Three-cylinder engines: is less, more?

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 revisited the ‘straight-three’ engine, refining them and adding turbochargers in order to increase power and improve economy.

More than ever, consumers are mindful of their fuel efficiency and their carbon footprint, which is evident by the growth in hybrid and electric vehicle options.

Here are some interesting new models that have chosen to be more economical by choosing three cylinders over four.

Volkswagen Polo

The new Polo uses Volkswagen's latest MQB platform, which standardises the parts of many of Volkswagen’s front-engined cars in order to cut down production time and reduce engineering costs.

It offers a practical, competitively-priced supermini with a good quality finish. Nearly all of the latest Polo models are powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine which produces 70kw at 4500–5500rpm. It ticks along frugally consuming between 4.4 and 4.7 litres per 100km.

You can choose between a five-speed manual in the base model TSI, or a swift seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

If you enjoy your music, Volkswagen teamed up with hip hop mogul Dr Dre and his Beats Electronics audio company to release a special edition model, featuring a powerful 300W audio system, a thin racing stripe and some slight modifications to the interior trim.

The Polo range is priced from $25,490 (+ORC).

Citroen C4 Cactus Shine

Famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel once said: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different,” and Citroen’s latest Cactus certainly stands out from the crowd.

The interior has door pulls reminiscent of the handles of a retro suitcase, and this same styling extends to the hatch on the glove box.

The most notable exterior feature on the Cactus is its innovative air bump panels which are designed to defend against scratches; these are quite large and look like they belong on a concept car. The C4 Cactus has many other quirky accents that will have people doing a double take as they pass by.

The new Cactus shares the same platform as the smaller C3 and is powered by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine which produces 81kW at 5500rpm and sips just 5.3l/100km, it’s also a winner of several World Engine of the Year awards and has a much improved six-speed automatic transmission.

The C4 Cactus Shine is priced from $35,990 (+ORC).

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus launched 21 years ago, and even back then its progressive design made other cars in the same category seem ordinary.

The Focus MK4 Trend is based on a new platform, which is longer and offers much better room for the rear passengers, making the new model even more family-friendly than before.

The car’s highly advanced and efficiently designed 1.5L three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine consumes just 5.9 litres per 100km, and generates a respectable 134kW at 6000rpm.

The interior has been jazzed up too, with a futuristic rotary gear selector to control its new 8-speed automatic transmission. If you’re feeling sporty, you can flip through the gears with steering wheel mounted paddle shifter.

The Ford Focus Trend is priced at $31,990 (+ ORC).

BMW Mini

Alec Issigonis unleashed an automotive revolution with a sketch he roughed out on a napkin in his favourite restaurant, and since 1959 it has captured the imagination of many.

Today, the Mini lives on with the original ideology of an economic yet fun to drive hatch. The latest model boasts improved dynamics and efficiency with its 1.5l three-cylinder engine, which delivers 100 kW/ thanks to BMW’s TwinPower Turbo technology. It’s able to achieve between 5.1 and 5.5 litres per 100km.

The modern engine shows just how far the Mini has come in six decades, despite the size of the original British Moto Corporation (BMC) engine being only slightly less powerful (on paper) at 848cc.

The Mini offers a sporty, close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, which is the standard transmission in almost all available models. A seven or eight-speed Steptronic transmission is also available on request.

The Mini is priced from $35,990 (+ORC).

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