• These Are the Most Powerful Three-Cylinder Engines in New Cars

As it turns out, cars with three-cylinder engines can be pretty fun to drive!

Gone are the days when three-cylinder engines were only meant for urban commutes. These engines were light and focused more on fuel efficiency than performance. However, things are changing, and with upsizing not an option anymore, thanks to stricter emission regulations, automakers are making the best they can with fewer cylinders and lower displacements. Companies don’t just offer them with forced induction now; they even pair them with electric motors and batteries to generate all the oomph possible. Believe it or not, there are a handful of high-performance three-cylinder engines that can blow larger engines out of the water.

Koenigsegg Gemera

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The Koenigsegg Gemera is the first name that comes to mind when talking about powerful three-cylinder-engined cars. The Swedish car is powered by a twin-turbo, three-cylinder engine that displaces 2.0 liters. But, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill three-cylinder engine. Not only does it displace higher than the regular three-pot mills, but it even comes with sophisticated technology.

The engine features a Freevalve system that enables independent control of the intake and the exhaust valves. The system can then decide on its own how to operate the valves depending on the driving conditions. It can choose to either maximize performance or minimize fuel consumption. This also allows for a greater degree of control over the engine, which in turn provides significant performance and environmental benefits.

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However, this is a hybrid setup, which means the engine is assisted by three electric motors. The combined power output is 1,700 horsepower and 2,581 pound-feet of torque! That’s absolutely nuts for a car that can seat four and can serve as a family car.

But, since we’re on the topic of three-cylinder engines, we’ll stick to that. The engine alone churns out an astonishing 600 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque all on its own! These figures are mind-boggling and make it the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine at the time of this writing. The Gemera takes 1.9 seconds to 60 mph from a standstill and goes all well over 250 mph. If the electric motors were excluded, do you think it would take under four seconds to hit 60 mph?

Read our full review on the Koenigsegg Gemera

Toyota GR Corolla

These Are the Most Powerful Three-Cylinder Engines in New Cars
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Toyota launched the GR Corolla in early 2022, and it is quite an impressive package. It comes packed with a 1.6-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder engine (also seen in the GR Yaris). Here, however, it puts out 300 horses and 273 pound-feet of torque! Power is channeled to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. Opt for the circuit package and you will also get Torsen Limited Slip Differentials on both axles. The performance specs haven’t been revealed but considering it makes more power than the GR Yaris, it will take less than 5.5 seconds to get to 62 mph from a standstill. The top speed could be the same 143 mph.

Read our full review on the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla

Toyota GR Yaris

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The GR Yaris and the GR Corolla share the same 1.6-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine, but in different states of tune. The one found here makes a little less power – 257 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of twist. To make sure everything is completely in your control, Toyota mated the engine to a six-speed manual gearbox. The GR Yaris can sprint to 62 mph from rest in just 5.5 seconds and has a top speed of 143 mph. The other shenanigans like a Torsen limited-slip differential for each axle and performance-focused suspension on all four corners are present, too.

Read our full review on the Toyota GR Yaris

Ford Fiesta ST

These Are the Most Powerful Three-Cylinder Engines in New Cars
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It’s a shame that we don’t get this beast in the U.S. The Ford Fiesta ST is a fiery animal that can go berserk when let off the leash. It is powered by a 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder engine that puts out 197 horses at 6,000 rpm and 214 pound-feet of torque between 1,600- and 4,000 revs. A six-speed manual gearbox routes power to the front wheels. This propels it to sprint to 62 mph from a standstill in just 6.5 seconds and it goes all the way up to 144 mph.

Read our full review on the 2018 Ford Fiesta ST.

Honorary Mention

BMW i8

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The BMW i8 may have run its course, but we cannot end this list without mentioning it. It was one of the world’s first serious plug-in hybrid performance cars, and the powertrain was comprised of electric motors and a 1.5-liter three-cylinder that also powers the MINI Cooper as well. Without any form of electric boost, the 1.5-liter, three-pot turbo makes 231 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. With the extra shove provided by front- and rear-mounted electric motors, the i8 has a total power output of 354 horsepower and a whopping 406 pound-feet of torque. These numbers enable it to sprint to 62 mph in mere 4.4 seconds, which is impressive since it can be categorized as a three-cylinder engined car, even though there is an asterisk.

Read our full review on the 2019 BMW i8.

Nissan ZEOD RC

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There’s also the Nissan ZEOD RC, hybrid race car that was developed for the 2014 Le Mans, but it wasn’t a production car. Nevertheless, it featured a 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder engine that made 395 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It weighed just 40 kilos (88 pounds), but helped the ZEOD RC hit a top speed of up to 185 mph! The engine could rev up to 7,500 rpm and was mated to a five-speed paddle-shift transmission.

Sidd Dhimaan
Sidd Dhimaan
Managing Editor, Truck Expert, EV Expert - siddhant.d@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. Fast forward to today, and he is currently serving as a managing editor, pickup truck expert, and EV expert.  Read full bio
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