What do the liters mean in an engine? When it comes to buying a car, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right engine size. And with so many different measurements and units to consider, knowing precisely what you’re getting can be unclear.
For example, one standard measurement used to describe an engine’s size is liters. But what exactly do liters in an engine mean? Let’s dive in and find out.
What do the liters mean in an engine?
Firstly, it’s essential to understand what liters are. A liter is a unit of measurement for volume commonly used to measure fluids like gasoline or oil. In the context of car engines, liters describe the total volume of all the cylinders in the engine combined. Each cylinder is a mini engine that burns fuel to create power.
The more cylinders an engine has, the more fuel it can burn and the more power it can create. So, when you see an engine described as a 2.0-liter engine, that means the total volume of all its cylinders combined is 2.0 liters. This measurement is also commonly referred to as engine displacement.
What does engine size mean?
Engine sizes are pretty easy to understand as a concept. The more litres it has, the bigger the engine is.
Litres, in this case, refers to the capacity an engine has, with the figure referring to the total volume of all cylinders it has. In short, the larger the volume, the more fuel an engine can burn.
You may see your car’s engine listed as a three- or four-figure number on your V5C, for example; 2,298cc. This is the exact cubic centimetres of capacity — though for simplicity’s sake these are rounded up to litres (each litre contains 1,000 cubic centimetres). In this example, 2,298cc would be rounded to 2.3-litres.
Engines of 1.0-litre or less typically feature three or four cylinders and many now use turbochargers for extra power.
You’ll find them in anything from tiny city cars like the Hyundai i10 to medium-sized family cars like the Ford Focus, producing up to around 125hp. Their official fuel economy figures look pretty high but you may need to rev the engine and work it quite hard to get up to speed or to overtake.
Drive like this often and you’ll struggle to get near the official figures – equally if you regularly carry three or four passengers or a lot of stuff. If that sounds like the sort of trips you make regularly, you make need to look for something bigger.
Engines between 1.0- and 2.0-litre are more common amongst larger family hatchbacks and mid-size SUVs.
Most engines in this range will be turbocharged and have around 150hp. They often claim to have similar real-world economy figures to smaller 1.0-litre engines. However, cars with larger engines will typically be more expensive than smaller equivalents.
You’ll find some hot hatches, such as the Toyota GR Yaris and Ford Fiesta ST, in this range too.
Engines between 2.0- and 3.0-litres are mostly found in bigger saloons, estate cars and SUVs and will typically have power in the range of 200-300hp.
These tend to be thirstier than smaller engines, but offer a lot more performance as a result. It’s this range of engines you’ll start to see in serious performance cars too, such as the Porsche Cayman.
Engines larger than 3.0-litres are increasingly rare, found mostly in huge SUVs and high-end performance cars. These will come with six, eight or even up to 10 or 12 cylinders.
These tend to produce masses of power, but they also use a great deal of fuel. You’ll need to be prepared for hefty running costs.
What size engines do hybrid cars have?
This varies from hybrid to hybrid. The Toyota Prius – arguably the world’s best-known hybrid car, has a 1.8-litre engine that works in conjunction with an electric motor, while the Kia Niro hybrid has a 1.6-litre engine. Plug-in hybrids can also have engines of varying sizes.
The Volkswagen Golf GTE uses a 1.4-litre engine, the BMW 3 Series 330e has a 2.0-litre engine, while the performance orientated Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid has a 3.0-litre V6, as does the McLaren Artura.
Do electric cars have engines?
From a technical perspective, yes, as an engine is a machine that converts other forms of energy into kinetic energy (movement). A petrol engine converts chemical energy into kinetic energy, while an electric motor converts electricity into kinetic energy.
Electric cars don’t have internal combustion engines, though, which is what is colloquially meant when talking about a petrol or diesel car’s engine.
You’ll often see electric motors rated using kW (kiloWatts) of power instead of hp, with kW capable of being converted to horsepower if you’re looking for an easy way to compare performance with existing internal combustion engines cars. Multiply a car’s kW rating by 1.35 to find its power in horsepower.
Considerations when choosing a car engine size
Typically speaking, the larger an engine is, the more fuel it will use and the more emissions it will produce. The more emissions a car produces, the more its road tax will cost.
If your main focus is low running costs around town, a small car with a 1.0-litre turbocharged engine may be your best bet. If you do lots of long journeys then a bigger, more powerful petrol or diesel engine may use less fuel.
Insurance tends to be lower for cars with smaller engines too, though this will vary by model.
If you’re regularly driving around town, a car with a smaller engine will be your best bet. There’s not much point in having more power than you need, and your bank balance will be thankful for it too.
If you spend most of your time driving on the motorway, a mid-size diesel engine will be your best bet. These offer strong fuel economy, and a decent amount of grunt when it comes to overtaking.
Got the need for speed? You’ll want something with a high-power, larger-capacity engine.
That said, some of the best hot hatches have engines around 2.0-litres, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
Emission/clear air zones
The size of a car’s engine has no bearing on whether it attracts a charge from emission zones like London’s ULEZ, as such zones use a car’s Euro standard to determine how clean it is.
What does engine displacement mean?
But what does engine displacement actually mean for the performance of a car? In general, a larger engine displacement will mean more power and torque. This is because a larger displacement engine can burn more fuel and air, creating a bigger explosion and, therefore, more force to turn the wheels.
However, a larger engine also means more weight and potentially lower fuel efficiency, so balancing power and practicality is important.
When deciding on engine liters, it’s also important to consider your driving needs. For example, a smaller engine may be more efficient and practical if you primarily use your car for commuting or city driving. However, if you do a lot of highway driving or need to tow heavy loads, a larger engine may be necessary to provide the power and torque required.
Can you get more displacement
For those wishing to produce the most power possible from an engine, increasing the displacement is always an option. This is done by boring out the cylinder walls and putting in thicker pistons, and also by installing a longer stroke crank, which causes the pistons to travel farther. The popular Chevy 383 is a Chevy 350 that has been bored and stroked to 33 inches of greater displacement.
Can you have too much?
he short answer is no. The long answer is not that easy, of course. Larger displacement tends to mean bigger and heavier pistons that have to travel a farther distance.
This kills rotational inertia and will result in a lower revving, a less “spunky” or “eager” engine, which can also mean it is less responsive. Taken to an extreme, this can result in a slower engine, and over boring an engine can weaken the cylinder walls.
Is there a replacement for displacement?
Engine liters isn’t the sole factor influencing a car’s performance, and recognizing this is crucial. Turbocharging, supercharging, and hybrid or electric powertrains are among the other variables that can significantly affect a car’s performance.
For example, a vehicle with a smaller engine size that has been turbocharged can produce the same amount of power as a larger, naturally aspirated engine.
Supercharging can provide a power boost by compressing air, increasing the amount of fuel that can be burned. On the other hand, hybrid or electric powertrains offer a different kind of performance, emphasizing energy efficiency and instant torque rather than raw power. Consequently, it’s important to compare like Mobil has done.
What is engine liter?
Engines are assessed and measured based on displacement, expressed in liters. Displacement refers to the amount of volume taken by all the cylinders in an engine. One liter is equal to 61 cubic inches.
How many liters is good for an engine?
Around 2.2-3.0 liters are good. Usually, 2.0 liter cars are good for towing, whereas anything more than that is ideal for heavy trailers. If more torque is on offer, the engine will work more efficiently.
What’s a 2.4 liter engine?
The L in 2.4L refers to the number of liters of air that a car uses on a full cycle of the pistons. The higher amount of liters can help increase power. The amount of liters also affects the registration cost, insurance and maintenance.
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