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Are bigger engines better?

By David Morley, 03 Jul 2016 Car Advice

Engine sizes

When it comes to the size of what’s under the bonnet, bigger isn’t necessarily better, as David Morley explains

For a while there, every new generation of a particular make or model could be relied upon to boast a bigger engine than the model before. This was down to a few things.

First, buyers expected their new car to be quicker than their old one. And increasing the engine’s capacity was a cheap, effective way of doing just that. But it was also about the only way because as recently as the 1980s, engine technology had pretty much stagnated.

Secondly, the news of a bigger engine promised the anticipation of more performance even before you’d driven the thing; proof of the power of social conditioning: Bigger is better.

The turnaround came in the 80s when the turbocharger (thanks to electronic fuel-injection and engine management) suddenly became viable, and in a flash, you could have a small capacity engine making big capacity power.

These days, the move to ever-increasing efficiency and ever smaller emissions targets means that the hip, groovy engines are now smaller capacity than ever before with turbochargers and other hot-shot high-tech making them perform like big engines.

It’s taken buyers a few years to get their heads around the idea of paying extra for a smaller engine, but it’s now the mind-set of the masses and the planet is the better for it. It’s a natural sort of progression, too; how big was your first mobile phone?