First impressions of the Swedish manufacturer's new three-pot petrol engine, which will assist Volvo's efforts to meet stringent emissions targets

What is it?

As part of Volvo’s Drive-E powertrain strategy, the Swedes have pledged not to produce an engine with more than four cylinders, so gone are the days of the distinctive five and six-pot units that have powered Volvos in the past.

Further downsizing is on the agenda, however, and now that the four-cylinder Drive-E petrols and diesels are being installed across Volvo’s range, attention has turned to developing a new 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, which has been codenamed GEP3.

Volvo hopes the unit will help it hit the targeted fleet average of 95g/km of CO2 by 2020 purely with conventional internal combustion engines. That doesn’t mean hybrids aren’t part of the game plan; such systems will be used to find even further efficiency gains and provide performance benefits.

The new engine is mainly intended for Volvo’s small cars built around the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), as the V40 is. However, it could also find its way into the larger Volvo V60, Volvo S60 and Volvo XC60 models, which are underpinned by the new Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA). Volvo has begun testing the three-pot in the engine bay of a V40 Cross Country, which is the car we tried on a short test track at the firm's Gothenburg headquarters.

Volvo’s clever modular technology strategy means the 1477cc powerplant shares common 82.0mm bore and 93.2mm stroke measurements, and some basic architecture, with the Drive-E four-cylinder unit. Keeping things simple helps to reduce production costs, says Volvo, leaving the company more budget to spend on enhancing other areas of the car.

The company’s engineers reckon they can tease anything from 104bhp to a maximum of around 178bhp from the unit using advanced turbocharging technologies (the pre-series engine in this V40 Cross Country uses a single turbocharger).

Available torque can range from 162 to 195lb ft, and it is more a lack of torque than power that will preclude the engine being installed in even larger and heavier cars across Volvo’s model range.

The new engine can be mated to manual and automatic transmissions as well as four-wheel drive systems.

What's it like?

From start-up, the engine doesn’t sound as cheerfully thrummy and distinctive as some three-pots, such as the BMW-derived unit found under the bonnet of the new Mini, for example.

Apart from when under heavy throttle loads, the engine is impressively hushed and there’s little in the way of noticeable vibration.

Volvo said it has worked hard to maintain the refinement found in its other engines, and to that end a balancer shaft, the flywheel and torsional vibration damper have been tuned to overcome the typical three-cylinder engine vibration characteristics.

The aluminium block, which is made via a high-pressure die-cast system, is attached to a stiff bed-plate for further noise and vibration reduction.

This being a pre-series unit, precise performance figures weren’t available, but Volvo said the engine in our V40 Cross Country test car, equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission, produces "about 156bhp".

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The developmental unit feels responsive when accelerating from a standing start all the way through to the red line, which is around 6000rpm. It doesn’t feel breathless or compromised compared to a four-cylinder engine, and that bodes well for the production-spec unit that will emerge at the end of the lengthy development process.

Our car rode on studded winter tyres around Volvo’s test track, so driving impressions weren’t particularly representative, but the V40 felt fairly nimble with the more compact and lighter engine under its bonnet.

Should I buy one?

You’ll have to wait until 2017, because Volvo is expecting to carry out a further 48 months of testing and development on the engine before it reaches production, after the full range of four-cylinder Drive-E powerplants have been rolled out.

On the evidence of our short test drive, it seems likely that the engine will retain the refined qualities that Volvo – and its customers – expects. It’s easy to imagine this engine working well in other medium-sized Volvos, and the Swedish company is right to be excited by its potential.

Like its four-pot sibling, the three-cylinder unit is also being developed to be integrated with Volvo’s hybrid system, which should bring the promise of even greater efficiency gains in the future.

Don’t expect a three-cylinder diesel to follow, however. Volvo engineers don’t believe such an engine could tuned to provide the low levels of noise, vibration and harshness that would suit its products.

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bomb 5 January 2015

I wonder if this three

I wonder if this three cylinder petrol will be closer to its on-paper figures than the current generation? Real world results of those engines are miles off, I speak from experience.
TS7 5 January 2015

"the Swedes have pledged...

... not to produce an engine with more than four cylinders." I'm not sure a Volvo was ever on my shopping list. Certainly isn't now.
Citytiger 5 January 2015

TS7 wrote:... not to produce

TS7 wrote:

... not to produce an engine with more than four cylinders." I'm not sure a Volvo was ever on my shopping list. Certainly isn't now.

Bigger doesnt always mean better - honest.