Now in its 17th year, the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition is designed to recognize powertrains that set new benchmarks in their respective vehicle segments.
Everyday performance: The vehicles were driven in the routine daily commutes around metro Detroit and were scored based on power, technology, observed fuel economy and noise, vibration harshness. Experience determined the score and not instrumented testing.
The age of electrification has had its impact on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list. (Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV feature in the 2011 list). Fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness doesn’t seem to be the most important criteria for eligibility this year. (The new 5.0L V-8 in the Ford Mustang GT, 5.0L V-8 in the Hyundai Genesis and the 3.0L supercharged V-6 in the Audi S4 have benefited from this.)
This year’s winners and the applications tested:
• 3.0L TFSI Supercharged DOHC V-6 (Audi S4)
• 3.0L N55 Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (BMW 335i)
• 1.6L Turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mini Cooper S)
• 3.6L Pentastar DOHC V-6 (Dodge Avenger)
• 5.0L DOHC V-8 (Ford Mustang GT)
• 1.4L DOHC I-4/111kW Drive Motor (Chevrolet Volt)
• 5.0L Tau DOHC V-8 (Hyundai Genesis)
• 80kW AC Synchronous Electric Motor (Nissan Leaf)
• 2.0L DOHC I-4 Turbodiesel (Volkswagen Jetta TDI)
• 3.0L Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (Volvo S60)
“It’s the most diverse mix we’ve ever had, as well as the most technologically advanced,” says Drew Winter, editor-in-chief of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine.
A closer look at the top 10 engines
This year’s list represents the biggest turnover in the history of the competition, with six completely new engines or propulsion systems, two heavily modified engines (from BMW AG and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.) and only two direct carryover engines (from Volkswagen AG and Audi AG) from the 2010 list.
The Audi S4 supercharged V-6 muscles its way onto the list for a second straight year with a stealthy 333 hp and 325 lb.-ft. (440 Nm) of torque that peaks at 2,900 rpm and holds steady until 5,300 rpm.
Through it all, the TFSI V-6 manages better than 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the highway during Ward’s evaluation. Having replaced a gas-guzzling 4.2L V-8, the forced-induction V-6 demonstrates how engine downsizing need not come with a performance penalty.
BMW’s well-regarded 3.0L N54 twin-turbocharged inline-6 earned Ward’s 10 Best Engines honors in 2007, 2008 and 2009. For 2011, the N55 I-6 in the 335i replaces the two compressors with a single twin-scroll turbocharger that saves weight, improves throttle response, boosts fuel efficiency (15% over the N54) and reduces friction, while decimating the notion of turbo lag.
Integrating the third-generation Valvetronic intake and Double-VANOS stepless variable valve timing, the 300-hp “Twin Power” N55 reaches its torque apex of 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) at a mere 1,200 rpm, propelling the 335i sedan with shocking ease. For drivability and smoothness, the N55 is unparalleled.
Another new engine on this year’s list is the 1.6L turbocharged direct-injection I-4 that packs a mighty punch in the Mini Cooper S. With a specific output of 113 hp/L, this package quickly rose to the top of a crowded field of new small-displacement 4-cyl. engines in this year’s competition.
The latest “Prince” engine in the Cooper S is assembled for BMW by PSA Peugeot Citroen in Douvrin, France, and integrates BMW’s excellent Valvetronic fully variable valve timing system, which enhances power and fuel efficiency. Driven hard, this prince of an engine still mustered better than 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) during the test.
Freshly launched, the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 from Chrysler arrives with extremely high expectations, powering 10 model-year ’11 applications ranging from sedans to SUVs.
Ward’s editors drove the Dodge Avenger and Jeep Grand Cherokee for 10 Best Engines and found the Pentastar up for any challenge. Even without direct injection and turbocharging, the V-6 does not seem to lack sophistication. At idle, it is as quiet as a whisper.
The Ford Mustang has a long history with V-8s, but pony-car aficionados formed a special bond with the 5.0L V-8 that launched in 1979. For ’11, the all-aluminum “Five-Oh” returns, dazzling potential buyers with 412 hp and advanced twin independent variable camshaft timing, which boosts low-end torque, peak power and fuel economy. Of course, few 5.0L buyers are shopping MPG. For those who are, the highly encouraging figure of 19 mpg (12.3 L/100 km) was achieved in mostly highway driving.
While pulling itself out of bankruptcy, General Motors Co. was developing a car that revolutionizes mobility: the Chevrolet Volt. Some consider it a glorified hybrid while others are plain confused.
Here are the facts: It plugs into a 120V wall socket and charges in 10 hours, or four hours on a dedicated 240V charger. Depending on several factors, the range will last anywhere from 25 to 40 miles (40 to 64 km), at which point an 84-hp 1.4L 4-cyl. engine imperceptibly kicks on to spin a generator that continues turning the wheels.
The EPA rates the Volt’s overall combined fuel efficiency at 60 mpg (3.9 L/100 km); in electric mode, the rating is 93 mpg equivalent (2.5 L/100 km). The “Voltec” propulsion system is brilliant – a technological masterpiece.
Hyundai’s excellent Tau V-8 is back on the winning list. What was a V-8 that displaced 4.6L in the 2009 list is now a 5.0L, direct injection engine with a staggering output (429 hp and 376 lb.-ft. [510 Nm] of torque) for the Genesis and Equus flagship sedan.
Meanwhile, fuel efficiency is rated higher with the new Tau than the current 4.6L. The Ward’s editors achieved 19 mpg (12.3 L/100 km). Hyundai is shaking luxury sedan platforms with this.
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. manages the first-ever Ward’s 10 Best Engines award for an all-electric vehicle, the Leaf. True, the Leaf has no engine – just a battery-powered electric motor that turns the wheels through a single speed reducer.
What’s remarkable about the Leaf is how much it feels like a conventional car, with four doors, five seats and accelerator and brake pedals that could have been borrowed from a Nissan Versa, or any other gas-driven subcompact. The Leaf is affordable – equivalent of around AED 90,000 – and a thrill to drive.
Range anxiety is a hurdle, just like in 1908, when the first Ford Model T buyers worried about finding gas stations. But an electrical socket – ubiquitous in the developed world – is all that is needed for people who want to own and drive a Leaf, while consuming no gasoline and creating zero emissions. As a propulsion system, it truly deserves merit.
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI, with its 2.0L 140-hp turbodiesel, belongs to the hall of fame of the Ward’s list, if there were one, with three consecutive wins at the same output levels and the very same technologies.
This quiet, pleasurable, torque-rich 4-cyl. demonstrates the finest attributes of the new generation of clean diesels, using regenerating particulate filters and oxidation catalysts to meet federal emissions standards.
The 2.0L engine’s small footprint lets it function without expensive urea-injection after-treatment. There is no better vehicle for a road trip than the Jetta TDI, capable of 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km).
The last car to make the list is the first ever entry from Volvo Car Corp. With the 3.0L turbocharged I-6 in the S60 sedan, Volvo clearly benchmarked BMW in developing the supremely smooth “T6” engine, based on its delicious mid-range power band and paucity of turbo lag. The T6 creates a new performance-oriented dimension for a brand seeking to expand under new Chinese ownership.
This article is an independent adaptation of the report. The original report in full may be accessed at http://wardsauto.com/ar/names_best_engines_101207