TURIN — Almost half of the engines Mercedes-Benz put in its outgoing, W210-generation E-Class were 4-cyl. units.

Yet Mercedes' all-new, 2003 E-Class (W211 platform) just launched with a single 4-cyl. engine choice — and a diesel at that.

What's going on?

First, Mercedes knows that despite continual development, its existing 2L 4-cyl. engine family isn't up to today's sport/luxury standard.

More important, it has a totally new 4-cyl. gasoline engine in the pipeline.

Finally, it was decided that the new I-4's natural home is going to be the many variants of the C-Class. The new 4-cyl. first goes into the C-Class midyear and later appears under the hood of other models — including the newly launched E-class.

The new-generation 4-cyl. gasoline engines are highly sophisticated units, though: All use a supercharger with intercooler, twin balance shafts, variable valve timing and get a die-cast aluminium block.

Currently, the plan is to offer a range of four versions of the new engine family, in various stages of tune from 141 hp to 189 hp for the top 230 Kompressor variant. All of the engines are limited to 1.8L of displacement, with 82-mm bore and 85-mm stroke dimensions. More importantly, the 90 mm between bore centers means these units are not related to any existing Mercedes engine, but introduce an entirely new family.