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Why 3-Cylinder Engines Are OK

You aren't the only one who is hesitant to accept three-cylinder vehicles as equal to others. How could that even work; the odd number of cylinders, right? Why are there no five cylinder engines? It's really not that dramatic a difference. Let's answer some common questions about these vehicles.

Don't they lack power? / Aren't they too slow?

Not necessarily. Three-cylinder engines usually end up in compact, light vehicles. While some of them are meant to be fuel efficient, others are meant to be small, peppy and exhilarating. Some are even supercharged; an example being the Mini Hardtop.

What is a cylinder and what do they have to do with power?

Think of them as bottles of soda. The bigger the bottles, the more power is stored in them when they are shaken. Cylinders are similar. The bigger they are, the more power they generate when gasoline vapor is ignited inside them. The total area of the cylinders in an engine is expressed in liters. A three cylinder car might have three large cylinders, totalling 1.3 liters and a four cylinder car might total only 1.2 liters because the cylinders are small. Therefore, you can't judge a car's power by its cylinders alone. For that reason, you're more likely to notice "liters" (or "3.0L", meaning 3 liters, for example) in advertisements than any information about cylinders.

Are there any advantages of three-cylinder vehicles?

Yes, there are. They tend to be a little bit less expensive and more fuel efficient. They also help to keep the total size of the engine down, enabling a smaller total vehicle size. Although, that's not always the reason behind using this type of engine in a car. Sometimes they're used in hybrid cars so that electrical components can more easily be fit into the engine compartment.

How about disadvantages?

Yes. There are disadvantages, as well. Three-cylinder engines usually produce a more noticeable vibration than other vehicles do. The sounds they make are sometimes thought to be less desirable, as well. For manual cars, they require a little bit more revving to change gears, which may or may not bother you.

Oh, wait, we forgot to answer our question about five-cylinder cars.

Why are there no 5 cylinder engines? Well, there are some. Although they're not very common, some examples are the Ford Focus RS (not available in the US), the legendary Land Rover Defender, the Audi RS3 and the Audi TT RS.

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