Volkswagen Stops Its Quest for Tiny Engines With Big Pollution Footprints

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
volkswagen stops its quest for tiny engines with big pollution footprints

Contrary to the popular mantra, there is a replacement for displacement. The problem is tiny engines that harness technology to boost power output aren’t the greenest things on the road. In fact, the emissions created by small two, three and four-cylinder engines are often out of all proportion to the mills’ Lilliputian displacement.

Volkswagen, realizing it’s staring down the barrel of regulatory non-compliance, has vowed to stop searching for the latest gas- and diesel-powered micro-wonder. Small is out. Normal-sized is in.

While the smallest engine offered by Volkswagen in the U.S. is its 1.4-liter TSI four-cylinder, European displacements can drop far lower. The company recently canned its 1.4-liter diesel, stating all future diesels will bottom out at 1.6 liters. A 1.0-liter three-banger currently found under the hood of the super-tiny Polo and Up will soldier on, though VW promises it won’t look at building anything smaller than that.

The proclamations come at a time of increasingly stringent emissions requirements. Studies performed in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal found small-displacement engines were, in normal operation, huge polluters. Despite sipping gas, the wee mills pumped out clouds of nitrogen oxide and other smog-causing particles.

In two years, European nations will enact real-world Driving Emissions Tests (RDE). Many engines built and sold today, especially the small ones, fail the looming standards miserably.

“The trend of downsizing is over,” VW chairman Herbert Diess said at the recent launch of the next-generation Golf, according to The Telegraph.

Volkswagen, consumers, and the environment were burned by the diesel scandal’s fallout, but the widespread proliferation of oil-burning engines across Europe can’t be blamed on the company once-popular technology. Blame governments who tried to turn consumers off of gasoline by taxing it at a higher rate, Diess said.

Diesel use “has not been a customer choice, but a result of favourable tax regimes,” Diess said. “Once you have a price advantage, people will play along.”

[Image: Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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  • Daniel J Daniel J on Feb 07, 2017

    Just curious, anyone know what the NOX levels are for the Mazda Sky Active Engines? While they don't feel nor sound like the most refined things, I prefer it over the Ecoboost equivalents.

    • Notapreppie Notapreppie on Feb 07, 2017

      According to this, it's about 7mg/km for the Euro version of the SkyActiv 2.0 6MT AWD CX-3 that we don't get here in the states. The USDM engines run at 13:1 compression ratio while everywhere else in the world gets 14:1. Also, we can't get a manual CX-3. That same website puts the SkyActiv-D 2.2 in the Mazda3 at 61mg/km and Golf GTI at 18-35mg/km, depending on transmission and power output. A Ford Fiest ST is reported as having 11-20mg/kg while the plain Fiesta w/non-turbo 1.6 emits 18mg/km.

  • Hummer Hummer on Feb 07, 2017

    Forced induction is not a replacement for displacement, it's a bandaid to a problem that shouldn't exist. You can put a turbo on an 6.0L vortec, makes it better but not an 8.1L.

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