Speaking with CarAdvice at the launch of the BMW M3 and M4 in Portugal this week, the head of BMW’s M Division, Friedrich Nitschke, said it’s not a matter of engine size or cylinder count, but about the philosophy of an M engine.
Asked if he would rule out a four-cylinder engine for future models, Nitschke said: “No, it’s not a question of the philosophy of a BMW M [car] to have an eight- or six- or four-cylinder [engine]”.
“Look at the last four generations [of M3], we had a four, six and eight [cylinder] and for us the most important thing is what kind of engine or powertrain fits perfect for the car and we decide the best alternative or best version, and not to say we only stay with eight- or six-cylinder [engines].”
The M division had up until 2010 only ever used naturally aspirated four-, six-, eight- and 10-cylinder engines, but its current line-up consists strictly of a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six and a twin-turbo V8.
The last time BMW M division used a four-cylinder engine was in the E30 BMW M3 (pictured above), of which 16,202 were made between 1986-1992.
The introduction of the BMW M2 Coupe (and potentially the X4M) next year will see the return of a performance-orientated twin-scroll inline-six engine as seen in the previous-generation BMW 1 Series M Coupe, nonetheless, it begs the question of where a four-cylinder unit might fit in the current line-up.
Rival performance brand, AMG, has found plenty of fans with its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Mercedes-Benz A45 and CLA45 AMG models, with the GLA45 AMG compact SUV to join the line-up later this year as well.
CarAdvice suspects that any future BMW models set to sit below the 1 Series will be likely candidates for the M treatment with a four-cylinder turbocharged unit, but given they are likely to be front-wheel drive in standard guise, M Division would have to make substantial changes.
Nitschke told CarAdvice that an M badge is unlikely to be found on a front-wheel-drive vehicle while he is in charge, but hinted at the possibility of an all-wheel-drive M car, which would be the same strategy as AMG, taking front-wheel-drive models and turning them into all-wheel drive (or even taking rear-wheel-drive models such as the E63 AMG and making them all-wheel drive for left-hand-drive markets).
“I think at the moment, [when you have] more than 150-200kW with a front-wheel-drive car, you have to make it an all-wheel-drive car. You know how much horsepower or kilowatts we have in our cars so therefore, a real-world front-wheel-drive M [car] is difficult to imagine.”
BMW’s board member for development, Herbert Diess, told Automotive News Europe in February this year that the BMW group would introduce 15 front-wheel-drive models in the next few years, which is likely to mean at least three or four additional front-wheel-drive BMW-badged vehicles will emerge to join the already announced BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (the rest of the front-wheel drive range will be taken care of by the Mini brand).
Should the BMW M division make a four-cylinder all-wheel-drive model to compete with AMG?