RIP to BMW’s Naturally Aspirated Engines

With the introduction of the 4 Series convertible and the 2 Series, there remains only one naturally aspirated BMW currently being produced for the American market. That car is of course the M3 convertible which also ends production within weeks. While the V8 in that M3 and the the N52 inline six are two engines miles, they had one commonality – they represent the last of a classic BMW approach that was, at one time, the heart of the brand: free revving naturally aspirated engines. And now in just a few years time that approach has been wiped from BMW’s line-up.

The N52 (found in the 1, 3, 5 series, X3 and Z4) is a classic BMW inline six with a block cast with magnesium and aluminum for the crankcase. It’s not endowed with a lot of power (245) but it makes up for it with a turbine smooth delivery only an inline six could have. It’s eclipsed by its successor in about every way (except for power) and yet we can’t help but miss it already.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the S65. Derived from the E60 M5’s V10 engine (BMW chopped a couple cylinder off to get the V8) the S65 was admired for its ability to rev and tingle the senses of the driver all the way to redline. It may not adhere to all of the classic inline six philosophy but it’s one of the best engines ever put into mass production taking International Engine of the Year awards for the 3.0 to 4.0L category 2008 through 2012.

And now we have nothing but turbos – The N20 and N55 being the workhorses of the US market in particular. In Europe (and especially the UK) it’s the four cylinder diesels that sell in huge numbers. I suppose it makes saying goodbye to the NA engines a little easier knowing that the new crop of power plants are so good. More power, higher ability to rev and better efficiency across the board. But like mechanically boosted steering, there’s something lost in this progress that will always make us yearn for the purity of the un-boosted engines.

Will you miss the NA engines? Sound off in the comments section.

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  • sackboy

    Well- I certainly THOUGHT that I missed them- until I drove the 1M and a 94 Euro M3 back-to-back. Well- fellas- our Memory can make things seem to be better than they were in actuality! The 1Ms engine responds SO quickly to the throttle, that it is just instant! The Euro M3 six is quick, too- be sure of that- and makes a hellova beautiful howl at hi-revs, but it seems to me to take Longer to rev. The only area that it surpasses is in that beautiful sound at hi-revs! Just 1 fella`s opinion. sackboy

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    It is a funny thing- The M3 V8 which was initially considered blasphemy will be the engine I for one will miss. The progress of modern BMW engines is nothing to take for granted. I remember when I drove the N53 (the direct injected high output inline six the US never got) and being so underwhelmed simply because of the refinement and lack of torque. Turbos make torque and make gobs of it and that is what is “fun” to feel on the street.

    The biggest loss is the aural quality to me but I wouldn’t mind an i3 with the S65 soundtrack- hey its electric so pumping sound from speakers is all part of the electronics so it shouldn’t be frowned upon, no?

    Seriously though, I think we reminisce sometimes about times gone by and how they were better and they really weren’t… the only thing that gets better with age is booze and maybe some high end classics (watches and leather with patina)… But what do I know.

    • E90_LemansBlue

      The S65 is pure bliss. I just bought a 2011 E90 M3 on the used market, and I’m super stoked. It’s great fun. A lot of people whine about the weight of the car, but honestly I don’t ever feel it. It’s balanced so well, and that engine noise is just unmatched.

  • Track Guy

    I can’t help wondering if BMW really needed to replace all their NA motors, especially those in the lower volume M cars. Couldn’t we have had at least one more generation of high revving glory?

    Turbos aren’t the only way to meet emissions and efficiency requirements, and lots of car companies are still offering naturally aspirated sporty cars. There’s a rival German manufacturer based in Zuffenhausen who seem to be doing OK still building the majority of their engines without forced induction. And then there are the domestic car companies, whose performance cars are not dropping their V8s anytime soon (the C7 supposed gets 30 mpg, highway cycle).

    Dreamland: How awesome would the M2 be if BMW fitted the S65, used the M4’s suspension and called it a day? 🙂

  • JeffH

    I have not driven one of these “new normal” BMWs yet, my last experience being my old E46 M3, but I recently drove 2012 and 2013 MB C classes almost back-to-back. The 2012 had a NA 6 and hydraulic steering, whereas the 2013 had the turbo 4 and electrically assisted steering, if I am not mistaken. The difference in the driving experience is very dramatic. The new one drives like a low-end Hyundai. It has totally lost its German feel. I hope the same is not happening to BMW, is it?