Engine downsizing is getting up to speed but is smaller really better?

To date, the gas-guzzling UAE, where car running costs aren’t nearly as high – and therefore become less of a real-world concern – hasn’t quite been at the forefront of the movement.

It's about time, but carmakers across the globe are finally making genuine strides towards tackling runaway environmental concerns. One of the key trends that has emerged in that process is engine downsizing. To date, the gas-guzzling UAE, where car running costs aren't nearly as high – and therefore become less of a real-world concern – hasn't quite been at the forefront of the movement. But times are changing, with two big-engined icons of the Emirates' roads finding themselves no longer immune. And when vehicles such as the Nissan Patrol and Ford Mustang are attempting to moderate their green footprint, it's probably time to sit up and take notice.

The Middle East’s love affair with the Patrol is well-documented. Nissan has even played on the romance in its past advertising campaigns, which have variously included more sand and falcons than the average heritage festival. But the off-roader, which first saw the light of day in 1951, now has a greener lining: a downgraded V6 version is available alongside the long-running V8.

Given that aforementioned special relationship, it seems like Emiratis will chiefly be the people whom Nissan has to target its smaller engines to. It’s a matter of perception for sure: one Emirati colleague spies my test model, a range-topping Platinum edition. He first assumes that I own the car and asks me if I’m looking to sell it. But after proudly telling me about his own V8’s 400hp, he almost visibly recoils when I inform him that this example is a V6. His opinion is that the reduced capacity might be “dangerous” in such a hulking vehicle.

That was also my chief concern before I clambered up into the cabin for the first time. Would 275hp (down from 400hp) from a 4.0L engine (the V8 rocks a 5.6L) really be enough? Is Nissan’s bravery bordering on commercial hara-kiri? Admittedly the V6 does shed a little weight – the thick end of 100 kilograms – but in terms of comparison to the V8, it has identical dimensions, transmission, ground clearance, towing capacity, fuel-­tank size and seating space. It’s not light on kit either, from a mini fridge to more seating options and powered settings, even in the third row, than a branch of Ikea. There’s a lovely feel to the wood-trimmed steering wheel, too.

The Mustang EcoBoost has more horsepower and torque than the Mustang V6. Christopher Pike / The National

The childhood Greenpeace supporter in me is pleased to report that the V6 doesn’t overly hamper your progress – and certainly not to a dangerous degree. The downgraded unit is a little whiny and doesn’t have quite the low-end grunt that its big brother possesses, and it does take a bit of welly to get the big fella moving, but it’s not quite awful enough to have you closing your eyes when you pull into fast-moving traffic or onto highways.

My main complaints, indeed, don’t relate to the six cylinders in the slightest: the brakes are spongy, perhaps inspired by the mobile-sofa levels of comfort inside the Patrol. Oddly, for a vehicle that’s seemingly so often piloted by bully-boy drivers, it has a disappointingly puny horn – that most important accessory of life on the road in the UAE. And the ultimately disengaged driving experience has nothing to do with the engine and all to do with the plump monster that the Patrol has evolved into. You’re so high up that you almost feel like you’re viewing everything in third person or having an out-of-body experience.

The V6 won't be outdragging any Porsche 918s down Sheikh Zayed Road, then, as a highly souped-up Patrol managed not so long ago on The Grand Tour, but it would be farther behind than the Mustang's green incarnation, the 2.3L EcoBoost.

As an owner of a Mustang V6 – already derided by V8 nuts as the semi-skimmed version of the famed muscle car – I was sceptical how taking away 1.4L of engine capacity could even result in anything in the same genre. Thankfully, the EcoBoost isn’t a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

OK, so it doesn’t even have the V6’s burble, let alone the V8’s full-throated roar – it actually, err, sounds more like driving a diesel Mondeo. The figures, however, tell a different story: somehow, the EcoBoost actually ekes out 20 more horsepower than the V6’s 304hp. A combination of direct injection, variable cam timing and turbocharging also give it 439Nm of torque, as opposed to the six-pot’s 380Nm. It all equates to a machine that does indeed feel sharper under acceleration, with the added confusion that you almost don’t register that you should be going this fast, given the noise (or relative lack of).

One disparity that might put off UAE buyers is the price: the EcoBoost costs Dh193,000, which is some way from being an entry-level Mustang. Indeed, it puts it squarely in V8 territory. Nobody said progress would be free, and the clever tech making the 2.3L engine work its magic appears to be on the costly side. But much like the Patrol V6, if you truly want to balance being behind the wheel with a kinder impact on the world, the EcoBoost is a gateway towards a greener future.

Downsized demons

Ferrari GTC4Lusso T.

Ferrari GTC4Lusso T

Friends of the Earth still won’t be your mates, but the 3.9L V8 turbo drops four cylinders from the original model.

Range Rover Sport

With a 2.0L, four-cylinder option, the imperious off-roader suddenly isn’t the curse of environmentalists everywhere.

Audi Q2

The latest compact crossover comes with a 1.0L engine, which is a relative rarity in the Middle East.

Next week: The alternative argument: bigger is better, via the W12 power-violence of Bentley’s Continental GT Speed and sporty V12 finesse with BMW’s top-ranking M760Li xDrive.

aworkman@thenational.ae