Size doesn’t equal speed


Electric plug-in cars, diesel hybrids and flex-fuel burners are all modern catch-phrases used to prematurely sell the concept of efficient vehicles. Yet various gasoline combustion engine layouts continue to dominate the design of cars on the road today.

While a greener future in the automotive industry seems to be the call for action, getting the manufacturers to flip the switch and start plugging in batteries will take more than the lobbying of environmentalists and consumers who are tired of being squeezed at the pump.

American auto manufacturers have ignored the technology around them for too long – technology that could have been emulated long ago to produce more efficient and powerful, naturally-aspirated motors.

The Honda S2000 is an example of a sports car that shattered the “100 horsepower-per-liter of displacement” measure of performance and proves amazing power can be produced in a compact design. At 2.0 liters and 247 horsepower, this four-banger track star produces nearly 124 horsepower per liter of displacement.

The car offers excellent performance and reliability, good fuel consumption and the sense that big things come in small packages – a formula American designers are just now catching on to.

Compared to fourth-generation American sports cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, which houses the GM LS2 motor, one can see the stark difference with the Honda S2000 in power output, efficiency and fuel consumption. In fact, the standard LS2 produces 400 horsepower from a 6.0-liter engine, which equals just 66 horsepower per liter of displacement.

And anyone who owns a Honda can attest to the pure “fun factor” those little 1.6-liter motors provide.

With the advent of bolt-on turbo systems, many of these compact motors are capable of producing serious stomping power. Just look up Honda turbo on You Tube, and you are sure to find a 1.6-liter engine producing an excess of 800 horsepower.

For generations, the Japanese have built relatively small displacement engines that are not only more reliable than American designs, but more powerful and gas-pump friendly.

Considering the heritage of big American muscle, one can understand how automotive roots shape American design. But if America is going to get serious about efficiency and sustainability, it will have to break from the notion that anything less than a V-6 is meant for an econobox.

E-mail Jonathan Morales at [email protected]