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Maybe We Really Only Need One Two-Liter Inline-Four Cylinder Turbo Engine

Perhaps not every company needs to design and build it's own two-liter four. What if there were one standard one?

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Image for article titled Maybe We Really Only Need One Two-Liter Inline-Four Cylinder Turbo Engine
Image: GM, JDT

Cars are really, really expensive right now, and that’s a problem. I was thinking about ways that cars could possibly get a bit cheaper, and that line of thinking brought me to the idea of commoditized components that could be standardized across the industry. That lead me to thinking about how pretty much every mainstream carmaker (well, save for the boxer holdouts at Subaru and Porsche) have some sort of inline-four cylinder turbo engine of around 1.5- to 2.5-liters in displacement. And that led me to this question: could we just get by with one of these?

The inline-four of around 2 liters, often turbocharged, has to be the most common engine type found in cars today, almost always in a transverse, front-wheel drive context. These lumps of iron and plastic are what makes the world’s hatchbacks and family sedans and crossovers and some SUVs and minivans scurry all over the planet.

Image for article titled Maybe We Really Only Need One Two-Liter Inline-Four Cylinder Turbo Engine
Image: Ford, GM, VW

Ford has their 2-liter EcoBoost that makes between 200 and 250 horsepower. GM has a bunch of these, including their 2-liter LTG engine that makes between 230 and 275 HP. Honda has their K20C 2-liter that can put out between 160 and 300+ HP. Toyota has their 2.3-liter turbo T24A-FTS making about 280 HP, Volkswagen has their 2-liter TSI that makes about 210 HP, Hyundai has a 2-liter turbo making 240 hp, and on and on and on. They’re everywhere.


As a gearhead, I absolutely delight in all the different ways that gasoline gets turned into power, heat and noise in combustion engines, and the stranger the better: air-cooling, Wankels, unusual layouts, whatever. But the truth is that the vast majority of drivers couldn’t give a matched set of turds about what the lump of metal growling under their hood is, as long as it gets their asses where they need to be and demands as little attention as possible.

So what I’m thinking is that for so many cars out there, what’s really the benefit of all of those independently-developed, proprietary 2-liter inline fours making about the same power and torque, and doing essentially the same sort of job?

What if there was one baseline 2-liter turbo-four engine design, and anyone who wanted to build it could? What if you had a car with the Standard Engine, and you could go to any auto parts store for any critical engine part, and they’d have it, in stock, and with options for any budget, because these engines and parts are built all over the world?

For most people, what would really be lost? If the Standard Engine made about 250 HP or so and was roughly as efficient as any of the many types currently made, do you think any of the millions of CR-V or Tiguan or Equinox or whatever drivers would even care? Or notice?


A baseline commodity-type engine could make mainstream, mass-market cars cheaper. It would make servicing vastly cheaper and easier because any dealer or mechanic would be familiar with the engine and have parts available.

There would still be tuning parts, if you wanted them, likely lots of them, since companies would have such a large, diverse pool of potential customers, since so many engines could be compatible.


Also, with so many manufacturers openly talking about the end of combustion car production in favor of EVs (for example, GM has pegged 2035 as their last year for building ICE cars) why spend R&D time and resources on combustion motors that they themselves have decided are dead ends?

The big carmakers need to get together and agree on this baseline design, then let whoever, wherever build them. They can build the Standard Engines themselves for a while, they can sub-contract it out, or they could buy them on the commodity market, like RAM chips for PC manufacturers.


A common baseline engine design could also help form the basis of inexpensive cars in the period when mainstream automakers are switching to EVs and have abandoned the low-end market. If there was a whole category of Common Engine cars, I think we could see real economy of scale advantages throughout the life of the car.

I get that this sort of standardization may feel well, just wrong to many of us that really love cars, but I don’t think it has to be that way. More idiosyncratic and specialized engines could co-exist, but I feel like this is a category of car whose time has come.


I want to hear what you think! Is this madness, or can you see my point? You can call me names, if that helps.