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Green Highway

Fewer cylinders the better way to go Add to ...

I know pickup trucks and big SUVs are the big sellers in Canada at the moment. In Europe, whether it's because of high taxes on fuel or tougher regulations on pollution, most consumers prefer economy over size and they're getting some interesting new choices.

For example, the two-cylinder engine is making a comeback and is now being offered by Fiat in the popular Fiat 500. With the help of a turbocharger, the 875-cc TwinAir engine cranks out 85 horsepower and will get the little car to a top speed over 160 km/h. If driven sensibly, the car achieves amazing fuel efficiency of 3.4 litres/100 km.

The South Korean auto maker is going toe-to-toe with the industry giants - and winning.

We haven't seen a two-cylinder car around here since the old Citroen 2CV (Deux Chevaux), but Fiat says the two-cylinder design is the most-efficient, low-friction configuration for a gasoline engine. It's on sale now in Italy and Great Britain. Chrysler is bringing the Fiat 500 to Canada in the very near future. I expect it will have the four-cylinder, 1.2-litre engine. The TwinAir has 23 per cent more power and 15 per cent lower emissions.

By the way, two-cylinder engine in the original Fiat 500 in 1957 had only 13 horsepower. Engine technology has come a long way; so get over your obsession with V-8s, V-6s and even I-4s. A little two-banger could be in your future.

Three-Cylinder Engine for BMW

If not two cylinders, then how about three? BMW has been flogging its Vision EfficientDynamics concept car at various auto shows. The name doesn't exactly come tripping off the tongue but it has showcased various technologies that Bimmer has been working on. Now comes word that it is going to put it into production and on the market by 2014.

It's a four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid with two 95 hp electric motors (one in the front and one in the back) as well as a 163-horsepower, three-cylinder diesel engine. There are 98 lithium-polymer cells in the floor which are supposed to provide enough juice for about 56 kilometres in electric-only mode.

This is a low-riding super sports car with gull wing doors providing entry to both rows of seats plus all the aerodynamic tricks they come think of to reduce the drag co-efficient to 0.22. It will have race-track acceleration and a blinding top speed. The price tag on this one will be at least $150,000, which means it's being positioned above the BMW 6-Series. Not bad for a three-cylinder car.

A Little Four for Mitsu

Mitsubishi is having a nice little improvement in sales as it changes its bashing-through-Africa image into a slightly greener one. The once-undisputed champion of the Paris-Dakar rally is turning to smaller vehicles that stress technology over elephant bars. It has recently dumped the venerable Outlander brand for the smaller and less expensive RVR.

It's a compact sports-ute with front-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel-drive. Mitsu kept the weight of the thing down by doing such things as making the front fenders and bumper covers out of recycled plastic. Mitsu offers one engine - a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder cranking 148 horsepower.

I took it on a quick spin near Lunenburg, N.S. It'll get you up a snowy driveway but I wouldn't last 10 minutes on the ridiculously difficult Dakar Rally. Mitsu shouldn't apologize for that; I'm happy to see it's getting more in touch with the times.

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