Is the end in view for the once ubiquitous 2 Litre?
I’ve never liked 4 cylinders. Part of me has always lusted after pistons and capacity. How I envy a fellow correspondent on these pages his 5.3 litre V12. The only diesel engine I’ve ever been attracted to is Volkswagen’s ludicrous 5 litre V10, which made a mockery of diesel’s assumed economy but where the sheer numbers almost overcome my antipathy to fuel oil. Despite all this, the puritan in me has shown restraint and, in fact, the most cylinders I’ve ever owned in one engine is six and the largest capacity 2.8 litres. But it’s not all size. I like less than 4 cylinders too. I have eternally fond memories of the Citroen Flat Twin and I’ve never been tempted by a Japanese 4 cylinder motorcycle, far preferring my V Twin. I got very excited by Fiat’s TwinAir engine and, despite getting the idea that the real-world consumption, and thus emissions, are less related to the paper ones than they might be, it remains an attractive proposition – if only they’d put it in a car I wanted. The truth is that I’m a 4 cylinder bigot. There are exceptions in my prejudice (obviously an old Alfa Twin cam, probably some Hondas and any flat four, even a Beetle’s, and a Lancia V4 though, very certainly, not a Ford V4) but, generally, four in a row and I don’t want to know.
And of all four cylinder engines, the most clichéd is the 2 litre. The 4 pot in-line engine, with a capacity of more that 1950cc but less than 2000cc was, for so many years, the absolute average engine, both the high level engine in budget cars and the entry level one in aspirational cars. Before the Sixties there had been earlier 2 litre fours, but they hardly impressed. Post War, the Standard Vanguard started life with such an engine but, by the time that car morphed into the Triumph 2000 it was a six cylinder. The Rover 2000 of 1963 was probably the first 4 cylinder 2 litre that made no excuses for itself. It wasn’t actually that great an engine but, in a DS inspired car, it was good enough, and far better than Citroen’s creaky 1.9.
Throughout the Sixties and into the Seventies, other cars joined Rover – Mercedes 200, Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina, Chrysler 2 Litre, BMW 320, Lancia Beta 2000, Opel Rekord 2000S, Renault 20, Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0L, Ford Cortina 2000GXL – that’s just a quick sample, they were everywhere. By the late seventies it was a staple and, of course, that dreary lump of lumps the Douvrin engine jointly made by Renault and Peugeot was, naturally, originally engineered at 1995cc.
Some manufacturers, notably BMW, looked for an edge by reverting to a 6 cylinder 2 litre for a while, but the majority have stuck with the tried and tested, just adding fuel injection and more valves as the years went by, even creating diesel versions. Logically it’s all you’ve ever needed – it keeps up with traffic without using too much fuel and isn’t too complex to build or to fix – it’s just so bloody obvious, so middle of the road, so safe.
In the latter part of the 20th Century, 2000 was a special number. It was where we were going. France, in particular, was very enamoured with Deux Mille. Shops, discos, biscuits, floor cleaner were all branded thus. Then the year 2000 arrived, or we arrived at 2000, and what a disappointment! It was clear that, even if we held on for the extra year, there would be no civilian space shuttle stations populated by hostesses in Courrèges costumes, no world-changing messages from other galaxies, just more of the same, or maybe worse.
So, as the New Millenium started unfolding, the gloss quickly went off Deux Mille yet the engines laboured on. But all of a sudden 2 litres is beginning to look a bit big, a bit profligate. Downsizing is happening. The 2 litre is currently hanging on for the rep in a hurry, who needs more than 200 PS under their foot, but the everyday version of the 2000cc four is being replaced by engines of 1500cc or less, highly tuned with turbochargers to match or exceed both the power and torque of outgoing units and, in Ford’s case with the new Mondeo, having just 3 cylinders. As Richard Herriott points out elsewhere, this move is not without its detractors. VW’s 1.4 TSI seems to attract a lot of concern but it’s more likely the issues will be fixed than there will be a return to 2000. Personally I shan’t miss it – too small to be really antisocial and too big to make you feel worthy and smug.