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And now, a moment of silence, for a passing legend. BMW has finally killed off the engine that once brought it to greatness: its venerable inline-six.
Due to fuel efficiency concerns, the straight-six is being phased out in favor of turbocharging and four-cylinder engines, like in the next 1-Series. The six was known among enthusiasts for its aural allure and smooth power delivery, being one of the most regarded naturally-aspirated engines in production.
But now, “it is more about fuel economy more than anything else,” says Piers Scott, a BMW spokesman. “From a performance perspective obviously we’ve had some enormous success with naturally aspirated engines. But now we’re able to achieve comparable performance but with far greater fuel economy through smaller, more compact turbochargers.”
Within a few years, BMW hopes to move to an all-turbocharged lineup, like a Teutonic Saab. BMW continues to offer turbocharged versions of its 3.0-liter six-cylinder powerplant – like in the 335i.
The BMW straight-six can draw its history from the Big Six series, the successor and further development of the legendary Neue Klasse. Over the years, BMW sixes have powered everything from the M1 race car to the “sharknose” 6-series, from powerful M5s and M3s to even the most mundane 730i. It’s the engine that made the company; it’s to BMW what flat-sixes are to Porsche and rotaries are to Mazdas. And now that it’s been killed off, well—the world of cars seems a little more homogenized as a result.
Ironically, the Senior Six was developed as a replacement for the Neue Klass’s M10 four-cylinder, the engine that powered the 2002—a car whose most legendary form came with a Turbo. The more things change, said Bon Jovi, the more things stay the same.