When you think of powerful cars, what’s the displacement size that comes to mind? 7.0-liter may be more of a megalith, but it is common enough to see 6.3-liter, 5.2-liter, and 3.0-liter motors fitted under the hoods of normal-sized cars to give them Goliath-like power.
That doesn’t mean that bigger engines are the best in the market. Sometimes, going smaller has its advantages. Keeping that in mind, here goes ten of the best 1.5-liter cars from then to now that made for a great driving experience. These rides may not be pumped on power, but they were and are high in class and style.
10 MINI Convertible
The MINI is an indubitable brand – and has found many a hater and lover for itself. The convertible houses the same 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine that the BMW i8 has, but the latter is a hybrid while the MINI runs on gas.
That said, driving the MINI is exhilarating with its classic tight turns, though comfort isn’t a word you would greatly associate with the MINI Cooper. The 189-horsepower motor has a muted sound but manages to give you good performance because of the MINI’s ergonomic size. Slide the roof back and the MINI Convertible immediately feels faster and lighter, with precise but fun steering.
9 Renault Mégane
The Mégane’s engine is a 1.5-liter one, but it is all diesel, and all the better for it despite the bad press environmentalists give to diesel engines in general. This 1.5-liter dCi 110 motor produces a sedate 101 horsepower, which is enough for this Sport Tourer.
The lowdown torque is powerful enough to not have to work the gearbox too much, and that suits the six-speed manual transmission of this car just fine. Try to rev it too much, and the motor does sound stressed but then every 4-cylinder diesel engine behaves the same way. With a 580-liter boot and reduced C02 emissions, the Mégane is both economical and environmental sense.
8 Saab 96
The Saab went kaput a while back, but once upon a time, this rather funky brand brought out many a good car. One of them was the Saab 96, with a 1.5-liter petrol engine, and its four cylinders placed in a V. Meaning this powerhouse was the legendary Ford V4 engine of yore that gave it as good as it got.
Honestly, it was a gorgeous little car that ended production in 1980, and with the Ford V4 in it, it went 0-62mph in 18 seconds. Quite the achievement for a 1.5-liter engine of the 60s/70s. Today, it is quite the collector's car, typically sold for $25,000 to $40,000 – depending on the condition and engine specs.
7 Honda Clarity Hybrid
The Clarity is pretty clear in one thing, that it is a hybrid. Honda’s powertrain technology is slowly emerging as one of the best around, and the Clarity is not one but a trio of sedans using all of Honda’s tech to the fullest.
Here, we are talking about the plug-in hybrid version that has a 47-mile all-electric range, before the 1.5-liter inline-four engine kicks in at 212 horsepower. Of course, there’s a fully electric model and even a fuel cell Clarity – but these two can not be bought, only leased. The hybrid is by far the most intelligent one, and preppy enough to make it a good ride.
6 Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 is a legendary automobile marque that still rules the two-seater sports car market with aplomb. The MX-5 debuted in 1989 and by the first quarter of 2016 it had crossed one million in sales, which must have made Mazda pretty happy. Its fourth-generation ND version was launched with an option of an all-new 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine capable of putting out 131 horsepower.
This small-capacity engine was, in fact, more satisfying than the other 160-horsepower 2.0-liter motor that was also on the offer because it drove like a dream. Coupled with a smooth six-speed manual transmission, this 1.5-liter motor delivers power as and when needed.
5 Chevrolet Malibu
The Chevrolet Malibu is a rather classy midsize sedan and has just been refreshed with a new grille, cool lights and a rearview camera that is now a standard for all models. The 1.5-liter inline-four motor manages a respectable 163 horsepower and 184 ft-lb torque, which may not make this a Corvette or a Camaro – but still gives you a smooth ride on decent power.
Of course, remember this is no sports car and will not behave like one even if you rev the pedal for all its worth. It does make for an economical and relatively comfortable ride, especially with the CVT instead of a six-speed automatic transmission.
4 VW Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle is as iconic as you can get for a car – and while Bumblebee’s latest avatar may be the Chevrolet Camaro, remember he too started his life as the world most lovable bug. The Beetle was powered by a 1.5-liter air-cooled flat-four engine, which was rear-mounted to give the car’s its unmistakable bug-like shape.
Of course, with a top speed of some 78mph and a power output of 60-80 horsepower, the Beetle had become a relic. Now, of course, there is a buzz of an EV based on the Beetle, so the bug may be back for good.
3 Toyota Prius
The Prius was perhaps the car that started it all – the buzz about the EVs we mean. This was a car not particularly high on the style but still, many celebrities adopted it as an environmentally-savvy ride. This was long before Tesla had even been born. While some did not like the way the Prius handled, this was an economically savvy car trying to do its bit for the environment.
The hybrid’s gasoline motor was a 1.5-liter four-cylinder one that managed 110 horsepower and a top speed of 106mph. It also took 10.9 seconds to go for 0-60mph, which was respectable if not impressive. Toyota was definitely on the right track with the Prius.
2 BMW i8
The BMW created shockwaves when it announced a hybrid car equipped with a measly 1.5-liter three-cylinder motor (the same one the MINI comes equipped with). Since everything about the BMW screams luxury and sports, a 1.5-liter engine didn’t seem to be able to cut it. But with the i8, BMW showed the world how automobile tech is as simple as ABC for them.
The 129 horsepower electric motor works in tandem with the 228 horsepower 1.5-liter engine, giving this sports car a total of 357 horsepower. The carbon fiber construction keeps its weight down, thus letting the BMW i8 fly from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds.
1 Honda Civic EX
The Honda Civic comes in a whole diversity of models, but the EX, EX-L and Touring trims are the key points here. They are the ones equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that jets out 174 horsepower and 162 ft-lb torque, so paired with a CVT (continuous variable transmission).
1.5-liter may sound small for a Honda that usually goes for upwards of 2.0-liters in its cars, but add an efficient turbocharger and even the 1.5-liter Civic becomes a zippy drive that manages more power than the 2.4-liter engine. When it comes to Honda, their engines are what make their cars so special, so there 1.5-liter is as reliable as it gets.