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The Volvo brand made quite a ruckus a few years ago when it declared it wouldn’t offer any engines larger than four cylinders. It has stayed true to that mantra, and will soon add an even smaller three-cylinder engine to its range.

The new three-cylinder engine will be a variation on Volvo‘s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged and supercharged petrol drivetrain offered in the brand’s cars today, but without a supercharger, and with a 1.5-litre displacement.

The lack of a supercharger, according to Volvo ‎director complete powertrain engineering Lutz Stiegler, is because the petrol engine only really needs that tech for instant torque in the higher-output four-cylinder drivetrains – the “six-cylinder replacement” engines, as he put it this week at the launch of the 2018 Volvo XC60 in Spain.

Stiegler said the three-cylinder drivetrain will be advantageous for both the company and the consumer: it will offer a lower-emission option for the company to lower its fleet emissions, and will give fleet buyers – in Europe in particular – an eco-focused engine in some of the brand’s most popular models.

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Those models will include the new-generation S60 sedan and V60 wagon, and possibly the XC60 SUV – though the latter is seemingly a bone of contention.

“More specific to this car [the XC60], it’s not in yet,” Stiegler said of the chance of a three-cylinder XC60. “In an entry-level V60 or S60, it could make sense.”

Other models that will be a walk-up start for the three-cylinder include the all-new 40 series range, with the 2018 XC40 compact SUV to get the three-pot as a mainstay of the range, and the next-gen V40 and possible S40 compact sedan expected to get the tech, too.

“The 40 series will definitely get it. That car – the XC40 – is significantly smaller. That is the main reason to make the variant, to achieve very low CO2.

Volvo Concept 40.1 front seven-eights

“When this engine is introduced, in the models that will have it we will not offer the same variants with four-cylinder engines. It is, then, a natural variant in the engine line-up as part of the powertrain family,” Stiegler said, indicating that the existing T3 and T4 petrol variants could well be powered by three-cylinder engines in the future.

The company has previously stated that the power output for this engine is expected to be pegged at 134kW, and a torque figure of at least 200Nm is predicted. But as with many other small-output turbo engines, there will likely be a couple of different power variations for different applications. Ergo, a T3 with a lower output than a T4.

And, for Europe at least, there’ll be a six-speed manual in addition to an eight-speed automatic.

“There is a chance of a manual, yes,” Stiegler said, agreeing that a six-speed would make sense for a stick shift, alongside an eight-speed auto.

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“I think the amount of the speeds/gears – I don’t see a link between the number of cylinders and the number of gear speeds. More the other way around, I would imagine: the smaller the engine, the more the gears,” he said.

Along with the potential for a couple of three-cylinder purely petrol versions, that engine will also form the basis for a new type of plug-in hybrid drivetrain, Stiegler said.

“As it was announced last year at the event in Gothenburg in 2016 with the 40.1 and 40.2 concept cars, I think the drivetrain was also shown there, and it was a three-cylinder drivetrain with a plug-in,” he said.

“It’s not the same plug-in we have in the T8: it’s only one motor in the front,” he said, indicating that those PHEV models would be front-driven. “It will not have electric all-wheel-drive, as we have in the T8, which has a system that means that when it’s hybrid, it’s always in all-wheel-drive.”

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