You can make 4-cylinder engines bigger but what about making a smaller 6?
We have considered two approaches to bridging the 2.0 to 2.5 litre capacity gap, the enlarged 4-cylinder engines, and the 5-cylinder concept. And while the first is relatively common and the second shall we say not unusual, there is one other method of adding power and prestige to a smaller engine. That route is the road less travelled, 2-litre V6s.
The first small capacity V6 I could think of turned out to be a 1.8 litre V6 used in the Mazda MX-3, a car whose appearance I never got to grips with. In this small feature “two” is the magic number, so the 1.5 litre V6s used in racing will also be overlooked – also because I am not at all interested in motor sport. I am allergic to nylon padded jackets.
The first proper one I can find, chronologically, is the Ford Cologne V6 which was used in the 1965 Taunus and later Tauni too, the ’77 and ’79 Granadas and then all the way up to the ’82 Sierra (though not in the UK). This same engine was enlarged to 2.3, 2.6 and 2.8 but I find the possibility of a 2.0 litre V6 Granada immensely appealing. Such an engine would have to be smoother than a four cylinder Granada. Try finding one of these though.
Ferrari used a 2-0 litre V6 in the Dino of 1966 (a year after Ford) but by 1969 it had found its optimum capacity at 2.4 litres. Quite a lot of ink has been spilled about this car but I can observe (as others have done) that the V6 provided sufficient power for the car without upsetting the balance and steering that a larger block would have done.
Alfa Romeo used a 2.0 litre turbocharged V6 in the 164 of 1991, having derived it from a 3.0 litre V6, first used in the 1970s. It seems to have been undistinguished (little is written about it). I will judge a V6 to be in keeping with the image of a large Alfa Romeo, providing power without the weight penalty of a lardy engine (something which often spoils front drive cars with V6s).
In the early 90s when Toyota began its move into luxury cars with Lexus they were followed by Honda, Nissan and Mazda. Honda gave us the Acura range; Nissan launched Infiniti and Mazda had a go with the Xedos (or Eunos) range. For the Xedos 6, Mazda provided three engines. One was a 4-cylinder, and the other two were small-capacity V6s: the 1.8 L K8-ZE V6 and 2.0 L KF-1/KF-ZE V6. In addition to the rather lovely exterior styling, these cars had engines which were refined and strong (though lacking torque, said Car in 1997). Overall, the Xedos made a good attempt at giving credibility to a wholly new line of semi-premium cars. But it didn’t work, mostly because the upscaling wave had passed and anything less than the “relentless pursuit of excellence”** was not going to winkle drivers from their BMWs, Audis and Mercedes.
Rover’s KV-6 then came to the small V6 party, in the late 90s when assuredly there were other routes to providing the same quantity and quality of power. In 2.0 litre guise it was used in the Rover 75 and, oddly, the Rover 45. I can’t quite interpret the meaning of this engine. Was it a workaround in the Rover 45, used because they were desperate for something to fit under the hood? Or did they imagine the 45 would be seen as a small, refined saloon with an engine of corresponding prestige? Answers on a postcard, please.
Mitsubishi went down the small-capacity V6 route for a car not unlike the MX-3, the 1997 Mitsubishi FTO in GR spec. This engine drove the front wheels and was a 2000 cc 24 valver. There came tuned versions of the unit with raised outputs, vehicles for the Japanese market I gather. Of the two pocket rockets in our catalogue, this one looked the best. It had sportscar proportions whereas the MX-3 retained too much of the hatchback architecture it was based on.
I will allow one final small capacity V6 over the transom even if it’s a shade too big. That’s the 2.1 litre petrol V6 used in the much-loved and admired 2002 Jaguar X-type. This car’s engine was derived from the Ford Duratec V6 whose natural capacity was 2.5 litres. Why did they go to such efforts to reduced a 2.5 to a 2.1? While fitting a Ford 4-cylinder might have been expedient, Jaguar engineers probably felt a 4-pot would have been demeaning. It would have reduced the distance between the Mondeo and X-Type too much. Some might have claimed the X-Type was merely a rebodied Mondeo – imagine. Had Jaguar been able to make the X-Type a purely rear-drive car then a 4-cylinder would have worked as well in that arrangement as it does in the BMW 3 where four-cylinder engines are often used without remark. I did once suggest to a Ford engineer that a RWD Mondeo would be one with a USP in the C/D class but he wasn’t amused. Ideally, the platform would be used first in Jaguars and then released on the Mondeo, thus providing Mondeo buyers with a nice feeling of having the only RWD car in the class and bragging rights of saying it’s really a Jaguar underneath.
Notice that apart from the Fords, these small V6s have been used in front wheel drive vehicles and none have really succeeded. Perhaps the only exception is the Jaguar which really did prove that the brand was capable of covering a lot more ground than its detractors would have had you believe. Of the applications here, I’d say the pick of the bunch probably would be the Alfa Romeo: the engine has a noble heritage and the car is a truly fine example of Pininfarina’s work and lastly, the engine output suits the car’s weight. One can conclude that a small capacity V6 sounds nice on paper but doesn’t seem to appeal to enough drivers to make the effort worthwhile. Pearls before swine, I would say.
**The Lexus advertising strapline.
[First published August 22, 2014]