Jack Baruth rants, in Road & Track, against the straight-4-cylinder engine.
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. â€‹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. With the possible exception of the famous Offenhauser, there has never been a coffee table made from a straight-four block. …
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.
Read the whole thing.
Sure, a 12-cylinder Ferrari or an E-type Jaguar with a straight-6 would be nice, but face reality, we all have to start somewhere, and less expensive cars, and even some very cool once-less-expensive sports cars which are highly enjoyable to drive are straight 4s. I, for instance, used to own the examples illustrated top and bottom, and they were definitely fun to drive.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.