In the past, vehicle size usually matched engine size. For example, the tiny Morris Minor had an equally small 1.0-liter engine, while the huge Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser had a huge 7.5-liter V8 under the hood. Today, this is no longer the go-to method for guessing engine size. Take the modern Volvo XC90 for example. It’s the same size as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE SUVs – both of which come with 6-cylinders and V8s – but the Volvo only comes with a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder. It’s the same story with the fairly large Peugeot 5008. It looks like it should have at least a V6 engine, but instead has a 1.2 liter in its standard version.
The reason automakers equip their larger models with smaller engines is threefold. First, the smaller engine is more economical in the long run. Second, it emits less carbon dioxide and helps lower the manufacturer’s overall emissions ratings. And finally, the small powertrain helps both the automaker and the customer reduce their taxes payable – both during manufacturing and when buying from the dealership.
These tiny engines in relatively large cars are quite annoying to us car enthusiasts, as the vehicles in question become underpowered and sluggish – not very exciting to drive at all. Fortunately, there are still car manufacturers that offer larger engines for their models. Here are ten times automakers built relatively massive cars and fitted them with tiny engines.
10/10 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT
The Chevrolet Malibu is a relatively large sedan competing with models like the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, and Honda Accord. This premium mid-range sedan segment usually includes 4-cylinders and sometimes a hybrid, but in the case of the Malibu, the situation is dire.
Although it comes with various 4-cylinder engines and one of them even hosts a hybrid system, the smallest engine available is a 1.35-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder – in a Malibu? It’s like making a nuclear warhead, but instead of putting plutonium in it, the main explosive is a 9mm bullet. The small engine produces no more than 150 hp, making the Malibu 1LT one of the slowest cars in the segment.
9/10 Volvo XC90
The Volvo XC90 is among the most popular and reliable models from the Swedish automaker thanks to its practicality and longevity. The previous generation XC90 featured superb 5-cylinder engines and even a V8, while the current model – which is the size of a BMW X5 – has nothing to do with a 4-cylinder.
Volvo even ditched its turbo-diesel variants in favor of the turbo hybrid and the twin-charged 2.0-liter. That’s not a bad thing as the top-end XC90 T8 produces an impressive 400bhp, but it’s a bit odd for a car of this size and reputation for having a small engine.
8/10 mercedes sprinter
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is a huge piece of automotive machinery. Available in various sizes and configurations, the Sprinter is easily capable of making deliveries and transporting people. Strange then that Mercedes-Benz gave the big heavy-duty pickup quite small and underpowered engine options.
While older Sprinter generations saw powerful 5-cylinder and V6 diesels, the modern Sprinter only has to do with a 2.1-liter turbodiesel – the most powerful of which manages just 154 hp and 243 lb-ft of couple. Granted, this engine is built for heavy loads and driven tens of thousands of miles before it needs servicing, but still, it could have been a little bigger.
7/10 Ford Mondeo Estate
The Ford Mondeo was the British Ford equivalent to the American Ford Fusion. In the UK, the Mondeo was available as a wagon and saloon, making it even After convenient than it already was.
The problem was that with the latest generation of the Mondeo Estate, the cheapest version featured a 1.0 liter engine EcoBoost inline-3 – the same engine used in the much smaller Fiesta hatchback. The Mondeo EcoBoost only produced 123 hp driving the front wheels.
6/10 Peugeot 5008 Pure Tech
The Peugeot 5008 is the largest vehicle from the French automaker currently on sale. Previous 5008 generations were marketed as MPVs – since the French don’t like SUVs – but the current 5008 was changed to an SUV to fit the trend.
The 5008, being the size of the VW Tiguan Allspace, comes with a 1.2-liter turbocharged inline-3 as the base engine. Even the VW has a 1.4 liter turbo at least. The 5008 PureTech produces 117 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque, all of which is used to pull the nearly 3,100 lb vehicle as it only comes with front-wheel drive.
5/10 Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace
Speaking of which, the VW Tiguan Allspace’s engine is also quite small. The 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 is the same one used in the Polo and Golf, delivering 123 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The base model Tiguan is also front-wheel drive.
The Tiguan Allspace is a stretched version of the normal Tiguan, designed as a cheaper alternative to the sophisticated Touareg. This vehicle drove down sales of the Touareg because the Allspace offers all the same basic features, but at a price a lot Lower price.
4/10 BMW 318i F30
The BMW 3 Series is one of the most popular executive sedans on the market and the F30 generation was among the best of the best. When the F30 was updated – or “got its Life Cycle Impulse” as BMW calls it – the 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder was discontinued.
In its place was BMW’s all-new 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder – the same one used in the i8 hybrid sports car. The 318i produced 134 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque, sending power to the rear wheels only via a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. The low power really takes away from the sporty driving dynamics of the 3 Series.
3/10 Mercedes-Benz GLB
The Mercedes-Benz GLB is one of the newest additions to the Mercedes range and is the smallest 7-seater vehicle produced by the German brand. As one can probably infer, the GLB is built on the same platform as the GLA, itself based on the A-Class hatchback.
The GLB comes with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 in various states of tune, or a 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder producing 134 hp. Although it’s a good engine, it struggles a little when the vehicle is fully loaded with seven people and their luggage.
2/10 Cadillac Escalade Diesel
The Cadillac Escalade is a fantastic luxury SUV built in the USA. Most Escalades come with large V8 engines, usually 6.0 liters or larger, producing somewhere north of 300 hp. For the fifth generation, GM introduced diesel power for its large SUVs and the Cadillac gained a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder.
The turbocharged inline-6 engine – supplied by Duramax – produces 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It’s a far cry from the straight-line performance of the V8, but it achieves incredible fuel economy – far better than any of the smaller-engined gas-powered American rivals.
1/10 Chevrolet Silverado WT
The Chevrolet Silverado represents one-third of America’s “Big Three” competitors in the pickup truck segment. Available in five different body configurations, four different engines and eight trim level choices, the Silverado has customization on par with most German automakers.
In addition to the two V8s and the inline-6 diesel, the Silverado is also available with a 2.7-liter turbocharged inline-4. Not only is it available as an option on the standard cab with the standard bed, but it can also be installed on the full-size crew cab. The 4-cylinder might seem a bit small for a full-size pickup, but it produces 310 horsepower and an incredible 420 lb-ft of torque – almost on par with the diesel.