure, however: you can’t say for certain how it will feel until you try it.

Preconceived notions suggest a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, even turbocharged, just won’t feel right in a big German luxury sedan. This isn’t the CLA. This isn’t even the C-Class. This is an E-Class, a properly big car. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic is an Accord-sized four-door (it’s within a tenth-of-an-inch in height and width and less than half-an-inch longer) that weighs 600 pounds more than an Accord and is priced from $55,575 in 4Matic form.

A 2.0-liter turbo four? Seriously?

It’s fine. There’s no problem. Don’t get your hackles up. Lay down your weapons.

The E300 4Matic accelerates from rest to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, Mercedes-Benz USA says. It’ll do 29 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA rating.

One user on Fuelly.com, with nine fill-ups, is averaging 27 mpg. We’re averaging 28 miles per gallon in a mix of highway and suburban driving.

A decade ago, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic’s 3.5-liter V6 produced 268 horsepower, 27 more than the 2017 E300’s 2.0-liter turbo four, but with 15 fewer lb-ft of torque. The 3.5-liter was rated at a measly 19 mpg city; 23 highway.

The 2017 E300’s 2.0T isn’t perfect. In Eco and Comfort modes, there’s a disconcerting dullness to your right foot’s initial throttle application. Even in Sport and Sport+ modes, in which the 2.0T and the nine-speed automatic are much more eager, it’s impossible not to be cognizant of the E300’s heft. But this lack of gumption is only for the briefest of moments, before all the torque comes on stream and momentum is sustained. The E300 backs up its badge with big-displacement passing power.

Ah yes, the badge. Perhaps I no longer care about cylinder counts, but Mercedes-Benz clearly believes some potential customers will. Although in the CLA’s transverse application, with the 2.0T codenamed M270, the CLA becomes the CLA250, this longitudinal application (M274) begets the E300 badge.

“It’s like a 3.0-liter V6,” they seem to be telling you. “Because a 2.0T badge would be beneath the E-Class.”

I want the enthusiast in me to cry out for a V8 engine. (Mercedes-Benz USA will get around to offering an upgrade, but E400 equals a 3.0-liter V6 turbo.) I want to want more engine, more displacement, more hemispherical combustion chambers, flat-plane cranks, and burbling exhausts. But that stuff doesn’t matter in this car, and it won’t matter in an Audi Q7. Technology is moving the four-cylinder turbo forward. It’s not always desirable. (See: Mustang EcoBoost Automatic.) It’s not always particularly economically advantageous. (See: Mustang EcoBoost Automatic.)

Still, in routine daily driving, deciphering the differences between one engine configuration and another in a car as silent and smooth as a $70,000 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is nigh impossible.

Thus, there is a replacement for displacement. Get used to it.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Skor Skor on Oct 28, 2016

    The reason why North American car makers fell in love with the V8 in the immediate post war period had more to do with reliability than with power or speed, even though two later qualities were good for marketing. The vast majority of V8 engines produced from the 50s-70s were not 'high performance' mills. Those engines produced gobs of torque at very low rpms. They moved the land barges of the time at highway speeds while turning at a rate barely above idle. Engines like that went for years without any major repairs. With today's much improved materials technology, engines can rev at rates that were unimaginable even twenty years ago, and do so reliably for years.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Oct 29, 2016

    I guess I'm a dinosaur, it's V8s forever for me. Grew up on Chevs and Fords, drove V6 FWD for a long time. Then told the wife, next car has to have a V8. Driving a Lexus with a 1UZ-FE. Love that engine. Got a 2013 GS350 for a loaner and, same HP as my car, but sound and feel just not the same.

  • UnoGeeks Thanks for the informative article. Unogeeks is the top Oracle Integration Cloud Training Institute, which provides the best Oracle Integration Cloud (OIC) Training
  • Varezhka And why exactly was it that Tesla decided not to coat their stainless steel bodies, again? My old steel capped Volant skis still looks clean without a rust in sight thanks to that metal vapor coating. It's not exactly a new technology.
  • GIJOOOE “Sounds” about as exciting as driving a golf cart, fake gear shifts or not. I truly hope that Dodge and the other big American car makers pull their heads out of the electric clouds and continue to offer performance cars with big horsepower internal combustion engines that require some form of multi gear transmissions and high octane fuel, even if they have to make them in relatively small quantities and market them specifically to gearheads like me. I will resist the ev future for as long as I have breath in my lungs and an excellent credit score/big bank account. People like me, who have loved fast cars for as long as I can remember, need a car that has an engine that sounds properly pissed off when I hit the gas pedal and accelerate through the gears.
  • Kcflyer libs have been subsidizing college for decades. The predictable result is soaring cost of college and dramatic increases in useless degrees. Their solution? More subsidies of course. EV policy will follow the same failed logic. Because it's not like it's their money. Not saying the republicans are any better, they talk a good game but spend like drunken sailors to buy votes just like the libs. The sole function of the U.S. government is to take money from people who earn it and give it away to people who didn't.
  • CecilSaxon Sounds about as smart as VW's "SoundAktor"
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