When buying a new car, your first thoughts are often around three main areas: safety, price, and efficiency. That last one is a somewhat difficult aspect to measure, but one way that this is usually gauged is through engine sizes.

The belief is generally that the smaller the engine size, the more fuel efficient the vehicle is. Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple. To set the record straight on some incorrect beliefs, we’ve taken a deep dive into engine sizes for cars to help you learn a little more about how these fascinating vehicles work.

What does car engine size mean?

Measured in litres and cubic centimetres (cc), engine size refers to the total volume of both fuel and air that can be pushed through a car’s cylinder. Cars with larger engine sizes are generally more powerful than smaller engines, which is why a lot of sports cars are only available on 3.0-litre configurations. With this in mind, you might be asking yourself: what does a 1.4 litre engine mean? Well, by applying what we now know, we can start to work it out.

1.4-litre engines translate to 1390cc, which implies that 1.4-litres of fuel and air can be pushed through the cylinder. The reason we arrive at a measurement of 1.4-litres is because the cc number is simply rounded up.

How do I figure out my engine size?

Usually, your car’s engine size can be found in your V5C logbook. But, you can always type your number plate into the government’s website if you’ve misplaced yours.   

Engine size chart

To make working things out a little easier, here’s a quick chart you can use to figure out a whole range of engine sizes.

1 litre engine cars

Cars with 1-litre engines are typically smaller in size and positioned more as city runners. For this reason, hatchbacks tend to be the most common 1-litre cars on the road.

Just because these cars are small, they are by no means incapable of performance. Very often, manufacturers will include an onboard turbo to help add some horsepower. This is because 1-litre cars aren’t as fast as others on the market, with them usually being sold in three-cylinder configurations.

1.0-2.-0 litre engine cars

Cars with engines measuring between 1 and 2 litres tend to be physically larger. This is because of the additional power and space needed to get things moving. In this category, the horsepower rating will begin to creep up towards the 100+ bracket, and prices start to increase alongside this. Many manufacturers claim similar fuel efficiency to smaller engines, but this is very much hit or miss. 

Many small-mid size SUVs fall into this size bracket, as they are heavily linked with family road trips and additional cargo. As a result, you can expect to see a handful of 1.4 litre engine cars configured as people carriers.

2.0-3.0 litre engine cars

When approaching the 2.0-3.0-litre size bracket, you’ll likely begin to encounter large SUVs, estates, and saloons. Power also starts to increase, pushing firmly into the 200-300 horsepower rating.

Because of this, performance increases a lot, as does fuel consumption. These cars are, however, much better suited to long-distance, high-speed travel. So, if you’re a frequent motorway user, a larger sized engine could be just what you need.

3.0-4.0-litre engine cars

As previously mentioned, cars with engines measuring beyond 3.0-litres are usually reserved for high performance vehicles like sports cars. Although they offer exceptional performance, they are incredibly thirsty for fuel. As a result, these cars are probably not well suited for daily runners.

Benefits of larger engines

Better for long-distance, high-speed travel

If you frequently travel long distances, it could be worth thinking about investing in a larger engine size. Generally, larger engines tend to be more robust, and better at keeping the revs low at high speed. They do suffer at slower speeds, in which case your efforts might be better focused toward a smaller engine, or even an electric car.

Performance improvements

Due to the additional power provided by more fuel and air within the cylinder, cars with larger engines are much more powerful. This power is manifested in horsepower and torque, which is a major benefit when hauling large payloads or frequent towing.

Faster throttle response

Larger engines, especially naturally aspirated ones, are much quicker to respond when your foot is placed on the throttle. Comparing this to smaller engine cars that might have turbos, these cars suffer from something called ‘turbo lag’. Such a thing happens because turbochargers can take a few seconds to take in enough air that can then be sent back into the engine.

Benefits of smaller engines

Better regular fuel economy

If you make frequent, short journeys, a car with a smaller engine could be just what you need. With the engine being less dependent on fuel, there’s less overall usage. This makes smaller engines great value for city dwellers that rarely venture on the motorway.

Less expensive

Generally, smaller engines tend to be more affordable. This is due to the lack of complexity during the manufacturing process, and the reduced level of performance.

Better resale value

With fuel prices always rising, it seems motorists might wish to invest in more efficient cars as opposed to those focused on performance. As a result, smaller engine cars are in somewhat high demand. This increased demand drives resale value, increasing the likelihood of a profit on the used market.

The latest motoring guidance and tips

Now that you know all there is to know about engine sizes, you’re well prepared to venture out and choose a suitable model.

But remember, engine size isn’t everything. There’s loads of other factors to consider when choosing a car. If you’re not sure where to start, we can help.

You can discover all there is to know about the decisions you need to make before choosing a car thanks to our blog.