DTW Summer Reissue – Engines: The Road Less Travelled

You can make 4-cylinder engines bigger but what about making a smaller 6?

1990 Alfa Romeo 2.0 V6. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
1990 Alfa Romeo 2.0 V6. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

1994 Maza MX-3
1994 Maza MX-3

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.

1992 Ford Sierra Sapphire 2.0 V6 (Germany only)
1992 Ford Sierra Sapphire 2.0 V6 (Germany only)

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).

1997 Xedos 6. Image courtesy of The Truth About Cars.
1997 Xedos 6. Image courtesy of The Truth About Cars.

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.

1997 Mitsubishi FTO
1997 Mitsubishi FTO

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.

2000 Jaguar X-type: dailytelegraph.co.uk

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]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

51 thoughts on “DTW Summer Reissue – Engines: The Road Less Travelled”

  1. Does the Daewoo Tosca/ Chevrolet Epica deserve a mention here? It’s the only front wheel drive straight six I can think of and it’s only a two litre. Don’t think that it was a big seller anywhere either. I was only ever a passenger in one (taxi journey) and it did seem smooth and pretty refined. When I asked the driver about it he rated both the car and engine quite highly but did say parts were expensive and difficult to get.

    1. It does deserve a mention and well done for bringing it up. The reason, perhaps, that I did not think of it was that I thought the Epica petrol engines were 2.5 litre units like the diesel. I never got that straight. Actually it does seem Chevrolet gave this car a strangely configured engine that nobody in the customer group cared about (a simple 2.0 four would have sufficed). The Epica is an under-rated car. I rented one and really enjoyed it. With literally a better badge (the Bow-tie symbol looked liked a cheap toy) and some ergonomic modifications it would have been just excellent. I loved the steering and compliant ride.
      The engine though – who expected a straight-six in a commodity car?

    2. For straight six FWD application,s lets’s not forget the 2.2 litre BMC E Series as fitted to the Wolseley Six, etc, as well as those exotic Australian variants that were even allowed 2.6 litre versions.

    3. Wasn’t aware that there were any other straight six fwd cars. I always quite liked the idea that you had to build the car around the engine if you wanted an inline 6 but it seems that I was wrong.

    4. I too noticed the odd mechanical specification of the Epica. Perhaps it might have found some success if it did not look like an ungainly Opel Astra H / Vauxhall Astra mark 5. I wonder if the mill fits under the bonnet of the VX220?

  2. The reason for the 2 litre Rover KV6 seems to have been nothing more than production convenience, product planning, and the dread hand of emissions legislation.

    A decision was taken not to re-work the four cylinder T-series engine to comply with the January 2000 Euro 3 emissions standards. This was perfectly resonable as, had things gone according to plan, as the Hams Hall-built BMW Valvetronic fours would have been used in the 75 and Freelander from 2001. The short stroke 2 litre KV6 was therefore developed to fill the two year stopgap.

    Despite the claims of “turbine-like smoothness” (I first recall that phrase being used of the small Daimler V8. How many people had the experience to judge?), the engine line-up played a large part in the 75’s downfall. The K-series’ fragility was becoming widely known, the 1.8 was simply not up to the job, and the 2.0 V6 was seen as inefficient, with no performance advantage over competing 2 lltre fours. Only by default, the BMW M47 diesel was the best of the bunch, but it was priced at the same level as the 2.5 V6.

    1. That speaks of poor planning. The Euro-regs are well sign-posted and timed to allow a smooth changeover. Rover either could have bought an existing four-cylinder or adapted the old one. Most engines are developments of earlier ones. Rather than stand on the shoulder of giants, Rover chopped the legs off and perched on top.
      Speaking of bad comparisons, when I was a child I read a hundred (or more) Doctor Who novels. Terrence Dicks was churning them out, probably with the teleplay by his side. His stories always referred to the Tardis “wheezing like a Grampus”. How many children knew what a grampus was in 1980-something?

      The little Rover V6 could have been great. That’s so very Rover, isn’t it?

  3. Sean: those are small 6s but also just above my arbitrary 2.0 cut-off. I bent my own rule and allowed a 2.1 when discussing the very fine Jaguar X-type. Those Wolseleys must have been regal cars. It’s such a pity Rover overshadowed Wolseley and got pushed into that role of “English Buick”. Wolseley’s style suited the role of plush middle-classiness; Rover was evolving in another direction with the P6 and SD1.
    So, can a small straight six ever provide enough torque? Or would supercharging be a good workaround?

    1. I was just digressing in the time-honoured tradition of DTW, and because Mick was asking about FWD straight sixes. I’ve always liked the idea of a small capacity 6, even since I heard a Triumph Vitesse. As such, the MX3’s V6 has always seemed attractive, but I agree with you about its looks, so the Xedos 6 saloon would be a better bet.

    2. Surely digression is the whole raison d’être of DTW? I like to think of it as akin to a gathering of Victorian gentlefolk formally discussing matters of great import. Plus me and my random memories of FTO-driving ponces wearing comedy clown shoes.

    3. Torque is more down to bore to stroke ratio than cylinder numbers. Most of the small V6s are very oversquare as V engines need big wide big-end and main bearings, which dictate cylinder centres. The two British straight sixes mentioned are undersquare, monumentally so in the case of the 2.5 litre Triumph 20S, and the 2.6 litre E-series.

      Both were constrained in their length by their original purpose. The Standard-Triumph 20S had to fit the unmodified Vanguard engine compartment, as S-T couldn’t afford to retool the bodyshell.

      The BMC/BLMC E6 was sized to fit across the ADO17 engine compatment, necessitating a maximum 3″ bore, and all cylinders siamesed. Therby the E, R, and S-series were also compromised. It needn’t have happened either, as Greek Al had intended to use a side-mounted radiator and engine driven fan, but in production a front-mounted fan was used.

      The 1.6 litre Vitesse engine has a smaller bore than the 2.0, 66.75mm rather than 74.7mm. Logic would have suggested a shorter stroke for a light car with sporty pretensions, but the engine was developed for a smaller capacity version of the ‘Barb’ Triumph 2000, to take the place of the Standard Ensign. Triumph had no problem selling every 2000 they had capacity to make, so the ‘Triumph 1600’ never appeared.

    1. A nice example, but £4k is well over the top. I would say £2k max. After all, one still has to tax the beast and I cannot imagine that being cheap.

    2. I think the right price is probably somewhere in between but you’re right, tax and insurance is what limits the appeal, more than maintenance costs.

    3. They looked great but the main reason to avoid the V6 and V5 Jetta and Golf of that generation was their nose-heavy tendency to understeer. I had a Golf V5 and it didn’t feel quite “on my side”.
      Admittedly the 4WD of the V6 did help.

  4. There was also the Müller-Andernach engines aka DKW 2-stroke V6s that were tested in DKW F102s in 80+ hp 1288cc two-carb form (plus 100 hp in four-carb and 130 hp in six-carb forms) as well as the 1100-1500cc 6-cylinder 9X Issigonis engines that later appeared in an MG Metro Turbo body in 100 hp 1300cc form, the latter now at Gaydon.



    1. I’d never seen that V6 before. I’ve never been a fan of 2-Strokes (too farty and undisciplined) but it sounds more fun than most.

    2. Sean Patrick

      Would have loved to have seen both the 2-stroke V6 as well as the Issigonis 9X Inline-6, apparently the latter could allegedly be fitted to original Mini and was much more compact and lighter then the existing A-Series.

  5. Ten or so years ago I had the misfortune of returning from Lichfield to Leicester, some 40 miles, folded into the rear seat of a Mitsubishi FTO. Already an uncomfortable place to be, the journey was made considerably worse by the four sweating bodies jammed into a small car bereft of air con, plus the driver’s over aggressive style, which provoked unbearable hunting and shunt from the FTO’s noisy automatic gearbox. Really, I should have refused the lift as soon as I saw the man’s preposterously long and pointed tan leather shoes, which looked like the kind of winkle pickers a Shakespearean actor might forget to remove after a night treading the boards playing Richard the Third, an impression doubled by his habit of hunching over the FTO’s wheel. His choice of footwear also did little to improve his mastery of the FTO’s peddles; allied to his almost incessant fiddling with his phone, I am still to this day surprised that we all made it down the A5 intact.

    1. A few months ago I encountered an ill-driven FTO in traffic in London and realised it was a long time since I’d seen one. Some things don’t change though. From your description, it was the same driver.

  6. Time for an appreciative article in Modern Classics on the enduring fascination of the FTO. It’ll be hard to find one without modifications though.

  7. I dream of swapping a 2.1-litre V6 sourced from an X-Type into a 60’s OSI Coupe – itself based on a Taunus. Then I’d just add a turbo or two.

    @Mick, you forgot the first-gen Volvo S80, where the straight-6 (2.9-litre) carried from the 960 turned 90 degrees. Volvo repeated it with its FWD 2nd-gen S80, V70 and XC70 (3.2-litre).

    1. Eduardo, that’s the sort of heathen act of sacrilege that always appeals to me.

      Lovely car, but a bit of a Poor Man’s Dino Berlinetta. What could one put in one of those – a V6 from the Nuova Giulia, which at least has the right sort of bloodline? I think I’d go for one of the bigger GM High Feature V6s, maybe the Holden / Alfa 3.2. That would well and truly rile the purists.

    2. @Robertas, you brought in some nice options, too. the Jag engine would mean a Ford-for-Ford swap, but Italian options would also be on the cards.

      after a few days away, I read some past DTW posts and found your comment about a neighbour’s top-spec Seat Leon VR5. what if I say I also want that car? the Leon Mk1 was the best-looking member of the Golf family, and a VR5 with beige leather is the icing on this VAG strudel.

    3. They looked great but the main reason to avoid the V6 and V5 Jetta and Golf of that generation was their nose-heavy tendency to understeer. I had a Golf V5 and it didn’t feel quite “on my side”.
      Admittedly the 4WD of the V6 did help.

    4. My posts on this thread seem to be appearing all over the shop. However, as Robertas mentions Holden I was put in mind of the VL Commodore built between 84 and 86. It sported lovely Nissan sourced straight sixes; including, for the New Zealand market only, the lovely 2 litre RB20E.
      That engine, in various forms including with turbocharger, also powered the Fairlady, Laurel, Cefiro and Skyline.

  8. Eduardo, I shall perhaps try and sneak in some pictures of that alluring Toledo. I haven’t seen it for a while but the DLVA Vehicle Details website confirms it is sound of wind and limb. Watch, as they say, this space.

  9. Let’s not forget the original (Lancia Aurelia) V6, which was originally available as a 1.8 and, soon thereafter, a 2.0 L. Or the BMW M20 straight six. Or the 2.0 L flat six of the original Porsche 911. And wasn’t there a Triumph 2.0 L straight six? (And it should perhaps also be mentioned that the Alfa 2.0 V6 was used in normally-aspirated form in the 6 and 90 sedans for their home market.)

    1. The 2.0 Triumph I6 also spawned an earlier 1.6 Triumph i6 in the Triumph Vitesse 6, pity Triumph never developed PI versions of the 1.6-2.0 Triumph I6.

  10. Bob – a nice idea, but the Lucas petrol injection system probably cost more than the entire Triumph 20S engine.

    The injection system quickly developed a reputation for unreliability and expensive maintenance, largely undeserved and down to its unfamilarity to those who installed it and set it up, and dealer service departments. There are many Triumph PI systems still running over 40 years after it was dropped at the end of TR6 production.

    The Vitesse 1600 was replaced by the 2 litre in 1966, the 1967 Herald 13/60 would have rendered it redundant with 9bhp less, but 200lb lighter, and far less thirsty.

    Takes out calculator…

    At an extreme extrapolation, based on what Triumph claimed to be the power output of the TR5 PI, an injected 1600 would manage 96bhp, almost exactly the same as the 2 litre Vitesse Mk.1. Except that the TR5 figure of 150bhp was probably a damned lie, as was the same figure claimed for the MGC.

    The main reason for the small capacity six in the first Vitesse was that it allowed the Herald gearbox and running gear to be used with minimal changes. A 2 litre would have broken the gearbox in short order. By 1966 Triumph had a new all synchromesh gearbox, destined for notoriety and million-plus production in the Morris Marina. It too was on its limit with the 104 bhp, 117lb ft Vitesse and GT6 Mk.2.

    The 2000/2.5PI and pre TR7 TRs avoided the problem as they had a national treasure of a gearbox dating back to the Vanguard Phase 1’s three speeder. It wouldn’t fit the Vitesse or GT6 – at least not easily – but Triumph had the good sense to fit it to the Dolomite Sprint, rather than the ‘Vitesse’ gearbox which was a constant disappointment to its parents.

    1. Granted it would not be the cheapest or most reliable system to say the least, yet a 96-105 hp 1.6 6-cylinder PI would have been worth considering for the Spitfire or even a RWD 1300 saloon (read the Triumph I6 was considered for the latter at one point) if not the Herald as a way of increasing performance on the smaller Triumph models prior to the Slant-4.

      Would the Triumph I4 / I6 engines have fared any better if Bosch fuel-injection was used instead of Lucas?

      With the weight of the I6 alone (read the 1.6 I6 could be tuned without PI up to 84-90 hp) guess Triumph would have been better off using the PI for the lighter 1300 Triumph SC 4-cylinder engine (albeit the sweeter running pre-1500 versions) for more potent (yet limited-run) versions of the Spitfire and 1300 saloon, kind of a pity it was never updated in a similar manner to the contemporary BMC A-Series engine (that eventually featured turbocharged, MPI and even almost OHC variants, etc).

    2. I imagine the same thing about cost would have applied to the Bosch system. The ‘ECU’ for their EFI system alone was the size of a laptop (see here in the passenger footwell – excuse the mess).

      Nevertheless, putting aside commercial constraints, I agree that the idea of a smooth running, 1600cc, fuel injected straight 6 is a lovely idea.

    1. My GS restoration project has a very similar look right now. A lot of bits removed, but still in search for storage room.

    2. The previously assumed solidity of an old car becomes quite disturbingly inadequate when you dismantle it. Just look at those B pillars (the seat belts connect to the roof).

    3. I know this kind of pillars… On the GS, the belts attach directly to them. The bracket holding the belt is wider than the pillar.

      Better drive in a defensive and anticipatory way with these cars.

  11. Please do not forget the Maserati biturbo, initially with a 2.0 V6.
    And there was a Ferrari 208 with a 2.0 V8 and a Lamborghini Urraco, also with a 2.0 V8

    1. Thanks for that: subsequently I found that Curbside Classics ran an item on small volume V6s. I ought to come back to this and tidy it up.

    2. The 2.0 litre engines in various vehicles in the upper price segment of Italian brands were due to the Italian tax legislation of the time, as engines over 2 litres were taxed extremely much higher.

      The Ferrari 208 was not offered outside Italy, likewise the Lamborghini Urraco with the 2.0 was only available on the Italian market.

      The 2-litre limit referred exclusively to engine capacity and it made no fiscal difference whether the engine was “normally aspirated” or supercharged – this led to the 2.0-litre turbo in the Alfa 164, initially as an inline 4-cylinder, later as a V6.
      The 4-cylinder turbo was not offered in Germany for example. The later V6 Turbo was officially available in markets outside Italy.

      The 2.0-litre V6 in the Alfa 164 was, as far as I know, the last (special) engine version that was created due to these tax laws.

      In the 90s, these tax laws were changed and special engine versions for the domestic market became obsolete.

    3. Isn’t it the case that small-capacity normally-aspirated V6 engines (below 2.5 litres) are often pretty short on torque? I’m thinking of the engines in the original Honda Legend, for example, 2.0 and 2.5 litre V6 units that were pretty underwhelming.

    4. Despite the torque shortage Daniel points out, this 2.0 V6 is intensely interesting and attractive. It´s one of the few cars I´d want to own just because of the engine. Luckily the rest of it is good too. I suppose I´d add Volvo´s Yamaha-engined S80 to the short list. Is the 2.0 litre V6 any good? We covered some of this before and I recall there was a German-market Sierra with a small V6. I suppose I´d consider adding a Miller-cycle engine such as one might find in a Xedos. And Lancia´s supercharged Volumex might be another – and now I am getting very contrary.

    5. About a dozen years ago now, I bought a Xedos 6 with the intention of using it as a cheap runaround. I had admired them from afar but I have to say I thought it a disappointing car. I wasn’t really expecting it to be a serious driver’s car so I could live with the largely feel-free, too-light steering and not-particularly-involving handling. The things that really annoyed me were issues that, in fairness, I should have paid more attention to on the test drive before I bought it. The cheap dashboard mouldings and synthetic leather… well, it’s an early 1990s car, they all do that sir. But the offset driving position (I forget now whether it was the driver’s seat that was offset in relation to the pedals and wheel or another combination thereof) never stopped being anything other than a major annoyance.

      However, the small-capacity six was easily the biggest problem. Smooth, yes, but it really lacked any meaningful go until the needle hit 3,000rpm (and this was a manual, so imagine how stifled it would have been with a slushbox). And it’s not like this is a leadfoot talking – I would find myself losing lengths in normal traffic flow just moving away from lights because the low-end torque simply wasn’t there. I always got the impression that the question of engine selection had been settled by the marketing division within Mazda/Eunos/Xedos, rather than a hard-nosed analysis of what really made sense for the car. I was never impressed by the supposed smoothness advantage over a four because I was busy being irritated at what a useless motivational device it was around town. And of course, when you lost your patience and booted it to try and extract some decent shove, the fuel consumption went through the floor. My two-litre HPE is on paper a slower car than the Xedos but in the real world I found it to have much more accessible low-mid-range performance.

    6. Well… I suppose it wasn’t a bad car as such, I don’t recall it going wrong in the time I owned it (just as well, looking at the underbonnet installation), but if I’d paid the asking they commanded new I would have been annoyed because I don’t think it was worth that sort of coin. The most important thing it brought home to me was that the world of brochures and magazine reviews really is entirely separate from the real world. Let’s put it this way – some cars I wish I kept hold of. I’ve never thought that way about the Xedos. I liked the styling, still do, and I think that clouded my assessment of some of the day-to-day realities. I’ve bought cars based primarily on styling before, but they were invariably Italian and usually had enough character underneath the aesthetics to keep the relationship interesting. Once you got beneath the surface aesthetics, the Xedos was just rather characterless, so the irritations seemed more prominent than they might do in another car. But in hindsight, if I’d wanted something along those lines, something like a four-pot 323/Lantis or equivalent-era 626 2.5 V6 probably would have been a better bet as an actual car.

  12. My dad’s doctor had a 2.0-liter turbocharged 164 V6. His careless use (he simply used the poor car like he used all normally-aspirated cars he’d had before) eventually caused the engine to seize, and he thought the repair bill was too high; so, he replaced it with a Honda HR-V. He then proceeded to overestimate its performance and misunderstand its road manners, which caused him to nearly miss his flight to an important conference.

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