GENEVA – A plethora of large-displacement engines produced by European auto makers was one of the notable developments of the recent Geneva motor show here.

Granted, most of the Geneva show’s cubic-inch-enhanced powerplants are targeted at the exclusive end of the market and are hardly volume-oriented.

But the new European fascination with displacement – eschewing the forced induction/smaller displacement route to high power traditionally favored by Europe’s auto makers – seems to take its cue from current American trends, and ignores fuel-economy concerns.

Best known of the European brutes is Volkswagen AG’s 6L DOHC W12, which might now be regarded as almost ubiquitous, powering five different VW Group vehicles, with an upgraded variant in a sixth.

Mercedes/Maybach twin-turbo 6L V-12.

The W12 started life as VW’s unique VR6 narrow-angle V-6, which has just 15 degrees separation between two staggered banks of three cylinders. Compactness, VW says, is the main advantage. The VR6 is offered in various displacements in the VW Golf, Bora, Sharan, Touareg, Phaeton and Multivan.

The German “VR” designation stands for Vee Reihenmotor, or “vee in-line engine.” To create the W-12, two VR6 units are joined at a 74-degree vee angle in a layout approximating the letter “W.”

With a displacement of about 6L, the W12 is used in the VW Phaeton sedan and now a high-performance version of the Touareg CUV. It also is used in other VW Group vehicles, including the Audi A8 and the Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur, and by business associate Pininfarina SpA for its exotic Birdcage concept vehicle.

The normal W12 rating is 450 hp at 6,500 rpm and 406 lb.-ft. (550 Nm) of torque at 3,000 rpm; Bentley upstages these figures by adding twin turbochargers. For the Spur, that means 560 hp at 6,100 rpm and 479 lb.-ft. (650 Nm) of torque at 1,600 rpm. That’s enough to propel the 2.5-ton, 17.5-ft. (5.3-m) gentleman’s carriage from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.9 seconds.

Bugatti SAS, another VW associated company, beats that with its W16, combining two VR8s in a massive 90-degree vee formation. Displacing 8L and powering the Veyron road rocket, it is said to deliver a colossal 1,001 hp at 6,000 rpm and torque of 922 lb.-ft. (1,250 Nm) at 2,200 rpm. (See related story: ‘Big Engine’ Program Backs VW Rise to Prestige)

With Rolls-Royce now long separated from its Bentley alter ego and under German management, its use of the mighty 5.9L V-12 from parent BMW AG would seem a logical move. But not so.

Seeking to maintain the marque’s singular identity for the latest RR Phantom, British engineers at the Munich-based company started from scratch to design and build a completely new all-aluminum, 60-degree V-12.

Ferrari 4.3L V-8 makes nearly 114 hp/L.

At 6.7L it’s substantially larger than the BMW V-12, and the peak torque of 531 lb.-ft. (720 Nm) at 3,500 rpm is 20% greater, and is delivered at lower revs. Its 460 hp at 5,350 rpm, however is only marginally better.

As another born-again auto marque, Maybach has become established as a prestige brand for DaimlerChrysler AG. At Geneva, the brand provided an additional platform for the 6L twin-turbo V-12 used in various Mercedes-Benz models. Here it is uprated from 550 hp to 612 hp at 5,100 rpm, and to 738 lb.-ft. (1,000 Nm) of torque between 2,000 and 4,400 rpm.

A comparable V-12 was shown by Lamborghini SpA, the Italian manufacturer that in 1963 changed production from farm tractors to high-performance sports cars.

It later had a checkered history of Swiss ownership, bankruptcy, and a series of takeovers by the Italian government, a French industrial group, Chrysler from 1987 to ’92, and an Indonesian company. Finally, in 1998 Lamborghini was acquired by Audi AG, the present owner.

The company’s first quad-cam V-12 dates to 1964, and since then, Lamborghini has wrung out changes on that engine layout with eight displacement variants from 4.8L to 7L.

The latest is a 6.2L unit developing 580 hp at 7,500 rpm, with torque of 479 lb.-ft. (650 Nm) at 5,400 rpm. The V-12 is mid-mounted in the Murcielago, cited as the “ultimate performance car,” that hits 62 mph (100 km/h) in just 3.8 seconds.

Though still strong in the V-12 department, Ferrari SpA’s “modest” V-8 presented at Geneva was amply endowed in high-revving power.

Its new F430 Spider packs the 90-degree, 4.3L DOHC V-8 tuned to wind up to 8,500 rpm and 490 hp. That’s nearly 114 hp per liter, possibly a record for a series-production, normally aspirated V-8.

Torque, traditionally less of a Ferrari priority, is 343 lb.-ft. (465 Nm) at 5,250 rpm.