BMW’s new boxer engine looks absolutely spiffing

By topgear, 03 December 2019

There are many frustrations which increasingly stifle our enjoyment of modern motor cars, but one that’s blighting just about every car made outside of northern Italy is ugly engines. Or ugly engine covers, to be precise. Very few brand-new cars allow you a proper, slack-jawed geek-out over the thing that powers their wheels. This makes us sad.

Hurrah for BMW, then, or its motorbike department, specifically. BMW Motorrad has given us a proper glimpse at the two-cylinder boxer engine that powered its rather lovely R 18 and R 18/2 concepts (pictured in black and red, respectively), and it’s done so with all other parts of the bike removed. This is an engine in its purest, most beautiful form.

We’ve spent so long gawping at the pictures – and wondering where in the office it would look nicest – it’s almost a side note to learn this is the most powerful 2cyl boxer ever. Its 1,802cc yields 90bhp. Sure, that’s VW Up kind of power (and not even an Up GTI), but it’s a hefty amount for a bike, especially given it’s delivered at a very car-like 4,750rpm.

No revving the nuts off this one. Its 159Nm torque peak sits even lower, at 3,000rpm. The R 18 must be an effortless thing to ride.

Want some more nerdery? The engine’s known as the Big Boxer (delightfully bringing to mind large dogs) and weighs 110.8kg including six-speed gearbox and intake system. There’s even the option of a reverse gear.

BMW R18 concept
BMW R18 concept

“Unlike the classic air-cooled two-valve boxer engines made by BMW Motorrad,” we’re told, “the Big Boxer crankshaft, forged from quenched and tempered steel, has an additional main bearing at the centre, which was necessary due to the enormous cylinder volume in order to prevent undesirable bending vibrations of the crankshaft.” So there. Its design otherwise harks right back to boxer-engined BMW bikes of the Thirties and Fifties.

BMW R18 concept
BMW R18 concept

Keeping things relatively simple, then, fitting neatly with the R 18’s mantra. If you’ll forgive Motorrad’s slightly word-packed phrasing, it uses technology “not for its own sake but as a way of creating space for fantasy and powerful emotion rather than sober contemplation and objective calculation.” This we can get on board with.

Much like the R 18 as a whole. Its maker hints of volume-production that “would enrich the BMW Motorrad Heritage world of experience” in the near future. Consider us interested. So long as that engine remains firmly in view…