Time to look back on the month of August and see what we have learned.
August has drawn to a close and we are now an important amount wiser on the subject of engines. Among the discoveries are that a combination of regulations and fuel prices have made life uncongenial for large capacity engines. Both in Europe and the US, the V6 is increasingly rare. Furthermore, even the staple of mass-market, mid-range motoring, the boring old 2.0 litre 4-cylinder is beginning look much less like the first rung on the ladder to power and prestige. In a world of buzzy three-cylinders and blown 1.2 litres four-cylinders, the 2.0 litre four has the aura of profligacy once reserved for in-line sixes. The diminishing technical awareness of drivers means this change remains largely unremarked. What buyers want is fuel economy and low CO2 figure. What´s under the bonnet is a matter of near total indifference.
The theme of the month´s focus on the 4-cylinder made clear the division between firms for whom the engine matters and those for whom it didn´t. Sean´s item on the Douvrin 4-cylinder drew parallels with GM´s all-purpose nail, the Iron Duke. From this you could simply lump the entire French motor industry together as Moteurs Generales. French
cars have their strengths but it is a curiosity that since the end of Citroen´s dalliance with boxer motors and air-cooling, the French have focussed elsewhere in their efforts to provide modern motoring. Their excuse has been the hang-over of punitive taxation on larger-engine cars. That said, PSA did work very hard to develop diesel engines in the 80s and 90s. Alas, ceding competence in large engines meant ceding prestige and this has cost PSA and Renault dearly. When it came time for a large diesel they turned to Jaguar for the C6. Conversely, the Americans, and GM in particular, were never terribly interested in small engines, and for them a 4-cylinder meant very small. If France showed the 2.0 litre as the upper limit of moderation, the US showed the 2.5 as the lower limit of excess. 2.0 to 2.5 litres is both a centre and a rough spot in engine sizes, neither small enough nor big enough at the same time. The result in both French and American cases has been that millions of drivers had coarse, characterless engines inflicted upon them.
Eoin Doyle has observed in his article that “any marque with pretensions to greatness has designed and produced its own” engines. Triumph still had such pretensions when it attempted to design the ill-starred V8. Oddly, Opel has for the most part has designed its own engines (with exceptions such as the diesel 2.5 borrowed for the Omega “B” from BMW) and yet greatness eludes them. Would not the Senator “A” have been a different car if it had challenged Mercedes with a good 8-cylinder unit? Fiat are still building their own engines but lack range in the outputs and are dismal at diesel. Saab was trammelled by their incapacity to build better engines of their own. Lancia lost their soul the day they put a Fiat twin-cam under the bonnet of the Beta. VW is a sterling example of pretensions to greatness, yet they are not known for this as much as the lavishness of their interior trim and skill at dissecting the market. Their experiments in W8 technology are curiosities and no-one sings praises of their sixes as they do the BMW six. Honda are unarguably an engine-centred firm but we failed to devote a single article to them. And BMW take great pains to avoid using anyone else´s power-plants and we ignored them too.
Also ignored: the V-8, in general. This class is less unusual, historically, in the US but is a rarity in passenger cars there today. In Europe the V8 has been reserved for high-ranking vehicles such as BMW 750s, Jaguar XJs and also, surprisingly, Volvo who sold the S80 with their 4.4 litre B8444S engine. Rolls-Royce get by with a modified BMW unit. Jaguar offer a V8 in 5.0 litre capacity and if you want it supercharged, simply play them more money. Tellingly, they offer the same body with a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo too, another sign of downsizing. Not a word about Lexus. We didn´t cover any of this but we´ll probably return to the subject when time permits. Underlying this neglect is the fact that large engines are not where the action is.
A survey of Ford, GM, Fiat and Opel´s engine ranges showed most diversity was in the 1-0 to 2-0 litre capacity range. And the mass market V6 is almost extinct. The news is about “twin-air” engines, turbo-charged 3-cylinder engines and high-efficiency supporting systems marketed under a variety of labels. It could be said to be interesting, but it´s not romantic, is it?. And the ecological benefits are open to question. How long are those stressed engines going to last? The Dutch government found that more fuel efficient engines simply allowed people to travel more kilometres. What people don´t do is use less fuel to travel the same miles. The planet doesn´t care if we go 4800 miles on 100 a gallons of fuel or 2200 miles; rather it´s whether we use 100 gallons of fuel or 50. Fuel consumption in the absolute shows no sign of reducing. I could argue then that the world would be nicer if we enjoyed smooth spinning 6s and 8s and drove less than if all we do is downsize to throbbing 3s. Drive less, but enjoy it more.