• Stephen

The Juiced Up 4-Cylinder: An Evolution

America has historically been known for big cars and wide roads, and with that came thirsty high displacement V6 or V8 engines. Today though, things are changing. Regulation and the importance of the consumer’s perception of auto manufacturers is creating pressure to make cars that sip fuel as the British would sip tea during tea time. The simple solution is to build cars with lower displacement engines and less cylinders, like the inline-four (I4). However, in the US we need powerful cars to lug the month’s worth of food that we buy and consume from Costco each week. So, how do we get the power we need in a smaller engine? One word. Turbo.

Oldsmobile Cutlass (Source: Car & Driver)

Now, this is not the first time a similar sequence of events has happened in the US. Back in the 1980’s an influx of econobox cars with tea sipping I4 engines filled the US auto markets

after a series of oil crises caused oil prices to increase 1000% over the previous decade. Soon, the 3.8-5.7L V6 and V8 Oldsmobile Cutlass that dominated the US markets as the best selling car from the late 1970’s succumbed to the 1.4-2L I4 of the Chevy Cavalier, Ford Escort, and Honda Accord of the 80’s. For comparison, the 3.8L V6 Cutlass in 1980 achieved 22 MPG with 110hp and 190ft-lb of torque, while the 1.9L I4 Ford Escort (GL) in 1988 achieved 35 MPG with 90hp and 106ft-lb of torque. The prudent I4 helped Americans save money through a difficult economic time. However, these hardships did not last forever.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth (Source: Bring A Trailer)

To boost enthusiasm (future pun) manufacturers introduced sport editions that bolted turbochargers onto the I4 engines to increase the amount of horsepower (get it now?). A famous example, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, managed to provide 224hp from its 2L I4 engine. That is 134 more horsepower (or 150% more) than its frugal Escort GL cousin from 1988. However, due to the performance tunes, the Escort RS achieved a similar fuel economy to the thirsty V6 Cutlass’, with 23 MPG.


Today, engine design and engineering has greatly surpassed that of the automotive past with I4 engined-cars that now excuse themselves after burping the little fuel they have consumed. Thanks to technology such as clever computers, hybrid electric systems, and automatic transmissions with as many gears as fingers on the typical person, you can now have a car such as the I4 Toyota Camry Hybrid which provides up to 50 miles to the gallon with only 16 fewer horses produced than the sporty Ford Escort RS of yesteryear.


Now, the Camry Hybrid is by no means on any automotive enthusiasts’ wishlist. So, where do auto enthusiasts go if they do not want to compromise fun completely in place of efficiency? Well, there is the impressive Honda Civic Type-R which produces a whole 308 HP from its turbocharged 2L I4 engine and maintains 28 MPG (highway), but surely we can do better than 84 more horses with the 25 years of technological advancement since the Escort RS. Mercedes-Benz certainly thinks we can.

M139 (Source: Mercedes-AMG)

Earlier this year, Mercedes announced that the new turbocharged 2L I4 engine for the AMG

variant of the CLA/GLA/A Classes will produce a massive 416HP. That is about as much horsepower as a modern naturally aspirated V6 or V8, but with half the amount of cylinders and liters! This staggering figure is supported by the fact that Mercedes’ new four-cylinder engine (the M139) is the most powerful four-cylinder in the world. Even more, once put in the tiny CLA, it will be the fastest subcompact car in the world. I know what you are thinking though. No way the world’s most powerful I4 engine sips fuel like tea. No, it does not sip tea, but that is because with the amount of energy it produces it more likely prefers espresso, but it still sips it! The 416HP M139 engine achieves an impressive 30 MPG (highway). That is only 5 MPG less than the Escort GL, and with almost 5x the power!

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG S (Source: Mercedes-AMG)

Unfortunately, this insane engine will be placed in the AMG “S” model, which at this time will not be for sale in the US. This means that Americans will have to settle for the 382 HP in the regular AMG to lug groceries for their small armies. Who knows, America may even become more obese due to the speed and efficiency in which they will be able make trips to Costco. However, one thing is for sure. America will certainly not have to buy any more tea thanks to the I4 engine and its impressive evolution. Not that America buys much tea anyway.

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