Tur­bos trump hy­brids in en­gines of choice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TECHNOLOGY - By David Booth

IF you’re in­clined to be­lieve the main­stream me­dia, the in­ter­nal­com­bus­tion engine is dead. Or, if not ac­tu­ally de­ceased, then cer­tainly breath­ing through a tube on a res­pi­ra­tor. At the very least, the doc­tor has ren­dered a di­ag­no­sis of ter­mi­nal can­cer, the pa­tient has set­tled its af­fairs and the vul­tures are cir­cling the will.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Mo­tors, con­tends he will not stop un­til all cars are elec­tric. Leonardo DiCaprio, when he is not bed­ding su­per­mod­els, is shilling for elec­tri­cally minded Fisker. And vir­tu­ally ev­ery au­tomaker — from Hyundai to Rolls-Royce — is fall­ing over it­self pro­claim­ing its elec­tri­fi­ca­tion.

Were the court of pub­lic opin­ion the fi­nal ar­biter, the in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion engine would be a goner. Ev­ery­one knows the gasoline engine is on its last legs. Ex­cept for, it seems, the ex­perts. The In­ter­na­tional Engine of the Year com­mit­tee (of which Yours Truly is a mem­ber) re­cently an­nounced its 2012 win­ners and, funny enough, there’s not a sin­gle pure elec­tric ve­hi­cle among the bunch (the Chevro­let Volt does make a to­ken ap­pear­ance, but it of­fers a range-ex­tend­ing gas-fu­elled engine as a backup).

There’s not a sin­gle hy­brid to be found. Vir­tu­ally all the cat­e­gory win­ners — of which there are 12 — com­bust re­fined di­nosaur juice in­ter­nally. Even diesels got shut out.

So, we’re all a bunch of oil-soaked apol­o­gists, you’re think­ing, fail­ing to get with a world that now em­pha­sizes fuel econ­omy and squeaky-clean tailpipes rather than horse­power vroom engine noises.

And, if you looked at the as­so­ci­a­tion’s se­lec­tion of the Fer­rari 4.5-litre V8 in the Above 4.0L cat­e­gory, you’d cer­tainly have your ev­i­dence, the vot­ers wax­ing po­etic about the 458’s flat-plane crank and cit­ing its 124 horse­power-per-litre spe­cific out­put as proof of its su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Surely, you might think, the fix is in, the jury noth­ing more than a bunch of over-the-hill car nuts.

But the truth of the mat­ter is that the In­ter­na­tional Engine judg­ing com­mit­tee is made up of techno-wonks. I, for one, am an en­gi­neer. So is the Toronto Star’s Jim Kenzie. And Marc Lachapelle is so tech­ni­cally as­tute he could qual­ify for iron ring sta­tus on sheer geek­i­ness alone.

In­deed, I sus­pect most of the 74 judges are geeks, more apt to ap­pre­ci­ate an el­e­gant engi­neer­ing so­lu­tion rather than sim­ply vot­ing with our right feet.

And, if our awards are any in­di­ca­tion, that el­e­gant so­lu­tion is tur­bocharg­ing. Or, more ac­cu­rately, tur­bocharg­ing small en­gines so they be­have like larger ones but with­out the fuel econ­omy penalty.

The In­ter­na­tional Engine com­mit­tee di­vides en­gines into seven cat­e­gories be­tween Sub 1.0L and Above 4.0L. Tur­bocharged gasoline-fu­elled en­gines won five of those seven cat­e­gories. In­deed, in all the lesser cat­e­gories up to three litres, all of the win­ners were tur­bos.

A tur­bocharged gas engine — Ford’s new 999-cu­bic-cen­time­tre three-cylin­der EcoBoost — also won the Best New Engine Award and, in­deed, that same engine won over­all Engine of the Year. Other than the Chevro­let Volt win­ning Green Engine of the Year, tur­bos would have won all of the cat­e­gories save for the scream­ing V8s of the BMW’s M3 and afore­men­tioned 458.

So, if the In­ter­na­tional Engine of the Year Awards are to be be­lieved, tur­bocharg­ing — and not elec­tri­fi­ca­tion — is the fu­ture of au­to­mo­tive propul­sion, at least for the near fu­ture.

Nor, again, is this some motorhead an­tipa­thy to­ward elec­trons. Toy­ota’s 1.5L Syn­ergy Drive Hy­brid was a peren­nial cat­e­gory win­ner from 2004 un­til 2008, tak­ing over­all Engine of the Year Award in its first year. Ditto Honda’s 1.0L IMA hy­brid, which won its cat­e­gories from 2000 to 2004, tak­ing the over­all ti­tle in 2000.

And diesels — again, also shut out this year — have been well-rep­re­sented in pre­vi­ous years.

In­deed, since 2009, all of the awards’ over­all win­ners have had a dis­place­ment of less than 1.4L, proof, say the awards’ or­ga­niz­ers, that down­siz­ing and an em­pha­sis on fuel econ­omy are here to stay.

Last year’s win­ner, Fiat’s Twin Air, dis­places just 875 cc and — shades of your rid­ing mower — has but two cylin­ders. It’s not that the awards’ ju­rors don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the need for bet­ter fuel econ­omy — they just don’t be­lieve elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is the best way for­ward to a more frugal, less pol­lut­ing fu­ture.

“This is a fit­ting vic­tory for a truly re­mark­able engine,” says Dean Slavnich, co-chair­man of the awards. “For a three-cylin­der engine to power a ve­hi­cle like the Ford Fo­cus with such ease proves that the fu­ture is very, party, but Korea’s Hyundai and Kia are firmly on the band­wagon.

North Amer­i­can use of four-cylin­der en­gines will grow 74 per cent from 6.9 mil­lion to 12.2 mil­lion in the next 10 years, ac­cord­ing to IHS Au­to­mo­tive. IHS pre­dicts V-6 and V-8 use in North Amer­i­can-made ve­hi­cles will fall 17 per cent to about six mil­lion over the same pe­riod.

The new four-cylin­der en­gines pro­duce as much power as six- or even eight-cylin­der en­gines, but use less fuel and emit fewer pol­lu­tants. They achieve this thanks to tur­bocharg­ing, high-pres­sure in­jec­tion of fuel di­rectly into the cylin­ders, elec­tronic con­trols and new trans­mis­sions.

“Amer­i­cans are will­ing to ac­cept smaller en­gines as long as there’s power,” IHS an­a­lyst Aaron Brag­man said. “This is where the in­dus­try is headed.”

The 2.0-litre, di­rect-in­jec­tion turbo won me over when I tested a Buick Re­gal GS last year. The engine’s 270 horse­power and 295 pound-feet of torque and 27-miles per gal­lon (7.4L/100 km) high­way rat­ing proved equally de­light­ful on a long, fast trip. The next gen­er­a­tion of the engine de­buts in the Cadil­lac ATS sport sedan this sum­mer.

“The power is off the chart. GM has pol­ished that engine to a fine sheen,” Mur­phy said. Three of Wards’ 2012 win­ners are tur­bocharged, di­rect­in­jec­tion 2.0-litre en­gines from BMW, Ford and GM. A fourth engine on the very bright for the IC (in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion) engine.

“Power, re­sponse and very good real-world fuel con­sump­tion fig­ures are just the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to this engine and what it of­fers driv­ers to­day.”

Or, as Mark Twain said upon hear­ing of his own demise, “Ru­mours of my death are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.” list, from Mazda, has 2.0 litres and di­rect in­jec­tion sans turbo.

“The trend to 2.0-litre en­gines is a phe­nom­e­non,” Mur­phy said. “Cer­tain brands have de­cided they don’t even need to of­fer a V-6 in their mid­size sedans. The new four-cylin­der en­gines can power the vast ma­jor­ity of pas­sen­ger cars and crossovers. This is the next gen­er­a­tion of mus­cle cars.”

There are lim­its, how­ever. The early con­sen­sus seems to be that Ford’s 2.0-litre works well in the 3,998-pound Edge cross­over but strug­gles in the larger 4,500-pound Ex­plorer.

To­day, 2.0 litres is the sweet spot, but even smaller en­gines are com­ing. Ford, which calls the com­bi­na­tion of tur­bocharg­ing and di­rect in­jec­tion EcoBoost, will of­fer it on a 170-horse­power-plus 1.6-litre engine in the up­com­ing 2013 Es­cape cross­over and Fu­sion mid­size sedan. Ford re­serves its 237-horse­power 2.0-litre engine for per­for­mance mod­els of those ve­hi­cles.

“Au­tomak­ers are push­ing dis­place­ment down and power up,” said Bill Vis­nic of Ed­munds.com. Wit­ness the 160-horse­power tur­bocharged 1.4-litre Chrysler will of­fer in the new 2013 Dodge Dart com­pact sedan.

The odds are there’s a small, pow­er­ful four-cylin­der engine in your fu­ture. I’ll take those odds and bet that you’ll love it.

Ford Mo­tor Co. pres­i­dent and CEO Al­lan Mu­lally kisses the Ford 1.0L EcoBoost engine at a mar­ket­ing event. The new unit won

Best Engine over­all, and Best New Engine.

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