American drivers turn to smaller, better engines

Shrinking Car Engines_Gast.jpg

Back when gas was cheap, Americans bought cars with V-8 engines like the Big Block, Cobra Jet and Ramcharger. Acceleration was all that mattered, even in family cars that never made it to full throttle.

The 427-cubic inch Chevrolet Tri-Power was the siren song of the gearhead, sending Corvettes roaring down the highway at up to 140 mph.

But now, thanks to government regulation and gas-price gyrations, the motors that move the nation's cars and trucks are shrinking.

Whether they drive hulking pickups or family sedans, Americans are increasingly choosing smaller engines that use less fuel, especially four-cylinder models that offer more horsepower than was possible just a few years ago.

More than half the new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. through May had four-cylinder motors. That's up from 36 percent in 2007, and it's the highest sales percentage since 1998, when the J.D. Power and Associates consulting firm started keeping track.

The smaller engines are helping to change America's gas-guzzling ways. The government now requires automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Drivers are eager to save money on gas, which recently flirted with $4 a gallon and is still pricey at an average of $3.53. Also, people have embraced cars with downsized engines because new technology has made them just as fast as older cars with bigger motors.

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