Over the decades, countless engine configurations have been used with varying levels of success. There has been single cylinder cars, like the tiny Peel P50, for example. Then at the top end of the scale, Volkswagen Group has produced a huge eight-litre W16 engine for Bugatti, which is used in the Veyron and Chiron models and is capable of up to 1,177kW of power.
Selecting the right engine for a manufacturer is incredibly important as it directly affects the torque produced, along with other important characteristics of a vehicle like power, economy, exhaust pitch and even the weight balance.
The ‘inline three’
Not so long ago, inline three-cylinder engines were traditionally only found on motorbikes or tractors where excess noise wasn’t an issue.
In recent years, however, a number of car manufacturers have revised the ‘straight-three’ engine, refining it and adding turbochargers in order to increase both power and improve economy. Large manufactures like Volkswagen favour three-cylinder engines and these are utilised in two out of three variants of the Polo and T-Cross currently on offer.
These engines are also particularly popular in the Japanese Kei car scene due to their compact size and efficiency where a maximum 660cc capacity is mandated.
The humble configuration of three cylinders is not only efficient, it can be powerful too. Take the recent Toyota GR Yaris - with a displacement of only 1,618cc, it produces a jaw dropping 200kW and 370Nm of torque! Fuel efficiency is 7.6L/100km, with a CO2 rating of 172g/km.
We predict the popularity of inline threes continuing for the foreseeable future.
The ‘inline four’
The inline four is perfect for front wheel drive applications due to its fairly compact dimensions. These engines are excellent for a wide range of power requirements - they can either be boosted with a turbo for some extra ‘oomph’, or be run very economically (like in a Toyota Prius).
Sometimes, however, displacement is limited as they often require balance shafts due to issues caused by their design. Toyota, Honda and Mazda all currently favour four-cylinder engines, tweaking and perfecting their designs over the years.
They’re also well suited to mid mount applications such as in the MG F/TF of yesteryear with its memorable Rover K-Series engine and (of course) the classic Toyota MR2.
The ‘flat four’ and ‘flat six’
Flat fours and sixes (sometimes referred to as ‘horizontally opposed engines’) offer the benefit of a very low centre of gravity along with their own signature exhaust note.
Over the years, several manufacturers have opted for these configurations including Subaru due to its illustrious rally history, Volkswagen and Porsche.
These engines lack the height of many other motor configurations, but they can be fairly wide which means serviceability isn’t always the best - anyone who’s attempted to replace the spark plugs on a Subaru BRZ or Toyota 86 may know the feeling all too well.
The mighty V6
The V6 engine is a bit of a compromise – they’re not too awkward to find space for when compared to an inline six, and may be used in transverse and longitudinal applications easily.
They also offer good power but also require balance shafts to remain silky smooth. They also tend to be a little more on the thirsty side.
V6 petrol engines have good performance and sounds. An example would be the glorious V6 Alfa Romeo Busso engine – and it was produced for a massive 26 years due to its popularity. Alfa Romeo still use a 2.9-litre V6 engine in the splendid Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan.
Kia even use a 3.3-litre V6 engine in their Stinger GT Sport, which produces 274kW and 510Nm of torque – this model is the flagship model of the recently rebranded South Korean company.
The much-loved V8
The benefit of V8s is that they are not as long as an inline six and have a rather boxy form factor. They develop considerable power, and in their traditional format the cam gear is driven by push rods.
The main flaw (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the V8’s uneven firing order - this is what gives them their signature growl.
Although it’s an older design, there are still quite a few new V8s available to buy from new in New Zealand. Examples include the Jaguar F Type R Coupe, BMW M8 Competition and all but one variant of the Ford Mustang.
All engines aren’t created equal and are usually the result of a series of compromises. As you know, many manufacturers are looking towards the future and reducing fuel emissions, moving towards being completely electric within the next decade, at which time we won’t see the likes of these engines at all.