Power Packed: Marvels of Engineering in Small Car Engines

From Nebraska to New York, and from coast to coast, the world of automotive performance awaits as who might have thought the biggest horsepower (HP) engines would not be the biggest engines? The wonders of automotive engineering have conquered the ‘small but mighty’ adage and converted it into a literal expression for car engines. In this article, we will explore some of these mighty engine feats from smallest to biggest as we take a look at the modern wonders that power some of the fastest cars on the road.

The Volkswagen EA888 Evo 4: A Legacy of Power

A pioneer of this new revolution is the 2004 Volkswagen EA888 Evo 4, or in other words the ‘reliable-yet-amazing 2004 Volkswagen EA888 Evo 4’. Over 18 years, it has been repeatedly updated, and it can now be found in millions of VW, SEAT, and Audi vehicles. It’s the standout engine in the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R: a 2-litre inline-four cylinder engine that delivers 329 HP. How, I wonder? I think there are four ways. 1. Turbo 2. Cast-iron block 3. Aluminium alloy cylinder head 4. Engineers! (Volkswagen) Together, they create 164.5 HP per litre of engine.

Toyota's Mighty Mite: The G16E-GTS

Toyota, naturally, enters the fray with the G16E-GTS, the engine that propels its mad GR Yaris and GR Corolla. This is the smallest engine on the list with a 1.6-litre capacity but still churns out an outstanding 300 HP (thanks in part to its turbocharger and extensive cooling systems). It exemplifies Toyota’s dedication to attaining high performance from these small packages with a whopping 187.5 HP per litre.

Volvo's Efficient Performer: The VEA B420

The new VEA B420 engine, which Volvo says will offer the power of a larger engine without the fuel burn, demonstrates this promise of performance without compromise. Until recently, the four-cylinder engine was limited to the trusty Volkswagen polo or Golf, but through a combination of turbocharging and supercharging, Volvo’s latest 2-litre inline-four, available in some high-end Volvos such as the Volvo S90 and XC90 provides 320 HP. This little engine provides not only near-instantaneous delivery of power, but plenty of high-end torque.

The Mercedes-AMG M139: A Compact Powerhouse

Next comes the Mercedes-AMG world where we might find the rather diminutive but still gigantic and fabulous M139 engine that resides in the Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG 45 and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63. The 2-litre engine delivers an impressive 416 HP on the CLA, and 469 HP on the GLC 63 (or 234.5 HP per litre), and is the best of Mercedes-AMG engineering, an affordable way on to the high-performance luxury bandwagon.

Koenigsegg's Tiny Friendly Giant: The TFG Twin-Turbo

But the best small engines ever made are the 2-litre, three-cylinder Koenigsegg TFG twin-turbo powering the hypercar world’s Gemera, managing a prodigious 592 HP using just two turbochargers. The TFG engine, which uses rear-wheel drive and can run on Gen 2.0 ethanol (E100), E85, and other ‘green’ fuels, is not only a feast of engineering brilliance from Koenigsegg but also places the carmaker at the forefront of ecological thinking. Add to that three electric motors, and the Gemera becomes a family car with performance to scare the hell out of the world, while doing up to 1,000km on a single tank.

Understanding HP and Its Impact on Automotive Engineering

To the layman, HP is the way to judge the power output of an engine: that is, its ability to perform work over a period of time. A higher number of HP will generally be associated with a faster, more powerful engine, capable of a greater top speed and quicker acceleration. The engines covered here show how relatively recent advances in engineering have shown that ‘bigger is better’ is a rule which is no longer valid. By harnessing forced induction (in the form of turbocharging and supercharging), superb cooling systems, and more advanced materials, it is possible to wring ever more power from smaller engines. Greater power means better performance, but this gain is also achieved through improved fuel economy and decreased weight, which in turn will translate to better handling and reduced emissions.

And as our current automotive revolution in downsizing ebbs and flows with each generation, the search for more power will be a matter of smarter engineering rather than additional cylinders or more cubic inches. In the meantime, there will be more impressive HP in smaller packages, making the search for power not a matter of adding cubes, but reducing them.

Jun 10, 2024
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