The future of engines: why we’re all downsizing

Published: 19 March 2009

I was recently given a sneak peek at Renault’s engineers’ crystal ball – affording me a glimpse into a new, downsized and lower-carbon future. And believe me, we will indeed be driving shrunken, smaller petrol and diesel engines – and sooner than you might believe.

We met Jacques Prost, senior vice president of powertrain engineering, and he painted a future where the staple diet of reps for decades – cars with capacities of 1.8 and 2.0 litres – will be dropped for teeny-tiny motors, slapping the emphasis firmly on low CO2 above high bragging rights in the office car park. It’s all part of Renault’s quest to have ‘CO2 leadership’ in Europe by 2015, says the ironically named Prost. Although electric engines are coming in 2011, it’s the next generation of cleaner petrols and diesels that’ll make a more dramatic difference in the real world, he admits.

Take one of Renault’s best-selling engines of yore, the old 1.9 dCi 130. It’s being phased out for a smaller, skinnier 1.6 dCi 130 – meaning they’re able to maintain the power output and chop the emissions by 25g/km. Here’s how they do it:

• More efficient turbo -9g/km
• Stop & start -7g/km
• Exhaust gas treatment -5g/km
• Temperature control -2g/km
• Friction gains -2g/km

And this downsizing is gathering pace. Renault is developing a major new family of shrunken turbocharged and direct-injected petrol engines badged TCe: a 900cc three-cylinder mustering 89bhp and a 1.2-litre four-pot with 113bhp.

This new family of teeny-tiny petrol engines will account for a whopping 85% of Renault’s petrol volumes on small cars by 2015, according La Regie’s own estimations. Only a tiny chunk of future Renaults will have anything as muscular as a 1.4 or 1.6, let alone a profligate 2.0 powertrain.

These new engines will rewrite the badges on rumps of cars driving our streets in remarkably short order. Perhaps the pub banter will now become focused on how small we can go, not how big.

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet