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Fast, Fun, and Fuel Efficient: New Cars Deliver Big Performance with Small Engines

Peter Lehner

Posted August 17, 2012

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Conventional gasoline engines do a creditable job of making cars go, but they don't do it very efficiently.  In most cars on the road today, only about 4 out of every 20 gallons of gas actually move your car. Most of that high-priced fuel you're buying is simply wasted by the engine.  This waste effectively triples the price of gasoline.

New fuel efficiency standards are pushing automakers to squeeze more mileage out of conventional gasoline engines. And they're doing it without sacrificing the performance that car buyers expect. Muscle cars and luxury sedans are alive and well and better than ever, thanks to innovative engine technologies that allow smaller, fuel efficient engines to act like big, powerful gas guzzlers.

BMW's 3-series, for example, uses technologies such as direct fuel injection, turbochargers and variable valve timing, as well as a stop-start system that seamlessly cuts the engine at stoplights, to achieve a 36-mpg rating. The 328i gets 240 horsepower--or possibly more--out of a tiny 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine. That's 10 more horsepower than last year's 6-cylinder engine. The car goes from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds.


New Ford Mustangs--perhaps the classic muscle cars-- feature a 305 horsepower V6 engine, and an impressive 31 mpg highway rating. That's more power and better fuel efficiency than the former V8 models. Better still, says Ron Cogan, editor of Cars of Change, is that the thing sounds like a big V8. "To be able to deliver that kind of excitement for the driver, all the visual cues, the sound, the feel--and fuel efficiency--that's a win-win," says Cogan. "There is a big market of people who want fuel efficiency but don't want to give up performance."

Improvements in valve operation and timing control allowed Ford to get better power and torque out of a smaller engine. Ford also offers a twin turbo-charged 3.5 liter V6 Ecoboost engine on its popular F150, a full-sized pickup truck. The V6, offering better power and better mileage, outsold the V8 option last year. Watch this video of an EcoBoost-equipped F150 handily beating 5-liter V8 trucks in an uphill race, towing a 9,000 pound trailer.

Smaller engines are delivering big performance, with better mileage than anyone could have dreamed. Car enthusiasts, stay tuned. It's going to keep getting better.


This post is part of our Wasteland series, featuring people, towns, businesses and industries that are finding innovative ways to cut waste, boost efficiency and save money, time and valuable resources.




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CelloMomAug 17 2012 02:24 PM

Don't forget the new turbo-boosted clean diesel engines: even small frugal ones (with modest horsepower specs) will put out impressive torque (that which gives you the sweet kick in the lumbar region). In this post I argue that these might even fulfill frugal moms' twofold requirement for a car that's (a) high-mpg, and (b) nimble, for reasons of traffic safety:

AlexAug 17 2012 04:11 PM

You may be trying to put a happy face on this, but you know well that the 2025 standards will legislate cars we love out of existence. That's how it's going to happen.

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