For nearly a century in automobiles, a bigger engine was always better. Six cylinders were better than four. A V-8 beat a six. Twelve cylinders rendered their owners as gods, with various Packards, Jaguars, Rolls Royces or Ferraris among their chariots. Just to hammer home the point, Bugatti dropped a 16-cylinder, 1,001-hp monster into its $1.3 million Veyron, creating the world’s fastest car with an official top speed that ultimately reached 267.8 mph.
Those days are done. The mine’s-bigger philosophy still has its adherents, but downsized engines — with a literal boost from turbochargers, direct fuel injection, sophisticated electronics or even hybrid electric assist — are no longer something you settle for. Some of that is being driven by government regulations, which are forcing even luxury automakers to revamp their cars to boost fuel economy and spew fewer emissions. But the upside for owners is that smaller engines are routinely outperforming their larger, less-advanced counterparts: When, say, a BMW turbo four-cylinder pumps out more power more than the company’s esteemed inline six — even as the four gets dramatically better fuel economy — then it’s pretty much game over.
Our test drives are turning up more and more models for which a smaller engine is the smarter choice. So many, in fact, that we figured a salute was in order for the cars that scale back with no sacrifice. Here are nine cars that prove that less can be more — along with one Detroit legend for which there’s still no replacement for displacement.
Sedan or coupe, the compact Caddy is among the industry’s best-kept secrets, more fun to drive than even a BMW 3-Series. That lively, engaging personality is best experienced with the 2.0-liter turbo four, rather than the pricier and more pedestrian 3.6-liter V-6, or the outright anemic 2.5-liter four sans turbocharger. With 272 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, this ATS runs from 0 to 60 mph in the high 5-second range, keeping pace with rivals. A revamped engine now delivers more of that torque-y punch the instant you mash the gas. And at $36,240, the ATS 2.0T sedan costs about $6,100 less than the V-6 version.
To a Detroit muscle head, a three-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine sounds about right to power a lawnmower. But remarkably, the BMW-based three-banger does a fine job escorting the latest Mini. With 134 horses and 162 pound-feet, a respective gain of 16 and 48 versus the 1.6-liter four it replaces, the Mini hardtop scoots to 60 mph in a peppy 7.3 seconds, even as fuel economy soars to an EPA-rated 30/42 mpg in city and highway. And since keeping the deluxe Mini’s price in check is a challenge, it helps that the three-cylinder Mini starts for $3,400 less than the 2.0-liter Cooper S model, at $22,550.
The XC90 could once be had with a V-8 that slurped gasoline like a Swede drinks aquavit. All-new for 2016, the stylish, seven-passenger XC90 doesn’t even bother offering a V-6, let alone a V-8: A four-cylinder engine squeezes out 316 hp from just two liters of displacement in the XC90 T6, rendering the old 240-horse, 3.2-liter six obsolete. How’d they do that? The compact engine gets a one-two punch from a turbocharger and a supercharger, with Volvo bidding for class-leading fuel economy when EPA numbers are finalized. If that’s not enough, the same engine, with an electric assist, will pump out a mammoth 400 hp and 472 pound-feet in the plug-in hybrid T8 version.
BMW 328i and 428i
It hardly seems possible, but BMW’s venerable inline six-cylinder engine – a cornerstone of its Ultimate Driving Machine reputation – is feeling the heat from a downsized turbo four. Yet considering BMW’s escalating prices, its overachieving TwinPower four is proving the best antidote in a range of BMW models, including the 3-Series sedan and 4-Series coupe and convertible. With 240 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque, the 428i coupe scampers to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, just three-tenths of a second behind the 435i and its 300-hp turbo six. Oh, and that 428i, starting from $41,700, will save you a heady $5,500 compared with the 435i. Savings continue at the pump: At a stellar 23/35 mpg in city and highway, the 428i is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid luxury couple you can buy.
Pickup drivers, it was once assumed, would give up their V-8’s when they were pried from their cold, dead hands. But that was before the invention of engines like Ford’s Ecoboost. Straight from the gate, nearly half the buyers of the all-new F-150 are opting for the 3.5-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost V-6 instead of a traditional V-8. The Ecoboost’s burly 365 hp shoves the F-Series to 60 mph in a crazy-sounding 5.7 seconds, as quick as some sport sedans, and whomping the optional V-8 version. Now, an even smaller 2.7-liter. 325-hp Ecoboost six joins the lineup, lifting the Ford to the best fuel economy of any full-size gasoline pickup, at 19/26 mpg.
Audi’s departed A3 hatchback, along with models like the A4 sedan and TT sports car, offered a V-6 that mainly succeeded in making the cars heavier and thirstier, with little performance gain. Now Audi, long a pioneer in downsized turbo engines – along with its Volkswagen partner – has largely given up on its old-tech V-6. Why not, when its 1.8- and 2.0-liter turbo fours are among the silkiest, power-packed small engines in the industry. Ably serving in the new A3 Quattro sedan (along with a wide swath of Audi and VW models), the 2.0-liter is the star with 220 horses and a solid 258 pound-feet of torque. For $3,000 less, at $30,795, the front-wheel-drive A3 1.8T supplies 170 hp and still sneaks to 60 mph in about seven seconds.
Bentley Continental V8 S
When even Bentley, the sales king of price-no-object luxury cars, starts downsizing engines, you know it’s no fad. Fortunately, Bentley’s new blown V-8 makes cars like the Continental coupe and convertible even more entertaining – and more fuel efficient, if any Bentley owners care what they spend at the pump. Punching our diamond-studded calculator, Bentley’s twin-turbo W-12 engine pumps out 582 horses and 531 pound-feet at a $214,425 base price. But for $6,000 less, the Continental GT V8 S is virtually as quick with 521 horses and 502 pound-feet, feels more agile and gets 20 percent better fuel economy at 25 highway mpg.
Bang for the buck is the essence of Subaru’s rally-style WRX. And for 2015, the big bang comes from a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter Boxer four from the BRZ sports car. With 268 horses, 68 more than the BRZ, the WRX hauls to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds – impressive for an all-wheel-drive sedan that starts at just $27,090. The standard WRX is so thoroughly improved that there’s little reason to drop $8,200 more for the STI version – especially when the STI stands pat with Subaru’s old-tech, 2.5-liter four with 305 hp.
Mercedes-AMG C63 and C450 AMG Sport
Fans of Mercedes’ high-performance AMG division shed tears at the departure of the high-decibel 6.2-liter V-8 that turned virtually every AMG model into a German muscle car. But the pity party is over, thanks to Mercedes’ muscular family of downsized, bi-turbo V-8s and V-6s: Come September, the all-new C63 and C63 S sedans will churn up a respective 469 and 503 hp from a compact 4.0-liter biturbo V-8, with dramatically improved fuel economy versus the departed big-block engine. The more-affordable C450 AMG Sport, for its part, will amass a healthy 362 hp from a mere 3.0-liter biturbo V-6.
Ford Mustang GT
Here’s the exception. Sorry, Ford: Your Ecoboost engines are impressive, including the 2.3-liter version in the thoroughly modernized Mustang. But despite an ample 310 hp and frugal 32 highway mpg, the four-banger just doesn’t tickle the ear or excite the senses in the way we expect in this iconic Motown muscle car. For buyers who just want Mustang style and maximum mileage for a reasonable $26,125 price, the Ecoboost certainly whips the creaky V-6 version. But we’d happily ante up $33,125 to start for the Mustang GT and its street-fighting, 7,000-rpm V-8, with a nice round 5 liters and 435 hp. Now that’s a proper Mustang, romping to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13 seconds, with the bodacious rumble you can only get from a V-8.
Source: Yahoo! Autos