Don't Expect To See A Four-Cylinder Or Hybrid BMW M Car Any Time Soon

Current four-cylinder and hybrid technology simply isn't good enough for BMW M cars.

Some of the best BMW M3s were powered by rev-happy four-cylinder engines without the aid of turbocharging, like the 4.0-liter, naturally-aspirated V8 that lurked under the hood of the E90 M3 in the 2000s, but we haven’t seen a four-cylinder BMW M car in a very long time. You can blame strict fuel emissions regulations for that, as BMW has had to downsize its engines to comply. According to an interview with , that trend looks set to continue, despite old rumors that .

There’s another factor, however – modern four-cylinder engines don’t meet the high expectations of BMW’s M performance division. These sentiments were put forward by BMW M division chief Frank van Meel during a media event in Munich. “We are really happy with our 6-cylinder [engines] because for BMW and BMW M that is our heritage engine,” he said. “We started with 6-cylinder in the M1 so it has a long history. BMW is a 6-cylinder inline company and, for us, it’s an iconic engine.” Has he forgotten that original E30 M3 featured a 4-cylinder engine? He went on to say that current four-cylinder technology doesn’t blend well with the setup of BMW M cars.

If you look at it with a four-cylinder, I don’t see characteristics that I would like on an M car, on a small displacement turbocharged four-cylinder engine,” he said. “I wouldn’t do a four-cylinder standalone turbocharged with high performance, because you always have the characteristic that if you want high performance you lose the low-end torque and you lose the overall drivability you want to have from the car." It’s no secret that - but not until the technology has evolved. “With the current generation we see ‘E’ motors that are still not strong enough for M applications,” he said.

“If you look at plug-in hybrids, it will add 200-300kg – which, for a car like an M3/M4 with 1500 kg – would put that completely out of balance and we couldn’t rebalance that towards a typical M philosophy.” Once the technology has been further developed, this could allow BMW to bring back the four-cylinder engines older M cars were famous for, since it would solve the initial lag and lack of torque you get from a turbocharged engine. However, this setup also has its drawbacks. “Electrification would help because low-end torque is done with electric motors,” he explained. “On the other hand, you are putting a lot of weight into the car, so that answer is not so easy."

To say ‘just do it’, you lose the motorsport topic of power-to-weight ratio which is very important with overall weight.” He added that BMW’s M division is working with BMW's i electric-car branch to look at the next-generation of battery cells and assess if the weight, power, density and range will be suitable for a future M car. “Today is not the right time,” he concluded.

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