On 2/2/2022, Bad News For You: No More New Two-Cylinder Cars In America
It’s February 2, 2022, and you know what that means—your friends with an annoying affinity for puns and numerology are probably being a bit “two” much today. If any of those folks are in the market for a new car and have a burning desire for an engine format that matches the number of the day, please provide them with the following bad news: There are no longer any new two-cylinder cars being sold in America.
The recent death of BMW’s i3 electric car brought the most recent chapter of two-cylinder transportation in the U.S. to a close. Wait, huh? An electric car? What does that have to do with an internal combustion engine with only two cylinders, as opposed to the more typical four-, six-, and eight-cylinder options?
The BMW i3’s Two-Cylinder
The BMW i3 was offered with a gas-fed range-extender—essentially an onboard generator capable of delivering enough juice to get the electric BMW to a distant charge plug. That generator was an 0.6-liter inline two-cylinder. It made 38 hp, and was fed by a 2.3-gallon fuel tank. Remember, it could be so puny because it never directly powered the wheels; it merely spun up a generator to produce electricity for the i3’s electric drive motors.
There hadn’t been a two-cylinder engine available stateside for many years before the i3, unless you count Morgan’s 3 Wheeler, which was essentially a three-wheeled motorcycle. Before that, Honda’s N600 and Z600—two of the earlier cars it sold here—offered a two-cylinder engine; ditto BMW’s Isetta. Even so, the engine remained available (and as a primary power source) in foreign markets until recently. The Fiat 500 TwinAir and Tata Nano are two higher-profile examples.
Still Two, Plus One
The two-cylinder car engine may be dead for the time being here in the U.S., but there has been continued development in small engines, including three-cylinder options. Ford is the most visible proponent, thanks to its turbocharged 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine, which powers entry level versions of the Ford Bronco Sport and Escape SUVs. (Previously, Ford offered a teeny turbocharged 1.0-liter triple in the Focus and Fiesta.)
BMW’s Mini brand also dabbles in turbocharged triples. As ever, the regulatory incentive—fuel economy!—likely drives these decisions more than customer demand, though the latest crop of threes are relatively decent entry-level motors so long as they’re hitched to sufficiently lightweight vehicles. Mitsubishi’s Mirage, which gets a non-turbo three-cylinder producing double-digit horsepower, is a key exception. (Hey, that’s the second article today to mention the Mirage. What’s going on?)
A Return of the Two? For Who?
So, will the two-cylinder engine ever return to a new vehicle sold in America? Outside of range-extender or onboard generator duty, we doubt it. Three-cylinder engines seem like the basement for directly powering vehicles here, because there are vanishingly fewer and fewer small cars being sold in the U.S.
When automakers stop selling lightweight subcompact cars and leave small SUVs as the baseline option for American car shoppers, they’re essentially boxing ultra-small engines out of the equation—after all, there’s a minimum level of engine power and displacement required to adequately move small trucks and SUVs, and it’s more than is required for tiny cars. So, on this February 2nd, 2022, our two cents’ is to point out that no new two-cylinder car exists, but we can all at least remember some.
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