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GM’s got a new 1-liter, 3-cylinder engine. Should you care?

  • gm-3-cyl-cutaway-660.jpg

     (GM)

  • gm-3-cyl-660.jpg

     (GM)

  • gm-opel-adam-660.jpg

     (Opel)

General Motors Europe has just announced an all-new three-cylinder gasoline-turbocharged-direct-injection (GTDI) engine. It will debut soon in the Opel Adam mini-car, to compete with Volkswagen's TSI engines and the EcoBoost lineup from Ford. The new triple is the first member of GM's new Small Gasoline Engine (SGE) lineup that was co-developed with Chinese partner Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp. (SAIC) along with new manual and automatic transmissions.

The SGE lineup of three and four-cylinder engines ranging from 1.0 to 1.6-liters will replace the aging Family 0 engines, which currently power the Chevy Cruze, Spark, Sonic and Volt in North America.

Assuming that GM hasn't already pulled the plug on the next-generation Volt, it could be one of the first North American models to get this engine. When the original Volt concept debuted in 2007, the spec sheet actually listed an engine of this exact configuration, but impending bankruptcy forced GM to switch to the off-the-shelf 1.4-liter four-cylinder.

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It might be light a cylinder, but it’s heavy on tech. Aluminum blocks, centrally-located, six-hole injectors and a turbo will provide a much beefier torque curve even at low speeds. With 122 lb-ft at 1600 rpm, this engine could keep the Volt going at much lower speeds than the anemic four-cylinder used today.

Aside from being expensive and with a tight interior, the weakest aspect of the current Volt is poor efficiency in charge-sustaining mode. A smaller, lighter, more efficient range extender (that is, the engine), plus cheaper and more efficient motors from the Spark EV and the latest battery tech could shave a few hundred pounds from a new, second-generation Volt. And stuffing a new battery under the floor instead of in the center tunnel could make it roomier. But that’s if it ever happens. And that’s a big if.

Whatever happens with the Volt, we will almost certainly see this engine family in North America in the next few years. The surprisingly successful Spark will probably switch over to the 1.0-liter. If Ford sees market success with its 1.0-liter EcoBoost in the Fiesta later this year, Chevy could follow suit with the Sonic as well. Reviewers have praised the drivability of Ford's similarly configured EcoBoost triple in the Fiesta and Focus, so this could be a pleasant addition to GM's small cars. Larger members of the SGE family could easily find homes under the hood of midsize cars like the Malibu and Regal.

The bottom line is that if GM puts it in the right product, like Ford has done with the Fiesta, it might be a fun engine. But at a minimum, it’ll be the modern high-feature, low-displacement engine that GM needs to compete with Ford’s EcoBoost onslaught.