THE French have always had a gift when it comes to the application of small petrol engines, the Citroen 2CV being a case in point.
But what is happening now is a revelation of just what can be achieved withadvances inmodern petrol power technology.
This is particularly clear when driving the new DS 4 PureTech 130 hatchback, a classy pocket premium hatch with bells and whistles aplenty, sumptuous seating and a pricetag that is not going to break the bank.
The DS 4 is a product of DS Automobiles, the premium arm of Citroen which is what Lexus is to Toyota - a cut above the rest.
When you accelerate this car via its slick six-speed manual box to 60mph in about nine seconds and realise that it has bags left to surge on to its claimed maximum of 123mph you would be forgiven for thinking that there might be a razor sharp 1.6 or 2.0-litre under the bonnet.
But no - power is provided by a 1.2-litre with just three cylinders. An apology for an engine some might think but they are very wrong.
This unit is part of the new Pure Tech range of three-cylinder units that come in 1.0 and 1.2-litre capacity. They produce powerful performance from ultra-efficient small cylinder capacity and represent a major step in the regeneration of petrol power.
The turbocharged direct injection unit fitted to the test vehicle did everything you would expect from a larger, more thirsty unity and had plenty of oomph for overtaking.
You might think that a small engine when pushed hard is noisy, but this is not the case. Everything is done in a smooth manner but the engine does have a distinct beat to it. However this is more exhilarating than intrusive.
DS claims that its products are the spirit of Avant Gard, and this is not an idle boast. The test car attracted a lot of comment during the time it was with me. It is certainly no rebadged Citroen, having a distinct and upbeat character of its own.
One person thought it was a new, small Maserati but most said it was distinctive and very smart.
It features flowing lines, and tasteful chrome trim.
And for those not wanting three-cylinder power there is a choice of six engines in the range.