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

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
confession ive stopped caring how many cylinders are under the hood

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.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?
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