Many automakers have abandoned straight-six engines in favor of more compact V-6 designs in order to improve packaging and pedestrian safety, but a few automakers are fighting the trend. The key reason is the development of modular engines, where, for example, three-, four- and six-cylinder engines can share a common design and can all be built on a single production line.

BMW started the trend with its new family of three-cylinder engines, which will eventually spawn four- and six-cylinder units, and Mercedes-Benz has previously been reported to be considering the same strategy.

Now Autocar is reporting that Mercedes will launch a new engine family with three-, four- and six-cylinder units all sharing a common design. This means the Three Pointed Star will once again have a straight-six engine in its cars, something not seen since the 1990s.

The new straight-six engine is expected to debut in the next-generation E-Class, due in 2016. The engine will then be offered in the next-generation C-Class, as part of the car’s mid-cycle update. Overseas, some Mercedes models will feature a three-cylinder version of this engine, though here in the U.S., Mercedes’ smallest engine is expected to remain a four-cylinder unit.

In a twist, Aston Martin has previously been reported to be investigating the use of a straight-six engine in some of its future models and the links between the British brand and Mercedes could mean some joint engine development.

Also according to Autocar, Mercedes has several other new technologies in the works. These are said to include an upgraded autonomous driving system with an overtaking function, a plug-in hybrid version of the next-generation C-Class and a new nine-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT automatic transmission. Note, Mercedes has already unveiled a nine-speed automatic for its non-AMG models. The first Mercedes cars in the U.S. with the nine-speed 'box will arrive for the 2015 model year.


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