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Kia is taking engine downsizing a step further, with the company set to offer a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine an alternative to its four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engines.

Speaking with CarAdvice at the Geneva motor show, the Korean company’s head of powertrain engineering in Europe, Dr Joachim Hahn, said “we are not afraid of turbocharging technology, we pushed it a lot and happy now to roll out”.

There are no V6 engines available in any Kia vehicles in Europe. Instead, the company offers a variety of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and has recently introduced a three-cylinder 1.1-litre diesel engine in the Kia Rio. The new model takes almost 15 seconds to do the dash from 0-100km/h and is highly unlikely for the Australian market.

Dr Hahn said the same principle of downsizing from V6s to turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines could now apply to naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines being replaced by turbocharged three-cylinder engines.

“Once you try to reduce your total displacement significantly, depending on where you started you [then] have to reduce the number of cylinders” Mr Hahn said.

The move away from four-cylinder engines in small and light cars is largely a result of tougher emission laws coming into effect worldwide. Asked about when the race to reduce CO2 emission would end, Mr Hahn joked that it will end when we hit zero emissions.

“Something that sounds like a joke, there is some truth behind [it]. Currently the certification procedure allows you to get big benefit from hybrid concepts and especially from pure electric vehicles, even down to zero, which we all know is not a fact as it has to do with power [source pollution]. My personal impression is that as soon as some European governments see that a remarkable number of [hybrid and electric] cars are on sale they will over-think the situation because it has to do with tax income”.

He said one of the key areas that is yet to be taken into consideration is fuel type. “What we can easily see [is] that taking some alternatives in fuel gives the opportunity to do more. Natural gas [to power vehicles] personally for me seems to be an attractive way, from a European perspective”.

Nonetheless, he said the size of Kia and Hyundai’s operations (the two brands sold more than six million cars last year) gives the organisation the ability to work on multiple alternatives at the same time.

“We have one advantage, we are a big group, we sell more than six million vehicles a year and that is why on the one side we can show you series production hybrid engines based on conventional engines and in the future you will also see a higher grade of hybrid in our brand including plug-in, but that doesn’t mean we are not working fuel cell. That’s the sort of diversity we can afford”

Kia Australia is likely to bring in a series of turbocharged four-cylinder models in the future, with a Rio hot-hatch, Kia Optima turbo and next-generation Cerato Koup turbo all on the cards.

As for three-cylinder petrol-powered Kias heading to Australia, history has shown that we have been wary of three-cylinder cars, with little sales success for those that have tried (although nearly all have been naturally aspirated). Nonetheless, a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine in the next-generation Kia Cerato may prove to be an interesting proposition.




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