x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Displacing a myth of displacement

There's an old saying in the motoring world, usually spouted by large men in greasy overalls standing over an open car bonnet: "There's no replacement for displacement."

There's an old saying in the motoring world, usually spouted by large men in greasy overalls standing over an open car bonnet: "There's no replacement for displacement."

If you're at all a car fan, you've probably heard this little saying before. It was born in the hot-rod and racing culture of the 1950s and 60s, when performance was directly related to how large your engine was. These old flathead V8s and big-block motors weren't refined or efficient; they were brutish, clanking, smelly machines, and getting significantly more power from them simply meant making them larger. Of course, people were almost giving petrol out at the pumps back then.

But that was then, of course; while technically that old addage is still true, advancements in turbochargers, superchargers, valvetrains and other systems mean smaller engines are developing just as much - and often more - power than larger motors. All this while delivering better fuel economy; sounds like a win-win situation to me.

But, for some reason, so many other people need a lot more convincing.

Ford realises this more than many. It's developed a line of efficient, twin-turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines it calls EcoBoost and has actually come up with an advertising campaign for the engines themselves to impress upon the potential buyers of Ford cars how powerful they are. Imagine that: it's paying money not to just sell its cars, but to convince people on the merits of its smaller engines.

To help with this, the company installed an EcoBoost V6 into one of its Ford Raptor pickups and ran the Baja 1000 off-road race with it late last year - after putting on more than 160,000km in rugged testing. At the North American International Motor Show in Detroit next week, Ford will strip down the engine to prove to people how tough it is.

It's interesting to note that the Blue Oval is focussing more on power and robustness and less on efficiency for this truck engine, a segment notorious for its V8-loving, power-mad owners, many of whom use their trucks more for cruising and less for bruising anyway.

Apparently, that attitude also spills over into the crossover market. Recently, Cadillac announced it was ending production of the 2.8L turbocharged V6 found in its SRX. Apparently, the engine, which was but a year old, accounted for less than 10 per cent of sales in the US, with almost everyone opting for the larger - and less powerful - 3.0L naturally aspirated mill. According to sources, people walking into showrooms didn't even want to try the turbo engine; here in the UAE, it's not even an option.

Why, it's even happening in that top tier of silliness and motorsport, Formula One. The FIA has decreed that the series will switch to - horror of horrors - four-cylinder engines in 2013, which has the powerhouse Ferrari up in arms and threatening revolt. Of course, its bread and butter is big, powerful V12s and V8s - and believe me, I am not suggesting putting a four-cylinder engine in a Ferrari. There are limits, and then there are limits.

But I digress. My point is, it's not the 1960s anymore. Technology has come a long way, and there are small, fantastic engines out there from the likes of Audi, Peugeot, Ford and other carmakers with technology that proves bigger isn't necessarily better, especially when it comes to your everyday saloons, SUVs and pickup trucks. I suggest you shave the sideburns, get off of your psychedelic beanbag and see how much fun a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder can be.