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How cool is the ICE?

The internal combustion engine (ICE) is under siege. Fuel cells on the west flank. Electric motors on the east.

The internal combustion engine (ICE) is under siege. Fuel cells on the west flank. Electric motors on the east. A coalition of various vegetarian contenders stealthily sneaking up from every other direction.

But, as it turns out, the internal combustion engine seems to thrive on siege, like it might be good, hearty soup. Inventors have been trying to topple it over, for about 100 years or so now, with very limited success. And now that the ICE must constantly battle in a green-mad world, it grows only stronger, and more able to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous alternatives.

To back up this theorem (such as it is), I give you five exhibits from the 2009 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto:

• The all-new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is the first GM vehicle to be powered by the automaker’s all-new 2.4-litre Direct Injection (DI) four-cylinder engine. As many of you know, in a DI engine the fuel and air are injected directly into the combustion chamber (as opposed to upstream in the intake system). This allows engineers to control the burn with NASA-like precision, for superior everything — power, torque, efficiency, cleanliness, drive-ability, etc. (If it had feet it would even dance better.) The cool thing about this Chevy application is that we’re talking mainstream domestic, instead of upstream European, where you find most DI power plants.

• The all-new Honda Insight is a hybrid, yes, but its 1.3-litre SOHC aluminum-alloy i-VTEC “four” is a brilliant example of how an ICE can be tailored to meet the task at hand, which in this application, is being the fuel-miserly soul mate to an electric motor. It is completely optimized for fuel efficiency, featuring, among other items, cylinder de-activation and auto start-stop.

• The new 2010 Audi A3 TDI is another clean diesel. These new-generation diesel power plants, using low-sulpher diesel fuel, are killer.

• The new 2010 Nissan Cube is a ride in the small-is-cool school of design (like Mini, Smart, Beetle, etc.). If this fashion trend continues it will encourage us to celebrate and desire ICEs at the smaller end of the scale -- and that will keep them relevant.

• The 2010 Jaguar XFR celebrates the ICE at the bigger end of the scale. Its all-new-from-the-ground-up 5.0-litre V8, features the world’s first spray-guided direct injection system, and twin “Eaton” type superchargers. The blowers crank the V8’s output to 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. As the kids say, that’s sic.

Which reminds us of another reason for keeping the ICE alive — for the children. Let’s do it for the children. Let’s not deprive future generations of what it feels and sounds like to have eight large pistons popping at 6,000 rpm and reporting through a low-restrictive dual exhaust system. It’s only fair.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

 
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