Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


How it works

Engines are getting smaller – even in North America Add to ...

We are entering an era of downsized engines.

While the rest of the world has been dealing with expensive fuels, North Americans have been consuming copious amounts of cheap fuel in vehicles with large-displacement engines. That cannot be sustained in the face of concerns about price, supply and emissions. We are seeing the first wave of small new engines designed to address those concerns.

Manufacturers do not have to reinvent this wheel. There are plenty of high-tech small engines on the market. As a jurist for the International Engine of the Year award program, I am amazed each year at the number of small engines not available here. I am not talking about engines used to power lawn trimmers and such, but engines under one litre in displacement developed and used by major motor vehicle manufacturers for passenger vehicles.

This year’s list included entries from Daimler-Benz, Fiat, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mazda. Mitsubishi, Renault-Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota and Volkswagen. Categories on this year’s ballot were: above 4.0-litre, 3.0- to 4.0-litre, 2.5- to 3.0-litre, 2.0- to 2.5-litre, 1.8- to 2.0-litre, 1.4- to 1.8-litre, 1.0- to 1.4-litre and sub-one-litre. There were 26 engines in the sub-1.0-litre category and 53 in the 1.0- to 1.4-litre class.

I had to recuse myself from voting in the sub-one-litre category as I have not sampled enough of these engines to form an opinion. But I did vote in the 1.0- to 1.4-litre category for the first time and see that as a sign of things to come. The overall winner of the 2012 International Engine Of The Year award, announced in Germany last month, was the turbocharged, 999-cc, three-cylinder unit used in the European Focus.

The new Ford engine garnered 401 votes while the runner-up, with 288 points, was the 1.4-litre VW TSI twin-charger used in a variety of Audi, Seat and Volkswagen vehicles. A 4.5-litre Ferrari V-8 came in third with 224 points while the 1.4-litre engine used in the Chevrolet Volt was right behind at 222 points.

Do you see a trend here?

Get used to it. The decade-long trend that began in Europe is gradually finding its way into North American showrooms. A report by the international management consulting firm of Frost & Sullivan says consumer and environmental awareness campaigns will push the continued development and use of these smaller engines.

The report also says that three-cylinder engines with displacements of less than 1.2-litres will become more popular. But extracting acceptable levels of power and performance from such small displacement will require the use of forced induction through turbo or supercharging – or both as is the case with the VW Twincharger, which won the coveted engine of the year award in 2009. Frost & Sullivan predict that 35 to 38 per cent of all gasoline engines will be turbocharged by 2018.

Variable valvetrain and direct injection technologies will also play a role in making these smaller engines more acceptable to consumers

Ford, under its “One Ford” policy, is leading the charge on this side of the Atlantic. The move to consolidate the myriad of platforms and drivetrains used by the various Ford operations around the world has resulted in the EcoBoost system of offering smaller-displacement turbocharged engines in place of much larger normally -aspirated engines. The big F150 pickup is available with a turbocharged si- cylinder engine that offers both more power and better fuel economy than the conventional V-8. How long before we see the award-winning 999-cc three-cylinder engine under the hood of a Ford at your local dealership?

Who would have thought, back in the heyday of seven-litre (427-cubic-inch) engines, we would be driving cars with one-litre (63-cubic-inch) engines?


Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDrive

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular