Understanding Car Engine Sizes: From Cubic Centimeters to Turbocharging

by AutoExpert   |  7 June, 2024

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Hey! Ever found yourself scrаtching your heаd over terms like "2.0-liter" or "cubic centimeters (cc)" when checking out cars? You're definitely not alone. Let's break it down real simple: these terms all refer to the engine size of a car.

But it's not about how big the engine looks from the outside. Instead, it's about the total volume inside the engine’s cylinders—the space where air and fuel mix it up to create the power that spins your wheels. Usually, we round this off to the nearest tenth of a liter. So, when you see something like a 1997cc engine, that's essentially what's rounded up and called a '2.0-liter engine'.

Engine sizes explained - MotoNovo Finance

Engines can have anywhere from two to sixteen cylinders depending on the car, though your everyday rides typically stick between three to eight. More cylinders generally mean a larger engine. For example, a simple three-cylinder engine with 500mL per cylinder measures up to a 1.5-liter engine. Pop another cylinder on there, and voilà, you've got yourself the common 2.0-liter four-cylinder.

Now, onto the big question: Is bigger really better? Traditionally, yes, bigger engines could gulp more air and fuel, pumping out more power and torque. Let’s take the Toyota Corolla with its beefy 2.0-liter engine churning out 126kW versus the smaller Yaris with a modest 88kW from a three-cylinder. Sounds like a clear win for the Corolla, right?

What Engine Size Is My Car? - Ultimate Guide (2024 Update) | Motorway

Not so fast. When it comes to fuel consumption, the Corollа sips 6.0L/100km while the Yaris is more economical at 4.9L/100km. Bigger engines do tend to be thirstier, so "better" really depends on what you value more—power or efficiency?

But there's a twist. If an engine is too small for the car’s weight, it might end up being less efficient because it has to work harder. Consider Mazda’s CX-30, where the 'G20' 2.0-liter barely saves any fuel over the larger 'G25' 2.5-liter engine.

Understanding the True Cost of Keeping Your Mazda CX-30 in Top Shape | Safford Brown Mazda Fairfax

And then there's turbocharging—a game changer that’s shaking up the old "bigger is better" motto. For instance, Skoda’s Fabia rocks a 1.5-liter turbo that might not beat the Corolla in horsepower but offers comparable torque and matches the Yaris for fuel economy. 

Beyond just adding turbos, carmakers like Ferrari, Porsche, and Honda are also mastering the art of squeezing out incredible power from smaller engines. Take Honda’s early S2000 sports cars with the 'F20C' 2.0-liter engine—pumping out an impressive 92kW per liter, right up there with a beastly Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

Honda S2000 - Wikipedia

So, in summary, while engine size once ruled the roost, today’s technology means you can have both power and efficiency without needing a monster motor under the hood. If you’re eyeing used cars, keep this in mind—those old school small engines might be less powerful. But for new cars, thanks to the wonders of modern engineering, it's often more about how smart the engine is, not just how big.

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