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GM to Revive Three-Cylinder Engine for 2021 Chevy Trailblazer, Next-Gen Buick Encore

The General hasn't produced a three-bonker for the U.S. in nearly 20 years.

Always on the hunt for better fuel economy, General Motors is reviving the three-cylinder engine for future models in North America. It’s the first time GM has offered a three-pot stateside in nearly two decades.

A pair of new engines will surface in the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer and next-gen 2020 Buick Encore GX, displacing 1.2 liters and 1.3 liters. They are based on similar versions revealed abroad, although power ratings for U.S.-bound engines aren’t available just yet. Given their relatively modest subcompact applications, don’t expect them to suck you into the seat.

That said, some innovative tech and turbochargers will provide extra boost, allowing the new mills to create power similar to their four-cylinder counterparts while reducing fuel consumption. Such tech includes an electrically assisted wastegate system, an electrically driven water pump, and an active vacuum system to help relieve parasitic load on the engine. Because they feature newer tuning, weigh around 40 pounds less, and have one fewer cylinder, they’ll likely score better fuel economy numbers and emit fewer emissions than the equivalent four-cylinder engines they replace.

One of the latest versions of GM’s 1.3-liter Ecotec made its debut in the Korean-specification 2019 Chevrolet Malibu, producing 156 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. That’s about on par with the Encore’s former top-spec 1.4-liter turbo four, which made 153 hp and 174 pound-feet. Buick discontinued that engine option for the current Encore in its last year of production before the second-gen’s arrival in early 2020. The new three-cylinders are expected to produce similar power. 

The Detroit giant has been offering three-cylinder engines since the mid-1980s, but not always for the U.S. market. Previously, GM had offered a three-smasher in North American-spec Chevrolet and Geo Metro models, although those were killed off following the 2000 model year. The Metros featured a naturally aspirated, 1.0-liter mill, developed with Suzuki, that produced 55 hp.

Since then, GM has teamed up with its former Opel subsidiary (now owned by PSA), the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), and MG Motor to produce a new Ecotec inline-three for subcompact Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet, and Buick models in overseas markets. The new three-cylinder engines will reportedly be built at GM’s plant in Mexico alongside other North American market GM vehicles.

Chevrolet’s arch rival Ford, with its 1.0-liter EcoBoost, is the most recent American manufacturer to offer a three-cylinder engine in the U.S. Ford dropped that engine from the now-extinct Fiesta and Focus sedans, but it lives on in the EcoSport subcompact SUV. BMW also has a small-displacement three-pot in its lineup that often shows up under the hood of various Mini models.

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