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BMW: U.S. Four-Cylinders Possible, Not Yet Certain

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2009 BMW 1-Series 128i

2009 BMW 1-Series 128i

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BMW has for a decade kept its four-cylinder engines out of the U.S. market. Instead, the product line has been heavily stocked with the company’s best asset: in-line sixes. For the most part, TheCarConnection.com is happy with that choice, as BMW’s straight-six engines are among the smoothest, most refined engines of their size. And they’re surprisingly fuel-efficient; on a long highway trip with a manual-gearbox ’07 530i and some right-foot discipline, this tester averaged 32 mpg—way better than most other vehicles its size.

But with the volatility of fuel prices, tightening fuel-economy standards, and a growing interest in more frugal engine choices—even in the luxury segment—we have to wonder if BMW won’t become a little more open-minded about smaller, even more fuel-efficient engines.

Martin Birkmann, BMW’s manager for product planning and motorsports, told TheCarConnection.com last week that the automaker has made no decision yet to include four-cylinder engines in its U.S. product portfolio, though he agreed that attitudes might be changing and the automaker is considering a future turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder for some of its products.

Such an engine, if brought to the U.S., Birkmann added, would need to bring significant performance and efficiency advantages.

Rival German brand Audi has offered its 200-horsepower, FSI (2.0T) four-cylinder engine for several years on the A3 and A4, but Mercedes-Benz has also balked at the possibility of bringing four-cylinder models back to these shores.

BMW's potential return to four-bangers has been reported by a number of sources, including Automotive News, in recent weeks although officials have remained mum. BMW last offered a four-cylinder engine in the U.S. market for 1999, on the Z3 and 318ti, but the powerplant at that time was neither that perky of a drive nor even much more fuel-efficient than the six. However, such an engine, making in the vicinity of 250 to 300 horsepower and getting EPA highway ratings of more well over 30 mpg highway, would make sense in the 1-Series, and perhaps in an upcoming smaller Z2 roadster.

Meanwhile, visit TheCarConnection.com’s overview page on the 2009 BMW Z4 for our fresh driving impressions on this more grown-up roadster.

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