Quick Question: At What Size Is an Engine 'Big?'

Illustration for article titled Quick Question: At What Size Is an Engine Big?

So in reading over the comments in the recent episode of Jason Drives, I was surprised to find something that was brought up several times, sandwiched between comments of confusion and dismay regarding just what the hell is going on with my hair. The comments were baffled that I referred to the Fire Truck’s 289 cubic inch (4.7-liter) V8 as “big.” It seems that there’s many people who don’t think a 4.7-liter engine is big. This was news to me, so I think it’s worth asking: How big must an engine be before it’s considered big?


Now, maybe it’s because I regularly drive a car with a 998cc engine, but I can’t help but think a 4.7-liter engine is pretty damn large. And I don’t think I’m alone. So, in an effort for all of us to get on the same page, I made this chart, which breaks down what I feel are the proper engine sizes and scale terminology:

Illustration for article titled Quick Question: At What Size Is an Engine Big?

I should mention that even among the Jalopnik staff, there’s some disagreement here. Bossman Patrick George thinks a 4-liter engine is just medium, and big shouldn’t start until 5-liters.

He may have a point, sure, but I still feel a 4.5-liter engine is, you know, a pretty big engine. But I’m open to hear your arguments!

Also, I should mention that there’s another angle to this, and that has to do with cylinder count, which adds a whole other layer of complexity. For example, a 2.5-liter inline-3 is a huge inline-3, but just a medium engine, overall.

A 2.5-liter V8 is a tiny V8, but a medium engine. A 1-liter inline-six is also tiny, and a 4-liter flat-twin is, yes, fucking huge. And a 1.4 rotary is—oh, never mind. The cylinder number-to-size-ratio is a whole other thing.


Anyway, let’s just focus on this. Does this chart make sense? Are these sizes rational to you? Got some better ideas?

Lemme hear ‘em!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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Pretty damn close!

Historically, in the USA:

A “big 4" has kinda sorta meant anything over 2L

A “big V6:” bigger than 3L.

Small V8: under 5.7L

Big V8: Over 5.7L.

5.7L V8: just right.

The numbers for each category, however, have been trending down for decades now, pretty much giving us...  your chart!