Yes, it may sound strange, but less can be more. In the case of automotive engines this has been happening for several years now, as swept volume capacity is downsized – usually with the addition of forced induction (turbocharger or supercharger), to decrease fuel consumption and harmful exhaust emissions.
Sometimes the downsizing results in fewer cylinders, such as eight to six, six to four and four to three. Smaller engines are usually lighter and with fewer cylinders there is less friction, increasing efficiency. Some manufacturers, including global market leader, Toyota, have resisted this trend for years, but even Toyota is now downsizing with a turbocharged, four-cylinder 1.2-litre power unit coming to South Africa in the form of the C-HR (Coupé High Rider) sub-compact SUV.
Admittedly, Toyota has had an economical three-cylinder of 1-litre capacity in its Yaris since introduction many years ago. This is a gem of an engine with a lovely exhaust note. Volkswagen was one of the first volume car makers to use downsizing in the fight to meet ever stiffer fuel economy and emission requirements, with a 1.4-litre TSi (supercharger and turbocharger combination) engine replacing 1.6- and two-litre power units in its Polos and Golfs in 2005.
Then Ford introduced its amazing EcoBoost three-cylinder one-litre engine for the Fiesta and Focus to replace the 1.6-litre engine with both power units producing 92 kW. Driveability of the EcoBoost triple (the bottom of the crankcase can fit on an A4 sheet of paper!) is outstanding with the ability to sip petrol when driven carefully, but to really get moving when you put the hammer down.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz have done their fair share of downsizing too. This trend is not limited to economy cars either, but extends all the way up to the top of the pyramid of high performance cars, including Ferrari.
Porsche, the German maker of an ongoing slew of iconic cars, has made use of turbocharging for track and road cars for many years. In terms of road cars, Porsche introduced a halo Turbo model for its famous 911 range at the height of the oil crisis in 1974.
Now that turbocharging is proving a boon for the world’s car makers as an important technology to improve fuel economy and cut harmful emissions in the face of increasingly stringent regulations worldwide, Porsche is also using this downsizing solution.
They have taken this step for its Boxster and Cayman mid-engined, two seater sports cars with both the drop top and coupé using the same four-cylinder turbo engines of either two- or 2.5-litres displacement. These replace the previous six cylinder power units, all of them with Porsche’s signature horizontally opposed layout.
Each of the two versions of the engine produce 26 kW more power than their predecessors – 220 kW for the two-litre and 257 kW for the 2.5-litre S models – but the real improvement in grunt is in the form of much more torque. In the case of the two-litre this goes up by 100 Nm or 35% and the larger capacity version boasts 420 Nm, which is an increase of 60 Nm. All these figures add up to faster acceleration and higher top speeds approaching 300 km/h.
Porsche has also taken the opportunity to integrate the cars’ names with the legendary 718 designation which dates back to the famous Porsche Spyders built for racing and hillclimbing from 1953 to the mid-1960s.
The recently launched 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman are moving closer together both visually and in technical terms. The completely retuned chassis, more powerful brakes and the traditional Porsche handling agility add further to the driving enjoyment.
The introduction of the new generation 718 models provided the opportunity to price the Cayman coupé lower than the convertible Roadster – like the situation with the 911 models. Prices now range from R854 000 for the standard Cayman to R947 000 for the Boxster S. As usual there are a host of options from which buyers can choose.
I recently had the opportunity to sample both body styles and both engines over the classic test drive route from Cape Town via Stellenbosch and several beautiful mountain passes to a lunch stop at De Kelders in Gansbaai and then back to Cape Town airport via Caledon and Sir Lowry’s Pass.
Besides the thrusting performance of the cars – accompanied by melodious exhaust notes – the weather played along with lots of bright sunshine and little wind to make the drive even more exhilarating and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the visiting whales did not come out to play in Walker Bay on the day we lunched there, but their non-appearance certainly did not spoil an idyllic day!