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Who Makes The Best 3-Cylinder Engines?

Manufacturers  ·  March 17, 2021

Who Makes The Best 3-Cylinder Engines?

The 3-cylinder engine has a bit of a mixed reputation in the automotive world. Some people love it for the benefits it offers (like higher fuel efficiency and compact size), while others view it as being underpowered compared to larger engines.

Still, the fact of the matter is that 3-cylinder engines exist, and even the best carmakers in the world have a 3-cylinder car or two in their current lineup.

So, in this article, we’re going to look at who among them makes the best 3-cylinder engines.

Let’s get started.

When Was the First 3-Cylinder Engine Invented?

First off, let’s take a quick trip back in time to see when the first 3-cylinder engine was invented. It’s not that easy to pinpoint which car model was the first ever to use such an engine, but all signs point to the DKW F91 back in the early 1950s as being one of the first.

DKW, or Dampf-Kraft-Wagen, is a German carmaker founded in 1916 and eventually closed down in 1966. The company is succeeded by Audi AG, which, as you may already know, produces some of the best cars today.

The first 3-cylinder engine was used in the DKW F91, which had an 896cc two-stroke engine. It was a compact or small-family car that typically came as a 2- or 4-door saloon. DKW also produced it as a 2-door coupe or cabriolet and a 3-door universal estate car.

The DKW F91 was only in production for a few years, lasting from 1953 to 1959.

What Brands Make the Best 3-Cylinder Engines? 

As you might expect, the brands that make the best 3-cylinder engines are all big names in the automotive world. They include BMW, The PSA Group, Renault, Fiat, and Nissan.


One fantastic example of a 3-cylinder engine produced by German carmaker BMW is the BMW B38. This turbocharged straight-three engine uses petrol and is designed as a mid-mounted engine.

The PSA Group

The French company PSA Group, which owns Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Opel, and Vauxhall brands, also makes a series of 3-cylinder engines. Their entire line of 3-cylinder engines uses the code “EB”, which is known to the public as its PureTech engines.


Renault, another French carmaker, is most known for its Energy TCe 90, the 3-cylinder engine released in 2012. The 'TCe' is a standard name for its lineup of similar engines, which stands for Turbo Control Efficiency.


Even the Italians, and by that, we mean Fiat, have their own family of inline-3 engines known as the Fiat Global Small Engine. On the public-facing side of things, Fiat markets these engines as their FireFly engines.


Japanese carmaker Nissan also produces 3-cylinder engines. One of the most recent examples from that part of the world is their 1.5-litre turbocharged engine used in the 2021 Nissan Rogue.

What Are the Most Powerful 3-Cylinder Cars? 

At this point, it’s clear that the biggest names in the automotive industry from all over the world all have 3-cylinder engines as part of their lineup. Now, let’s look at some of the most powerful 3-cylinder cars that you can find today.

BMW i8

Let’s start with the best of the best: the BMW i8. This car is so impressive on so many levels it’s hard to know which part to talk about first.

Well, the car is one of the world’s first plug-in high-performance hybrid cars that rely on both electric motors and a powerful 3-cylinder engine.

Volvo XC40

This model is a subcompact luxury crossover SUV that comes in petrol, diesel, or hybrid versions. The Volvo XC40 3-cylinder engine version has a 1.5-litre engine with a maximum output of 120 kW of power and 245 Nm of torque.

Ford Fiesta ST

That’s right! Some versions of the Ford Fiesta do come with a powerful 3-cylinder engine as well. This one is pretty unique because the engine comes with both a turbocharger and cylinder deactivation technology for increased fuel efficiency.

Using the Ford Fiesta ST Hatch as an example, it has a maximum output of 147kW of power and 290 Nm of torque.

Mini Cooper

Last but not least, we come to the Mini Cooper. Using the Mini Cooper 3-door hatch as an example, this car carries the MINI TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder petrol engine. The engine generates 100 kW of power and 220 Nm of torque.

Why Do 3-Cylinder Engines Have a Bad Reputation?

Earlier in the introduction of this article, we mentioned that some parts of the automotive world don't have a high opinion of the 3-cylinder engine. Generally, the perception is that the 3-cylinder engine is somehow not as good as the more standard 4-cylinder engines or much larger.

As you have seen through this article, that’s far from the truth. All of the best 3-cylinder engines in the world are produced by some of the biggest names in the automotive business. On top of that, those engines also go into makes and models from the most popular and most sought-after car brands anywhere in the world.

That should come as no surprise, as the powerful 3-cylinder engine comes with a long list of benefits. They’re lighter, more fuel-efficient, and they can perform as well as their 4-cylinder counterparts.

But beyond that, 3-cylinder engines also offer car designers much more room to play with. As you might imagine, a 3-cylinder engine takes up less space than other types. Every inch on a car’s body is precious real estate, and all that extra room allows designers to provide occupants with much more comfort in the car’s cabin.

Plus, let's not forget that the 3-cylinder engine also offers benefits to the manufacturers themselves. The companies that make them are incentivised because these engines require a lot less raw materials and fewer engine components to build. All of that means one thing: lower manufacturing costs.

In the end, manufacturers and buyers alike benefit from 3-cylinder engines. Hopefully, the negative perception of the 3-cylinder engine will change in due time.

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To find out more about 3-cylinder engines and other engine types available in the automotive industry, bookmark this blog! We update it every day, so there’s always something new to learn. It’s also the best place to source your auto parts needs. The best thing about it is that we’ve made searching for car parts and accessories a piece of cake. 

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By Ray Hasbollah

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