How sad, the decline of the naturally aspirated V-6. For years the lifeblood of American motoring, this workhorse has been sent to pasture to nibble carrots and walk a circle with snot-nosed kids in the saddle.
Oh, there are lots of naturally aspirated V-6s still in service today, such as General Motors’ 3.6L, Toyota’s 3.5L and Nissan’s 3.5L and 3.7L VQ, which collectively have won 20 Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophies since 1995. The VQ made the list a stunning 14 years in a row but has received only moderate tweaks along the way. The last clean-sheet VQ engineering came when George Bush was in office – the first one.
Chrysler probably gets credit for the most recent ground-up V-6 program, the Pentastar, which won 10 Best Engines honors in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Yes, GM gave us the 4.3L last year, but that was derived from the small-block V-8 program for pickups. It doesn’t quite count.
So why isn’t the industry giving us fantastic new naturally aspirated 6-cyl. engines? Blame CAFE. Engineering budgets can stretch only so far, and automakers have discovered a turbocharged 4-cyl. can deliver the same, if not better, performance.
Which brings us to our case study, Honda’s supremely capable 3.5L SOHC V-6, which has made our list the past two years. Earlier versions earned trophies in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Even without direct fuel injection, which is sweeping across the industry in nearly all new engine programs, this V-6 has dazzled us with supreme smoothness, cool confidence and serious-as-a-heart-attack midrange.
Honda V-6 Uncommonly Good
Setting the Honda V-6 apart from the crowd is its ability to average better than 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) during our test drives the past few years. This surprising efficiency is due in part to the sophisticated i-VTEC valvetrain and standard cylinder deactivation, marketed as Variable Cylinder Management, which shuts off three cylinders at low load. That’s a rarity among overhead-cam architectures.
We can’t just vote for the Accord V-6 because it’s the only naturally aspirated V-6 in this year’s competition. We can vote for it because it feels like more than the rated 278 hp. But then again, so does the Audi S3, Volvo S60 and Volkswagen GTI, all powered by 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. engines that, on paper, stomp the Accord V-6 in horsepower. The Volvo and VW are competitive in fuel economy, too.
Yes, turbocharging is all the rage, although not at Honda. Just for yucks, stack up the Accord’s 3.5L V-6 to Mercedes’ new 3.0L twin-turbo V-6 in the C-Class. Sure, it’s a lot more money, but it dusts the Accord with 329 hp and 354 lb.-ft. (480 Nm) of torque – and less displacement. Plus, it’s rated 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) better than the Honda in city driving.
Another sore point for the Accord is its 6-speed automatic transmission. It gets the job done, but there’s no manual shift mode. The gear lever goes into “drive” and “sport,” and that’s it.
Manually shifting, whether with the lever, paddles or a clutch pedal, is an important way for us to experience each engine at high rpm. The only way to get a feel for it in this Accord is in a big empty parking lot. From a standstill, mash the accelerator to the floor, and notice the tires chirping in the first three gears. Turbos are fun, but Honda gets the upper hand off the line. Still, the Accord never takes us to the redline.
As we score the Accord’s V-6 in this year’s competition, reflect on this truth: It could be the last great member of a dying breed.
'15 HONDA ACCORD TOURING V-6 Specifications
|Engine||3.5L SOHC port-injected all-aluminum V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||278 hp @ 6,200 rpm|
|Torque||252 lb.-ft. (342 Nm) @ 4,900 rpm|
|Specific Output||79 hp/L|
|Valvetrain||i-VTEC with Variable Cylinder Management|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||89 x 93|
|Curb weight||3,559 lbs. (1,614 kg)|
|Recommended fuel||Regular unleaded|
|Fuel economy||21/34 mpg (11.1-6.9 L/100 km)|