Apparently, we are not easily impressed.
As a beleaguered world swoons over the economic and environmental promise of hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles, WardsAuto editors seem largely unmoved – or, at least, faithfully wedded to the journalistic principle of objectivity.
In 2001, the 1.5L DOHC I-4 in the original Toyota Prius became the first battery-boosted powerplant to earn a spot among Ward’s 10 Best Engines. Of the 102 award recipients since then, 95 were unencumbered by electric motors.
Of the 180 honors doled out over the competition’s 18-year history, half marked consecutive victories. And of this number, all but one – an engine-motor combo from Ford – were solely reliant on internal combustion.
The Blue Oval mated a 2.5L I-4 with an 107-hp (80-kW) electric motor in the Escape Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid to win places among Ward’s 10 Best Engines in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
For validation, WardsAuto editors need look no further than the U.S. market, where HEVs and EVs account for just 2.1% of total light-vehicle deliveries through November.
And despite a selection comprised of 35 models, HEV and EV sales during the same timeframe were flat compared with like-2010, according to WardsAuto data.
There is no denying the cleverness of these powerplants. The Chevrolet Volt’s 153-hp (114-kW) drive motor and 1.4L I-4 range-extender is an inspiring solution to volatile fuel prices.
Fittingly, it was among Ward’s 10 Best Engines in 2011.
But the 3.0L supercharged V-6 in the Audi A6 delivers a more enduring brand of inspiration, evidenced by the Volt’s absence from the 2012 winners’ list and the return – for a third consecutive year – of the Audi engine.
At the other end of the EV price spectrum, the Nissan Leaf’s 80-kW motor still exhibits the low-end torque and smoothness that earned it a place among last year’s 10 Best Engines.
But range anxiety was a cloud that hung over every test drive, and our real-world experience was much closer to the low end of Nissan’s claimed range of 138-62 miles (222-100 km).
For some $13,000 less than the Leaf’s $26,000 post-rebate sticker, the direct-injected 1.6L I-4 in the Hyundai Accent rewards even the heaviest foot with a respectable rush and fuel economy exceeding 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km). So, for 2012, the Leaf falls and the Accent soars.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence the 3.5L V-6 in the Infiniti M35h hybrid is among this year’s list of honorees. At its core is an ICE descended from the most decorated engine family in 10 Best history, Nissan’s VQ.
WardsAuto editors have no desire to bleed the planet of petroleum, leaving our descendants to shiver, immobile, in the dim glow of their solar-powered smartphones.
But it seems clear the sweet spot for inclusion in Ward’s 10 Best Engines (as defined by the competition’s $55,000 price cap) falls somewhere between pure pump savings and the surreal sensation of power measured in kilowatts.