Technological Advances Making Smaller Engines More Attractive to Consumers

Recent advancements in engine technology are putting to rest the long-held belief that smaller engines are only for economy models.

Still, most dealers don’t like to focus on the smaller, more fuel-efficient engines when talking with customers – at least not until they’ve taken a test drive.

New Country BMW general manager Tim Parker says unless he tells them in advance, most customers assume their driving a vehicle with a larger engine under the hood. “They’re pleasantly surprised afterward when we tell them it’s a four-cylinder turbo. They can’t believe that,” said Parker.

BMW isn’t the only automaker rolling out more four-cylinder-powered models.  Audi, GM, Ford and others are now giving their mid-sized, luxury and even SUV models four-cylinder powertrains. Advances in engine technology, like turbocharging and direct-injection, have led to the development of smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient engines that deliver more horsepower.

IHS Automotive director of global powertrain and component forecasting Eric Fedewa says, “People are seeing engines that would not have been appropriate in terms of size for those vehicles even one generation of vehicle ago.  Technology has really enabled engines to get a lot smaller, because they’re just as powerful but they’re much more fuel efficient.”

For an extra $1,000 or so, consumers can opt for the Ford EcoBoost turbocharged 2-liter engine when they purchase their new Taurus mid-sized sedans or Explorer SUVs. Later this year, Ford will replace the Fusion’s current 3-liter engine with the 2-liter EcoBoost engine. Ford says the new engine is 45 pounds lighter but delivers the same 240 horsepower of the 3-liter engine and increases torque by 47 pounds-feet.

GM also plans to offer its own 2-lliter, four-cylinder engine as an option for the Chevrolet Malibu and Audi already offers buyers the option of a four-cylinder engine in the A6.

Last year, BMW introduced its 2-liter, four-cylinder powered 5 Series in the U.S.  The luxury automaker also offers the 2-liter N20 engine in its X3 SUV, Z4 sports car and 3 Series sedan.

Cadillac plans to make a 2-liter, 200 horsepower engine standard on its popular ATS. Buyers will have the option of paying an additional $1,800 for the more powerful 2.5-liter engine.

Fedewa says, “You’re going to see many, many more vehicles with smaller-than-typical-size turbo engines. Consumers now are really focused on fuel economy as a quality metric of a vehicle brand.”

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