Volvo thinks downsizing is good for the company image

Among the many new things the recently launched Volvo XC90 brought for the Swedish automaker, there’s one that caught our attention. The large-size SUV spearheads a powertrain revolution.

Volvo Cars – now under the control of Chinese automaker Geely – is moving away from the engines that were once the panache of every premium carmaker – the big V6 and V8s. The brand is now ready to discard them in favor of environmentally friendlier, technologically advanced 4-cylinder gas, diesel and hybrid engines. Executives even point to further developments along the downsizing line – all in the bid to embrace both performance and fuel economy (also read lower emissions to reach future standards).

“A few years ago, I would have said this was a risky strategy,” admitted Lex Kerssemakers, Volvo’s global product strategy chief. “A 3-cylinder is the perfect engine for turbocharging,” he stressed.

That’s right, the Swedish brand also plans to introduce an entire line-up of 3-cylinder engines, and is also mulling the introduction of two different plug-in hybrid powertrains. After promoting its new “all four-cylinder” strategy for some time, the maker also started developing a smaller 3-cylinder in 2013 – essentially cutting out a cylinder from the inline-four Drive-E powertrain. Michael Fleiss, the powertrain boss, says the displacement of the new engine will be of 1.5 liters and because it’s so small it’s ideal for a future small-size hybrid.