Could we sometime soon see vehicles using engines with only three cylinders? With gasoline prices once more creeping up and the economy in the doldrums, there is talk once more of these small engines making a comeback. Skeptics will point to...
Could we sometime soon see vehicles using engines with only three cylinders? With gasoline prices once more creeping up and the economy in the doldrums, there is talk once more of these small engines making a comeback. Skeptics will point to the ill-fated ventures of Suzuki with the Swift and General Motors with the Metro and Geo Metro. While praised for their fuel efficiency, they were dubbed ‘gutless wonders,’ slow on acceleration, noisy and terrible when trying to go up hills.
That has not stopped car makers from looking into these engines once more. Volkswagen, BMW and Ford are developing three-cylinder engines that can achieve high fuel mileage while producing the horsepower traditionally associated with much larger, more powerful engines.
There is no reason why three-cylinder engines could not be common in the future. Look at what has happened with four-cylinder engines. In the last several years, four-cylinder engine technology has vastly improved in the areas of power and torque while still being easy on the gasoline tank. They represent a significant part of the vehicles sales market today. And we can’t forget that four-cylinder engines were also considered a cruel joke hoisted onto the driving public when first proposed and manufactured.
Yes, three-cylinder engines seem a joke, the Dodo bird of engines. The laughing will stop when these little engines are putting out 150 horsepower or more while sipping gasoline, if the OEM engine researchers are to be believed. It certainly helps that new emissions and fuel economy standards being pushed in the United States are pushing the engineers down this path as well.
The obstacle will remain perception about the realities of people’s driving habits.
Let’s be honest for a minute here. How much horsepower do most people really need? The reality is most drive on average less than 40 km a day, commuting to and from work, and running errands such as picking up groceries and the kids from school or sports events. While we may imagine ourselves slamming the pedal down like Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson (I think ‘Captain Slow’ is the better driver and a braver one at that), we are more likely stuck in traffic or driving a modest 50 km/h, if that. A fuel-efficient three-cylinder car likely will be just fine for 90 per cent of people who own vehicles.
Don’t believe me? For 20 years, my wife owned and drove a 1991 Honda Civic, a modest four-cylinder car that produced a stunning 85 horsepower. Guess what: it did its job just fine. If a three-cylinder car that did everything that old Honda Civic did, I would not hesitate to buy one. But then, Suum Cuique, as the expression goes.
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