P. J. O’Rourke once noted that pickup trucks tended to have eight cylinders, which was too many, or four cylinders, which was not enough. This would seems to be an argument for six cylinders, a happy medium if you will, but actual cars, as distinguished from trucks, to the extent that you can distinguish them from trucks (curse you, crossovers), seem to be migrating to four-bangers, a phenomenon which, to Jack Baruth, is just this side of hellish:
As a design, the inline-four is both banal and inadequate. The intake hangs off one side and the exhaust off the other, so when you open the hood it looks unbalanced and cheap. Enlarged to modern two-liter-plus proportions, this lack of balance makes it want to shake itself to death. At idle it rattles; at full revs it moans. Instead of the dual-megaphone mufflers associated with powerful V8s, the most efficient four-cylinder exhaust is a massive coffee can hanging off one side of the bumper.
Defending the fart can? Horrors!
Yet the unloved inline-four plows on. It’s cheap to make, cheap to modify. It fits in everything from a small motorcycle to a 5-Series BMW. It can be turbocharged to serve as a poor replacement for a more colorful six. This strategy, employed by the high-end German manufacturers and the Koreans alike, makes it easier to pass CO2-related regulations. So what if the resulting concoction sounds like a paint shaker? You muffle it to death and then play a fake engine sound through the stereo. Nobody knows the difference.
I am told that a hybrid system with an inline four is destined for the BMW 7-series, which just seems wrong for a car that can also be had with a V-12 fercrissake.
And fake engine noises, say I, are an abomination unto the Lord: if He had wanted us to waste our audio systems on such things He would have made AM the dominant form of radio.
Every time you buy a car that has something besides the ubiquitous inline-four, you are striking a blow for automotive character. You’re making a statement that you want steak, not Spam.
In my life I have owned six cars with a total of thirty cylinders: a straight six, two V-6s, and three inline fours. Then again, the budget doesn’t permit me to eat a whole hell of a lot of steak.