Thank You, Four-Bangers, for Not Embarrassing Me
Celebrating the modern 4-cylinder engine means having fun without feeling cheated.
In Germany, it’s common for cars to ship from the factory without model badges. It’s the most reticent way to purchase a Mercedes S65 AMG without shouting “V12 biturbo” in shiny chrome. It’s also an easy way to appear as if you’ve spent serious cash; is that BMW 3 Series with the 19-inch rims a 335i or low-end 316d? It’s a great guessing game for car geeks.
In America, the “badge delete” option doesn’t exist. We like labels and love showing off, and if we paid the extra $10,000 to grab the V8 engine, the trunk had better announce it. Nowadays, though, it’s no longer embarrassing to be caught driving a 4-cylinder car, be it a Benz or a Hyundai. Snappy turbochargers and direct injection have put once-lethargic four-bangers near the realm of V6 engines -- and often see them beating the more powerful engines in low-end torque delivery. If you’re driving a new 4-cylinder model with these technologies, you’ve made a smart decision: In 90 percent of all road situations, you won’t miss or need the power of a larger engine. Plus, you’re saving fuel and several thousand dollars off the sticker price.
Keep in mind that I was in California last week, and whenever I’m in California I have the urge to test something stupidly flashy and fast, like a Ferrari 458 or a Tesla Roadster. So when I visited Napa Valley in a Mercedes C-Class, my instincts told me to accept nothing less than the bonkers C63 AMG with 451 horsepower. Instead, I was handed a baseline C250. I couldn’t have been happier.
There’s something more exhilarating about making a slow car go fast than there is about driving a really fast car but having to put a leash on it. It’s not about trying to overcompensate for being saddled with unlucky equipment (the bald guy in the Corvette is already doing that). It’s about feeling comfortable when driving hard, feeling reassured that the car simply cannot reach levels beyond your own.
On the twisty, pitching back roads leaving Sonoma, my C250 played corner tag with a Volkswagen Golf TDI, the two of us clearly enjoying ourselves out in the open. The Benz was nearly silent and sometimes a bit laggy with its 201 horsepower -- the polar opposite of the C63’s superhuman thrust and voracious exhaust tones. So you work a little harder. At the end of the jaunt, you’re still rewarded with a solid car, a sport suspension that’s not too stiff, and pretty 18-inch AMG rims on summer rubber. And because it is the end, you’re now stuck behind a caravan of cars you can’t pass. That’s the real world.
BMW has ditched its signature normally aspirated inline-six engine in all but two cars, replacing it with a twin-turbo 4-cylinder that pumps out 120 horsepower per liter, a sort of vindication for the turbo fours that Audi has sold in the U.S. for years. The next Ford Fusion, a midsize car, will receive a turbo 1.6-liter four. The Chevy Malibu and Buick LaCrosse come with electrically boosted 4-cylinder engines. Then you have Honda’s classic VTEC engines, which get lively in a hurry on the Civic Si and Acura TSX. Hyundai and Kia make a crazy 274 horsepower in their 4-cylinder family sedans. Even Porsche is considering building a flat-four to use in its smaller Macan SUV, or a possible baby Boxster.
Even better, today's 4-cylinder models are leaving behind the dollar-store equipment, like plastic wheel covers and blank spots on the dash. You can usually grab the same bigger wheels, fancier suspensions and high-end luxury features on the inline-four as you might on V6 and V8 trims.
Be this as it may, I'm also split. I love power and grunt and big engine sound, and will keep defending the V8 until electric vehicles take over and I’m dead. But I wouldn’t want to pay for that privilege each and every day, when I’m not only saddled with high fuel prices but unable to unleash it safely on average streets. Slap “turbo four” across the sides, back and front of my new car. The four-banger is finally out and proud.
Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving and riding in cars he doesn't own. He was raised in Volvos and has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He lives in Boston, is a member of the New England Motor Press Association, and has reported for The Boston Globe, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and The Times of London.
I am driving what you describe..Direct Injection/DOHC/DualVVT/variable length intake runners/turbo with intercooler , six-speed manual. 17.6 out the door with ipod/USB connector/Bluetooth/criuse control/steering wheel controls/upgraded stereo/alloy wheels
Getting up to 48.5 MPG HWY.
Will do 0-60 in just under 8 seconds with TC off.
Excellent for a car that has triple overdrive ratios.
3`rd is 0.96 !
Fourth fifth and sixth are all overdrive but it pulls it off with the low RPM torque from the turbo.
Runs on regular too !
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at email@example.com.