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V-8s shut out of Wards top-10 engine list

Three electrified powertrains, 7 turbos make Wards 10 Best Engines

Published: December 12, 2016, 4:05 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:21 PM

2016 Chevrolet Volt - Voltec Power Unit - 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Wards has released its annual list of what it considers the best engines on the planet and for the first time in 23 years, there isn’t a V-8 in the top 10.

And to illustrate the powertrain revolution that is taking place in the industry, there are three electrified powertrains on Wards 10 Best Engines list (the second time in as many years that has happened) and the other seven are all turbocharged.

The top 10 are made up of the BMW 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6, Chevrolet Volt’s electric powertrain with a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder range extender engine, Chrysler’s 3.6 Pentastar V-6 in the Pacifica plug-in electric Hybrid, Ford’s 2.3-litre turbo 4-cylinder, the Honda 2.0-litre 4-cylinder in the Accord hybrid, Hyundai’s 1.4-litre turbo “four,” Infiniti’s 3.0-litre turbo V-6, Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbo 4-cylinder, Mercedes-Benz’s 2.0 Turbo “four,” and Volvo’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder.

“Automakers see downsizing, turbocharging and electrification as key strategies for delivering no-compromise powertrains that also are fuel efficient, and this year’s list clearly affirms that strategy,” says WardsAuto Senior Content Director Drew Winter.

The absence of a V-8 is not as glaring as many may think, since the two turbocharged 6-cylinder engines make power and torque equivalent to many V-8s on the market, as do many of the others who didn’t make the cut.

Forty nominees were up for this year’s top-10, including last year’s winners. Of them, only the BMW 3.0 from the M240 (which last year made last year’s list in the 340) and the Volt’s powertrain are return winners, though the Volvo 2.0 from the V60 Polestar is a variant of the XC90 engine that made last year’s list.

All the evaluations are subjective to Ward’s editorial team who drive them in the real world in a manner similar to how they will be used by consumers. There is no instrument testing and to be considered for the top 10, the powertrains must be included in vehicles who do not carry a price-tag higher than $62,000 US.

Judges liked the silky smoothness of the BMW and the seamless power delivery and efficiency of the Volt. And they were reportedly blown away by the awesome power generation of the twin-blower 2-litre Volvo engine — at 181 hp per litre, it’s the highest hp/L the competition has ever seen.

The other electrified powertrains are new to the list, with the new Pacifica minivan using an Atkinson cycle version of the renowned Pentastar V-6 to provide an efficient and seamless driving experience, and the Accord’s Atkinson-cycle 2.0 “four” making it difficult for drivers to know they were even driving a hybrid.

The remaining spots on the top-10 were taken up by the 350-hp 2.3-litre turbo 4-cylinder screamer in the Focus RS all-wheel drive hatchback, and the slightly larger 2.5 turbo “four” in the much larger 7-seat Mazda CX-9, which makes power equivalent to that of a large V-6.

Two other luxury marques made the top 10. The 3.0 turbo “six” in the Infiniti Q50 makes 400 hp and retains remarkable economy, while the 2.0 “four” in the Mercedes-Benz C300 achieves what many thought unthinkable — peak torque of 273 lb-ft at just 1300 rpm, so it pulls effectively and efficiently from near idle.

The smallest engine in the group belongs to the Hyundai Elantra Eco — a 1.4-litre mini-motor that returns hybrid-like fuel economy and exceptionally peppy performance from peak torque that comes on at 1400 rpm and stays through 3700 rpm.