Why do so many cars have 2.0-liter turbo engines? A closer look

Digging into the downsizing in so many automakers' engine bays.

In the 1960s, big V8s were all the rage. Then V6 engines became very popular. Today, if you're shopping for a new car or SUV, chances are it's going to be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine.

Unless you're shopping for a tiny subcompact, a big-bucks exotic or a full-size truck, it's difficult to find a model that does not offer this engine conformation. Right now, there are more 50 models on sale in the United States that use it, and more are on the horizon. ( Try Autoblog' s Car Finder to search for your next new vehicle.)

Small, light and powerful, the turbocharged 2.0-liter has become one of the most common engine configurations used by automakers from the United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and Sweden — all looking for power, packaging advantages and additional fuel economy. There are now millions of vehicles on the road powered by turbocharged 2.0-liter engines, from hot hatchbacks to luxury sedans, SUVs, family sedans and expensive two-seat sports cars, and millions more will be sold over the next 12 months.

ford focus st

And the diversity of brands that have invested in this engine range from Hyundai and Honda to Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. Prices for 2.0-liter turbo cars start as low as $24,775 for the Ford Focus ST and climb up to $90,700 for the BMW 740e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, which combines the engine with an electric motor and a small battery pack.

Honda's version of this engine is potent. In its new Honda Civic Type R hot hatch, which just hit the market with a starting price of $34,000, the engine makes 306 hp. That's six horsepower more than the 2.0-liter turbo that Porsche uses in its midengine 718 Boxster and Cayman models, although those cylinders are arranged as a flat-four rather than an inline configuration.

Honda also uses a version of its 2.0-liter turbo in the all-new 10th-generation 2018 Accord that is just now reaching dealerships. In the Accord, the engine is rated at 240 hp.

With just 170 hp, the least powerful 2.0-liter turbo available is in the 2017 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line SEL. Volkswagen was one of the first automakers to pioneer this engine design, and it uses the configuration in seven models, including its new full-size three-row Atlas SUV and its legendary Golf GTI and Golf R hatchback hot hatches. The Golf R's 2.0-liter is rated 292 hp.

Geneva Motor Show 2017

Hyundai was one of the first to offer a turbocharged 2.0-liter in the midsize sedan class, which was a segment filled with big V6 engines at the time. In 2011, Hyundai deleted the V6 as its upgrade engine from its Sonata family sedan and replaced it with a 2.0-liter turbo. It was an instant success. Now Hyundai also uses the engine in its Santa Fe Sport and Tucson SUVs, as well as 1.6-liter and 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines in some of its models.

According to Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's vice president of product planning, the displacement of 2.0 liters is a sweet spot that, once turbocharged, delivers the performance of a large V6 with improved efficiency — on paper, at least.

"The engine's heat rejection or transfer dictates turbo boost levels," said O'Brien, who is responsible for guiding strategic development of Hyundai's entire model lineup. "Although the cooling effect of modern direct fuel injection inside the combustion chamber allows us to increase the engine's compression ratio and boost levels, there are limits. And most carmakers are running about the same boost." Hyundai says its engine is running 17 psi.

Lexus uses a 2.0-liter turbo is several models, including its popular IS sedan and NX SUV.

"A specific appeal to Lexus is the balance of performance, weight and efficiency of an engine with 0.5 liter per cylinder," said Paul Williamsen of Lexus Global Communications. "We've found it to be an ideal balance for vehicles in this range of sizes and weights."

Surprisingly, Lexus' sister brand Toyota is one of the few manufacturers not to market a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.

Day Two Of The Geneva Motor Show 2015

"'No replacement for displacement' is a fallacy," said Hyundai's O'Brien. "Our 3.3-liter V6 develops its peak torque at 4,900 rpm, while the peak torque of our 2.0-liter turbo is at 1,300 rpm, and then it's a flat line of output to 4,000."

The lower an engine's torque peak, the better a car can accelerate from a dead stop or up grades. "Enthusiast drivers love the swell of torque that comes without a downshift," adds O'Brien.

Del Necessary of Playa del Rey, Calif., is one such enthusiast. Necessary has a small car collection, which includes a 1966 Mustang Fastback and a vintage Porsche 911. Back in 2013 he replaced his family's V6-powered Audi A6 Avant with a then-new Audi A4 Allroad powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

"I'm very satisfied with the Allroad's performance," said Necessary, who has driven his previous-generation Allroad 41,000 miles. "At 211 hp, it's not the most powerful, but with eight speeds I'm never wanting for acceleration. The 211 hp is only nine less than the V6 it replaced. It's not buzzy and has plenty of torque for the type of use we subject the car to, plus I get better fuel economy."

Turbocharger for car

Many luxury SUV buyers have also experienced the switch. Anne Stewart, a young mother of two in Venice, Calif., loved her 2011 Audi Q5 powered by a big 3.2-liter V6 that made 270 hp. Last year she replaced it with a new Mercedes-Benz GLC300 powered by a 241-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and hasn't looked back.

"The Mercedes feels even faster than my Audi was," said Stewart on her way to pick up her son at school. "And it gets better fuel economy. What's not to like?"

This mad rush from larger-displacement V6s to smaller, turbocharged four-cylinders was first fueled by the automakers' need to improve fuel economy to meet customer demand as well as more stringent government regulations. Fewer cylinders mean fewer parts, which means less internal friction. This makes the engine more efficient, so it burns less fuel — theoretically. But they quickly discovered other advantages and consumer benefits as well.

The smaller engines have also allowed the car companies to make the engine compartments smaller while expanding the interior and storage space within the vehicle's footprint. And more spacious interiors and bigger trunks sell cars. The automakers we spoke with say that the downsizing of engines will continue, so for the near future at least the 2.0-liter turbo is here to stay.

New Models Available with a 2.0 liter Turbo
  1. Acura RDX*
  2. Alfa Romeo Giulia
  3. Alfa Romeo Stelvio
  4. Audi TT
  5. Audi A3
  6. Audi A4
  7. Audi A5
  8. Audi A6
  9. Audi Q3
  10. Audi Q5
  11. Audi Q7
  12. BMW 2 Series
  13. BMW 3 Series
  14. BMW 4 Series
  15. BMW 5 Series
  16. BMW 7 Series
  17. BMW Z4
  18. BMW X1
  19. BMW X2
  20. BMW X3
  21. BMW X4
  22. BMW X5
  23. Buick Regal
  24. Buick Envision
  25. Cadillac ATS
  26. Cadillac CTS
  27. Cadillac CT6
  28. Chevy Camaro
  29. Chevy Malibu
  30. Chevy Equinox
  31. Chevy Traverse
  32. Ford Focus
  33. Ford Fusion
  34. Ford Escape
  35. Ford Edge
  36. Genesis G70*
  37. GMC Terrain
  38. Honda Accord
  39. Honda Civic
  40. Hyundai Sonata
  41. Hyundai Santa Fe*
  42. Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  43. Hyundai Veloster*
  44. Infiniti QX30
  45. Infiniti QX50
  46. Infiniti Q50
  47. Jaguar XE
  48. Jaguar XF
  49. Jaguar F-Type
  50. Jaguar E-Pace
  51. Jaguar F-Pace
  52. Jeep Cherokee
  53. Jeep Wrangler
  54. Kia Optima
  55. Kia Sportage
  56. Kia Sorento
  57. Kia Stinger
  58. Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
  59. Land Rover Discovery Sport
  60. Land Rover Range Rover Velar
  61. Land Rover Range Rover Sport*
  62. Land Rover Range Rover*
  63. Lexus IS
  64. Lexus RC
  65. Lexus NX
  66. Lexus GS
  67. Lincoln MKZ
  68. Lincoln MKC
  69. Lincoln Nautilus*
  70. Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
  71. Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
  72. Mercede-Benz C-Class
  73. Mercedes-Benz E-Class
  74. Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class
  75. Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class
  76. Mini Cooper
  77. Mini Clubman
  78. Mini Countryman
  79. Porsche 718 Boxster
  80. Porsche 718 Cayman
  81. Porsche Macan
  82. Subaru Forester
  83. Subaru WRX
  84. Volvo S60
  85. Volvo V60
  86. Volvo V90
  87. Volvo S90
  88. Volvo XC40
  89. Volvo XC60
  90. Volvo XC90
  91. VW Golf
  92. VW Beetle
  93. VW Passat
  94. VW Tiguan
  95. VW Atlas
(*cars have only been very recently revealed and may not be available until later in the year)

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