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Vehicle Engine Sizes – A Guide For Motor Traders

Engine size, or capacity, can be a cause of confusion for prospective buyers of both new and used cars. Engine size is typically measured in cubic centimetres (cc), it describes the total volume of air displaced by one full stroke of the pistons as they sweep up and down inside the vehicle engine cylinders.

engineEngine size is rounded up to the nearest litre; or tenth of a litre, so a car with an engine capacity of 1,998cc is usually badged 2.0-litre, and an engine capacity of 1,392cc is badged 1.4-litre and so on.

Traditionally, engine size was directly proportional to power, and while that may still be true with older vehicles, the introduction of modern turbocharged engines has ‘muddied the waters’ somewhat.

A turbocharger harnesses waste exhaust gas emitted from an engine, allowing a turbocharged engine to produce similar amounts of power as a larger naturally aspirated engine. In response to increasing strict vehicle emission standards, motor trade engineers continue to find ingenious ways to extract more power from smaller engines.

According to trusted review website ‘Parkers’, a 2019 Ford Mondeo equipped with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder ‘Ecoboost’ engine, realises 125 brake horsepower (bhp), which compares very favourably with the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder aspirated engine of its previous incarnation, launched in 2007, which realised just 108bhp.

The best engine size for you depends on the type of motoring you want to do. A more powerful engine may mean faster acceleration, a higher top speed and increased ‘pulling power’ if you tow heavy loads like a caravan or trailer.

However, cylinders in larger engines need more fuel pumped into them, meaning a larger engine will typically consume more fuel than a smaller one on any given journey. That said, if your everyday driving includes high-speed cruising on motorways, you may find a smaller engine inadequate.

A smaller engine constantly operated a high speed will need to work much harder than a larger engine, leading to increased fuel consumption and running costs mainly due to wear and tear on engine components.

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However, many modern engines with capacities more than 1.0-litre cope perfectly well with infrequent motorway driving. Even if you need a ‘workhorse’ for long motorway excursions, a modern 1.6-litre engine may provide an appropriate trade-off in terms of fuel economy, when compared with a more old-fashioned 2.0-litre engine.

Low-speed stop-start city driving is where the smaller engine comes into its own. In the absence of hard acceleration, high speed and heavy loads, urban drivers can choose from any number of smaller less powerful engines with capacities of 1.0-litre or less.

Advances in engine technology mean that modern ‘superminis’ and city cars can now readily compete with much larger models in terms of fuel consumption, performance and running costs.

Of course, engine size can also affect the cost of an insurance policy which may need to be considered, as new and used cars in higher insurance groups tend to have larger, more powerful engines.