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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, 9:05 PM
Updated: December 18, 2016, 6:51 AM

2016 Chevrolet Volt - Voltec Power Unit - 2016 Chevrolet Volt

BMW M240i engine

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.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid - The Pacifica Hybrid is powered by a traditional 3.6-litre V-6 gasoline engine that works in conjunction with two electric motors (one of them acting as a generator) and a lithium-ion battery pack to produce a total net power output  of 260 hp and a driving range of  850 km.

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.

Ford Focus RS engine

“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.

Honda Accord Hybrid engine

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.

Hyundai Elantra Eco engine

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.

Infiniti Q50 V-6 twin-turbo

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.

2016 Mazda CX-9 - Mazda’s SkyActiv engine/chassis design has finally been extended to the CX-9, the last product in its portfolio to benefit from this unique technology. Unlike other engines in Mazda’s lineup, however, this 2.5-litre four cylinder has been given a boost with what Mazda describes as a dynamic pressure turbocharger and an intercooler. In real-world driving, Mazda researchers found the bulk of demand on an CUV engine is typically at low rpm – rarely did a typical driver demand more output at high revs, so the focus of the turbo engine’s development was on maximizing torque, rather than generating big horsepower numbers on the spec sheet.    By adding a flow control valve in the exhaust line to the turbo, combined with a unique 4-3-1 pulse converter manifold that promotes exhaust scavenging on every exhaust stroke, this new engine generates a bundle of torque – 310 lb-ft – at just 2,000 rpm, the sweet spot for most usage. That’s an increase of about 40 lb-ft over the V-6 that powered the previous generation CX-9. The compression ratio has been increased a couple of ticks to 10.5:1 and the turbo boost is 16 to 17 psi. The engine will crank out 227 horsepower (at 5,000 rpm) when regular-grade fuel is pumped through its direct injection system. Opting for premium fuel will boost the output to 250 horses, but most consumers won’t notice a difference as the torque output remains the same, regardless of the fuel grade.    Combined with Mazda’s SkyActiv six-speed automatic transmission, the turbo 2.5L responded with plenty of pep during our daylong test drive on the hills and highways in the beautiful Vernon, B.C. region. There was sufficient reserve for overtaking and merging and although our test vehicles were only lightly loaded, I was assured by one engineer who is a weekend racer that his CX-9 hauls a trailer carrying his race car plus tools and other gear without any issues. (The towing capacity is 3,500 lb for both FWD and AWD configurations.) If you’re feeling sporty, the transmission has a Sport mode that alters the tranny’s shift points. It was especially effective on some twisty logging roads, slipping down as I approached a turn and holding that gear during acceleration out the other end. I couldn’t have made the gear choices better myself.

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.