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Once-reluctant BMW represents shift to four-cylinder engines

August 17, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Sales of the 2012 BMW 328i represent the shift in buyer preference to cars with four-cylinder engines.
Sales of the 2012 BMW 328i represent the shift in buyer preference to cars… (BMW )

Look to BMW for a sign of just how comfortable America has become driving cars with four-cylinder engines.

The German luxury car brand didn’t sell a single vehicle equipped with a four-cylinder engine for a dozen years starting in 1999.  That changed last year when BMW put its N20 four-banger into its Z4 convertible and 528i sedan.  Now it comes in the 328i.

Previously the sedans came with two sizes of six-cylinder engines with models designated a “28” getting the smaller of the two.

But now the four-cylinder accounts for close to half of all 5 Series sedan sales.  It was about a third of sales when it came equipped with the smaller of BMW’s two six-cylinder engines. The 3 Series is showing a similar trend.

“The design of the four-cylinder engine is so good that it makes it hard for BMW to upsell customers on the 535,” said Ivan Drury, an Edmunds analyst. “It is hard to justify the $5,000 premium for the larger engine.”

One big attraction of the smaller engines is that they use less gas, Drury said.

Through the end of July, 52.3% of all vehicles registered in the U.S. came equipped with four-cylinder engines, according to Edmunds. That’s up from 50% for the same period a year earlier and most analysts expect the number to continue to grow as automakers meet more stringent fuel economy regulations.

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