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F10 / F11 (2011 - Current)
The new chapter in the highly successful story of the BMW 5 Series Sedan (F10) and wagon (F11)

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  #1  
Old 07-11-2013, 12:58 PM
neilsarkar neilsarkar is offline
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Question A question for the engine nerds

Why does a 6-cyl engine feel so superior than a 4-cyl?

I have owned seven cars so far, four with a four-banger and six cylinders in the other three. According to my experience, there is something intangible about the smooth power delivery, sound, and sheer effortlessness in the sixes that even really acclaimed fours (e.g. Audi's 2.0T, BMW's N20, Acura's K24) cannot match. It's definitely not about peak power/torque, since in those metrics highly under-rated N20 handily beats N52 and evenly matches Lexus' 2GR-FE (Toyota's corporate 3.5L V6). However, even driving in moderate speeds (say 25 - 45 MPH), I have felt something fundamental about sixes that makes more suitable for premium and/or sporty cars.

Questions:

1. What's the secret sauce of an I6/V6 that an I4 lacks?
2. Does a similar difference (in characteristics, not power) exist between an I6/V6 and V8 engine?
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  #2  
Old 07-11-2013, 01:29 PM
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Three main things:

1. Frequency of power strokes
2. Dynamic balancing of the crankshaft
3. Rotary inertia
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:03 PM
swajames swajames is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by neilsarkar View Post
Why does a 6-cyl engine feel so superior than a 4-cyl?

I have owned seven cars so far, four with a four-banger and six cylinders in the other three. According to my experience, there is something intangible about the smooth power delivery, sound, and sheer effortlessness in the sixes that even really acclaimed fours (e.g. Audi's 2.0T, BMW's N20, Acura's K24) cannot match. It's definitely not about peak power/torque, since in those metrics highly under-rated N20 handily beats N52 and evenly matches Lexus' 2GR-FE (Toyota's corporate 3.5L V6). However, even driving in moderate speeds (say 25 - 45 MPH), I have felt something fundamental about sixes that makes more suitable for premium and/or sporty cars.

Questions:

1. What's the secret sauce of an I6/V6 that an I4 lacks?
2. Does a similar difference (in characteristics, not power) exist between an I6/V6 and V8 engine?
Note that only the inline 6 has perfect primary and secondary balance - it doesn't need any balancing shafts etc (an I4 and a V6 are not perfectly balanced in the way that an I6 or H6 are).

The downside of the I6 is that it can make for a physically longer engine. Lots of variables that come into the mix, of course, but a broadly equal displacement v6 and even some v8s can be more compact.

The V8 isn't naturally balanced like an I6 but it's easy to make it balanced and in practice it's possible to build exceptionally smooth v8 power plants.
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MoldCAD View Post
Three main things:

1. Frequency of power strokes
2. Dynamic balancing of the crankshaft
3. Rotary inertia
Agree. In line sixes are said to have perfect primary balance.
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Old 07-11-2013, 02:36 PM
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Item #1 in the list is the biggest player in the overall smoothness of any given engine. What this basically says is that the more degrees of revolution you have power being applied the less distinguishable a power stroke becomes, therefore, the more cylinders the smoother the output. Until you have power applied during all 360 degrees of rotation (think turbine), but there is a practical limit to the number of cylinders, displacement etc. So if you want the smoothest engine around get one of the old 60s turbine racers, next best is the most cylinders you can afford. But look out for the problem of the inefficiencies of running turbines at massively variable rpm and for relative short duration, i.e. that's why we still have pistons in our cars despite all of Volvo's efforts.
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Old 07-11-2013, 05:59 PM
neilsarkar neilsarkar is offline
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A question for the engine nerds

Quote:
Originally Posted by MSgtMel View Post
Item #1 in the list is the biggest player in the overall smoothness of any given engine. What this basically says is that the more degrees of revolution you have power being applied the less distinguishable a power stroke becomes, therefore, the more cylinders the smoother the output. Until you have power applied during all 360 degrees of rotation (think turbine), but there is a practical limit to the number of cylinders, displacement etc. So if you want the smoothest engine around get one of the old 60s turbine racers, next best is the most cylinders you can afford. But look out for the problem of the inefficiencies of running turbines at massively variable rpm and for relative short duration, i.e. that's why we still have pistons in our cars despite all of Volvo's efforts.
Thanks for the clarification. Does that also mean a V8 engine feels much smoother than an I6/V6 one?


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Old 07-11-2013, 06:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MSgtMel View Post
Item #1 in the list is the biggest player in the overall smoothness of any given engine. What this basically says is that the more degrees of revolution you have power being applied the less distinguishable a power stroke becomes, therefore, the more cylinders the smoother the output. Until you have power applied during all 360 degrees of rotation (think turbine), but there is a practical limit to the number of cylinders, displacement etc. So if you want the smoothest engine around get one of the old 60s turbine racers, next best is the most cylinders you can afford. But look out for the problem of the inefficiencies of running turbines at massively variable rpm and for relative short duration, i.e. that's why we still have pistons in our cars despite all of Volvo's efforts.
This is sort of true. But not completely.

The way it feels also has to do with the way those pistons hit the crank, not just the number. In other words, the v-angle, the firing order, the crank orientation, etc.

A flat plane crank has the same orientation as two-four cylinders, hence it sounding kind of like two four cylinders together. A Ferrari flat plane crank does not have the same sound as an american offset crank.

Consider also a flat 6 vs. a v6 vs. an inline 6. Only the flat 6 and the straight six are naturally balanced in both primary and secondary harmonics. This affects the smoothness of the engine, and also it's ability to rev - due to the lack of vibrations as well as the lack of needing to spin a balance shaft to counter those vibrations.

Another thing to consider is that a straight engine will have more torque than it's bent version. I.e. a straight 6 naturally makes more torque than a v6.

So lots of things to consider.
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Old 07-11-2013, 06:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by neilsarkar View Post
Why does a 6-cyl engine feel so superior than a 4-cyl?

I have owned seven cars so far, four with a four-banger and six cylinders in the other three. According to my experience, there is something intangible about the smooth power delivery, sound, and sheer effortlessness in the sixes that even really acclaimed fours (e.g. Audi's 2.0T, BMW's N20, Acura's K24) cannot match. It's definitely not about peak power/torque, since in those metrics highly under-rated N20 handily beats N52 and evenly matches Lexus' 2GR-FE (Toyota's corporate 3.5L V6). However, even driving in moderate speeds (say 25 - 45 MPH), I have felt something fundamental about sixes that makes more suitable for premium and/or sporty cars.

Questions:

1. What's the secret sauce of an I6/V6 that an I4 lacks?
2. Does a similar difference (in characteristics, not power) exist between an I6/V6 and V8 engine?
1. Displacement, number one overall. More displacement equals more torque. Also notably is a better balanced engine which means it's much smoother.

2. To a certain extent. Here is some good reading: http://www.caranddriver.com/features...angles-feature
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  #9  
Old 07-11-2013, 07:23 PM
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Here's a good summary: Engine Smoothness (don't forget to hit continue at the bottom of page 1)
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Old 07-12-2013, 12:52 AM
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I find that 4 cylinders have very turnoff characteristics as well. Never driven a 4 cylinder that I found truly smooth, "luxurious" and that sounded good. I have driven some that felt good performance wise, however.

The I6 seems to be the ideal balance and you can really feel (and hear) that, especially from BMW. V6's however aren't inherently balanced and IMO V6's are usually not to "characterful" (aside from key standouts which clearly exist in large enough numbers) also. I've always said that my favorites are I6's and V8's (or Flat 6's a'la Porsche.... i.e just not a "V"6 preferably). The I6 is the only 6 that can truly match (or exceed) the smoothness of a well done V8. I also find the I6's have deeper and more aggressive growls than the inherently lesser balanced V6's.

BTW some great info in this thread that has me seeing technically explained reasons as to why I feel so many dynamic advantages from the I6 nature VS V6 nature (or so many other engine natures for that matter).
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  #11  
Old 07-12-2013, 01:09 AM
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K-A, the horizontally opposed flat 6 boxer engine is also perfectly balanced. It's not just the i6.

Ultimately, a good engine is a good engine. There are some absolutely excellent v6's out there. Just because it may lack the natural smoothness of an I6 doesn't mean a V6 can't be a great engine.
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Old 07-12-2013, 01:15 AM
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I used a lot of 4-cylinder cars in the past, followed by a V6 Opel Vectra; then the I-6 330i (for 10 years) and now I have a 4-banger again (of course, with the Twinscroll Turbo it's a quite different engine than say the 2.0 Honda Accord I had in the early 90s). There is no comparison in smoothness between the I-6 and I-4 (or even the V6 I used to have), but..

- real life experience (at least with me) is that the current I-4 being less smooth doesn't bother me at all, even though I still remember the legendary BMW I-6 of my 330i (only just sold). Once loaded and pulling, the difference in smoothness is negligible (and thanks to the F10 excellent cabin insulation, so is the difference in sound inside the car). Of course when idling, those differences are much more pronounced - but then, being electronically controlled and with high-pressure direct injection, even the I-6's idling RPM can fluctuate and the engine can sound harsh or misfire occasionally. The bottom line being:

- if I'd like to get an I-6 in my next BMW is simply and solely due to my lust for power, not so much smoothness or refinement. YMMV.
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Old 07-12-2013, 02:57 AM
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Old 07-12-2013, 08:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MoldCAD View Post
I used a lot of 4-cylinder cars in the past, followed by a V6 Opel Vectra; then the I-6 330i (for 10 years) and now I have a 4-banger again (of course, with the Twinscroll Turbo it's a quite different engine than say the 2.0 Honda Accord I had in the early 90s). There is no comparison in smoothness between the I-6 and I-4 (or even the V6 I used to have), but..

- real life experience (at least with me) is that the current I-4 being less smooth doesn't bother me at all, even though I still remember the legendary BMW I-6 of my 330i (only just sold). Once loaded and pulling, the difference in smoothness is negligible (and thanks to the F10 excellent cabin insulation, so is the difference in sound inside the car). Of course when idling, those differences are much more pronounced - but then, being electronically controlled and with high-pressure direct injection, even the I-6's idling RPM can fluctuate and the engine can sound harsh or misfire occasionally. The bottom line being:

- if I'd like to get an I-6 in my next BMW is simply and solely due to my lust for power, not so much smoothness or refinement. YMMV.

Comments about the new 4 noted. But the facts in this thread just further convince me that my statement in another thread about the 4 in a 5er just doesn't fit the "Lux" image of the 5s and up was spot on and may even be debatable when put in a 3er because of price point. There are just some things you don't do.
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Old 07-12-2013, 09:00 AM
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K-A, the horizontally opposed flat 6 boxer engine is also perfectly balanced. It's not just the i6.

Ultimately, a good engine is a good engine. There are some absolutely excellent v6's out there. Just because it may lack the natural smoothness of an I6 doesn't mean a V6 can't be a great engine.
A good example is the 3.5L V6 in the Lexus GS350, smooth as silk. Personally, I think it is smoother than the the N55.
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Old 07-12-2013, 10:44 AM
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A question for the engine nerds

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A good example is the 3.5L V6 in the Lexus GS350, smooth as silk. Personally, I think it is smoother than the the N55.
Yes! I have an ES350 with essentially the same engine (without direct injection) and it's one refined piece of machinery. Proof positive that V6, done right, can compete with an I6 in terms of smoothness.


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Old 07-12-2013, 12:12 PM
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And all of that Royal Society discourse can be thrown out of the window once you start electric motor.

I have to say, though, most of these monsters trying to explode into pieces and, thus, achieve their naturally balanced state ... they DO make some mighty nice sounds while doing so
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Old 07-12-2013, 08:28 PM
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As others have mentioned, there just the inherent balance of the I6 that is very difficult to mimick.

My dad recently got a VW Tiguan with the 2,0 TFSI petrol engine, one of the best 4 cylinders out there. And it's very good. More power than my ancient M54 engine, fatter torque band, fewer COČ emissions and far less fuel consumption. It's really really good.

But the occasional rumble still comes through. Especially when the dimwitted Aisin 6AT keeps it in a high gear and <1750rpm, there's just a smidge of coarseness that comes thru and you feel in the seat of your pants. And certainly when one punches it to the redline >6k rpm, you're reminded it's a 4 cylinder. It's not loud, annoying, or bad at all. But under the same conditions, the M54 engine in the X3 retains its smooth qualities.

Don't get me wrong, I believe 4 cylinders is the right way to go, and since the conditions above apply to me only <5-10% of the time, my next car will have a 4 cylinder (of the compression-ignition variety).
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Old 07-13-2013, 09:25 AM
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Lot of good logical and technical reasons listed above. The following is my opinion, so feel free to disagree.

I prefer 6's to 4's and 8's to 6's because in general, for engines of the same technical level, a lower cylinder count means the engine needs to work harder for a given level of performance. That means a 4 will need to be pushed to higher levels of RPM, a more open throttle position, etc to achieve what a 6 or an 8 can do with ease...even at steady state highway driving. In my experience, 4's also tend to produce more of a vibration than a 6 or an 8. Finally, the noise that a 4 makes tends to be harsher (IMO) than that produced by a 6 or an 8. In all, this is why I think a 6 or an 8 is superior to a 4.

Now, once you get outside engines on the same technical level...say one of today's 4 cylinders vs a 6 or an 8 of 15-20 years ago (one that produces the same rough power/torque equiv.), and you might find that today's 4 is better.
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Old 07-13-2013, 09:59 AM
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It has already been mentioned that engines with 0°, 60°, 120°, and 180° angles between the throws are naturally balanced. Another factor is noise and the spacing between exhaust and intake pulses.

Note, that may V6s are odd angle. 72° is popular. 90° when it is based on a V8 is another common angle. The throws are offset, but the balance needs help.

All of this is possible because of the use of balance shafts, and they do a very good job.

That doesn't mean a 4 cylinder can't be balanced. But we tend to be talking about larger 4 cylinder engines, at least 2L and in many cases up to 2.5L. Those would be half of a large V8. Balance also makes a difference.

Note than most street motorcycles are 4 cylinder. I doubt anyone would complain about the engine in an S2000.

Close to half a century ago I blew the engine in my SSS Pinto at Lime Rock. It was rebuilt to drag racing engine tolerances. It went from a coarse 4 to where you could nearly balance a quarter on its valve cover.

Here, BMW has been known for its super smooth straight 6s. That was part of the surprise of their move to the ubiquitous 2L 4-cylinder turbo. However, modern technology makes getting the power so effortless, the weight and friction reduction is too important pass up. Note in the US MB is replacing the E550 with an E400 turbo V6. Turbo V6s are also considered good options on Audi A8s and Jaguar XF and XJ models. These engines all have 300hp-350hp and match the NA V8 performance of 5-to-10 years ago.
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Old 07-14-2013, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by The X Men View Post
A good example is the 3.5L V6 in the Lexus GS350, smooth as silk. Personally, I think it is smoother than the the N55.

When I test drove the GS350, I did not find the engine as smooth as the I6 on the 2013 BMW. Also the refinement and sound of the I6 was unbeatable. BUT, you really have to listen and drive the car for a while, to get an increasing feel of the difference. In the end, I think the character of I6 and H6 engines cannot be replicated; but yes a good V6, like in the GS350, can get close.

Edited: Petty that the GS350 has not a as good automatic gear as the BMW. I personally find it holding back the car. Lexus would do good with upgrading the 6 speed to an 8 speed as well.
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Old 07-14-2013, 12:59 PM
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They will probably skip the ZF8 and adopt the ZF9 soon.
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Old 07-14-2013, 01:13 PM
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When I test drove the GS350, I did not find the engine as smooth as the I6 on the 2013 BMW. Also the refinement and sound of the I6 was unbeatable. BUT, you really have to listen and drive the car for a while, to get an increasing feel of the difference. In the end, I think the character of I6 and H6 engines cannot be replicated; but yes a good V6, like in the GS350, can get close.

Edited: Petty that the GS350 has not a as good automatic gear as the BMW. I personally find it holding back the car. Lexus would do good with upgrading the 6 speed to an 8 speed as well.
I had the GS for about a year and a half and so far, the 535i has been in my driveway for about a year and a half. There is no question the GS350's V6 idle smoother, like a typical Lexus, its hard to tell when the engine is on. When push hard, the GS also accelerate smoother, but I think that's due to the transmission more than the engine itself. Exhaust note wise, the N55 sounds better.
It is a shame that Lexus choose to cheap out in the GS' transmission, a sporty 8 speed coupled with that engine can shave off another 0.5 second or so from 0-60 and get better gas mileage.
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Old 07-14-2013, 05:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edino View Post
When I test drove the GS350, I did not find the engine as smooth as the I6 on the 2013 BMW. Also the refinement and sound of the I6 was unbeatable. BUT, you really have to listen and drive the car for a while, to get an increasing feel of the difference. In the end, I think the character of I6 and H6 engines cannot be replicated; but yes a good V6, like in the GS350, can get close.

Edited: Petty that the GS350 has not a as good automatic gear as the BMW. I personally find it holding back the car. Lexus would do good with upgrading the 6 speed to an 8 speed as well.
I also found the new GS powerplant to almost feel "coarse" upon acceleration.... though my mind could have thought that due to the measly sounds it made, and the lethargic transmission absolutely killing that car. My impression of it was "this feels 'old'", like something reminiscent of how cars of this caliber felt when pushed like a decade+ ago. Though the N55/ZF8 SAT has really spoiled me in terms of efficient use of power on such a heavy car.

My Mom has an ES350 which I've put over a thousand miles of my own on, and indeed the engine is almost "so smooth you don't know that it's on", but IMO this is a different kind of "smooth" than the N55/I6. Granted, the N/A I6's are the go-to for ultimate smoothness as the N55 adds a welcomed "grit" to it via that more aggressive nature/Turbo. However, the N55's beauty to me is how it literally "feels" so balanced yet it's still meant to have that kind of snarly nature you'd want from a sport powerplant. It can at one time be impeccably refined, i.e no matter how hard you push it, absolutely no coarseness, vibrations or anything build into the cabin, yet at another get your blood flowing due to the sounds and feedback it provides (admittedly extremely muted through the F10's robust and quiet chassis, but you can still get it).

Last edited by K-A; 07-14-2013 at 05:04 PM.
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Old 07-14-2013, 11:46 PM
swajames swajames is offline
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k-a, your descriptions couldn't be further from the reality.

In F Sport particularly, the GS350 is smooth, the engine note isn't "measly" and the transmission works well with the car.
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Last edited by swajames; 07-14-2013 at 11:47 PM.
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