For the first time ever, three pickup-truck engines appear on the Wards 10 Best Engines list, while four electrified powertrains make the cut for the second consecutive year as well.
Rounding out the field in this 25th year of the Wards 10 Best Engines competition is a muscle-car V-8, a German luxury turbocharged inline 6-cyl. and a groundbreaking turbocharged 4-cyl. with variable compression ratio.
WardsAuto editors chose the winners after spending October and November evaluating 34 engines and electric propulsion systems during routine commutes in metro Detroit.
Other notable trends this year: Ford wins two trophies for the second year in a row, and Hyundai wins two awards in the same year for the first time ever. A hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle makes the cut for the third time, and two V-8s earn trophies in the same year for the first time since 2015.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day when a fuel-cell car and a battery EV would make the list the same year as two burly V-8s and a sophisticated 4-cyl. engine with variable compression,” says Drew Winter, WardsAuto senior content director.
“Automakers and their powertrain engineers are being pushed in different directions: Governments around the world want low emissions and electrification, while customers want vehicles that meet their every need without compromise. We believe this year’s list represents the industry’s ability to deftly satisfy both demands.”
This year’s winners (in alphabetical order by brand):
- 3.0L (B58) DOHC Turbocharged I-6 (BMW X5)
- 6.2L OHV V-8 with DFM (Chevrolet Silverado)
- 5.0L DOHC V-8 (Ford Mustang GT/Bullitt)
- 3.0L DOHC TurboDiesel V-6 (Ford F-150)
- 2.0L DOHC Atkinson i-VTEC 4-Cyl./HEV (Honda Accord Hybrid)
- 120-kW Fuel Cell/Electric Propulsion System (Hyundai Nexo)
- 150-kW Propulsion System (Hyundai Kona EV)
- 2.0L DOHC VC-Turbo 4-Cyl. (Infiniti QX50)
- 2.0L DOHC Atkinson 4-Cyl./HEV (Lexus UX 250h)
- 3.6L DOHC Pentastar eTorque V-6 (Ram 1500)
BMW has won 34 Wards 10 Best Engines trophies over the past 25 years (tied with Ford for the all-time lead), and 28 of those awards were for inline 6-cyl. engines. It’s no coincidence that year after year, Munich finds ways to improve the modular inline architecture to deliver unparalleled refinement, high efficiency and effortless revving.
In the case of the all-new ’19 X5 crossover, the updated B58 turbo-6 is rated at 340 hp, but it feels like so much more during spirited runs to the redline.
The B58 debuted a few years ago and now gets a new cooling system, head, timing chain, oil pump and a forged crankshaft. The block and air induction system have been modified, and the new high-pressure direct-injection fueling system is rated at 5,076 psi (350 bar), up from 3,626 psi (250 bar).
Our judges raved about their seat time in the new X5, and nearly all of them topped 20 mpg (11.7 L/100 km), despite heavy-footed testing.
Wards 10 Best Engines judges always debate the future of the V-8 in this era of ever-tightening regulations and the rise of electrification.
But General Motors demonstrates with its silky 420-hp 6.2L V-8 in the ’19 Chevy Silverado (see dashboard photo, lower left) that there are ways to wring more efficiency from them through good old-fashioned engineering. The updated small-block 6.2L uses what GM calls Dynamic Fuel Management, the automaker’s most advanced cylinder-deactivation technology.
DFM raises fuel economy in the Silverado by 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) in the city cycle on the federal testing procedure and 2 mpg (0.8 km/L) in real-world driving.
The trick is the system’s 17 different deactivation patterns. A sophisticated controller determines 80 times per second how many cylinders need fuel, and the system is constantly switching the firing sequence depending on driving conditions and throttle inputs. It happens so seamlessly, the only thing the driver notices is fewer stops at the pump.
Wards Intelligence data confirms falling take-rates for big V-8s, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a few last hurrahs. And the latest iteration of the 5.0L V-8 in the ’19 Ford Mustang GT – and in particular, the pitch-perfect version in the Bullitt – makes us smile every time we punch the throttle.
We have no complaints with the 460-horse powerplant in the standard GT, but there’s something extra-special about the Bullitt, which breathes through a wider throttle body borrowed from the Shelby GT350 and gets a freer-flowing active exhaust that’s music to an enthusiast’s ears.
On paper, the Bullitt engine picks up a mere 20 hp over the GT, but on the road the Bullitt demonstrates how small changes and careful attention to tuning can bring new life to mature technology and create a whole new level of firepower.
Diesel engines are ideally suited for big, rugged pickup trucks, and the smooth, quiet 3.0L Power Stroke diesel V-6 available in the ’18 Ford F-150 is exactly what the market needs: a light-duty engine capable of remarkable fuel economy while towing heavy loads for work or pleasure.
Known as the “Lion” engine within Ford Powertrain, this V-6 launched in Ford Australia in 2005 and most recently has been used by Jaguar Land Rover models. But it’s been updated for its latest duty under the hood of the F-150.
The new Power Stroke can tow 11,400 lbs. (5,171 kg) and haul 2,020 lbs. (916 kg) of payload with its compacted graphite iron block, high-pressure cooled EGR and 2,000-bar (29,000-psi) direct-injection fueling system.
What clinches it for the Wards judges is the 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) we observed while logging about 800 miles (1,287 km) in an F-150 SuperCrew 4x2. That’s the best fuel economy we’ve ever seen in a fullsize pickup.
The winning ’18 Honda Accord Hybrid is one very smooth operator. Yes, the fuel economy is great – most judges achieved close to 40 mpg (5.8 L/100 km) in their test drives.
And the performance from the combination of the 2.0L DOHC iVTEC Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and two electric motors is all anyone could ask for in a midsize sedan.
But it’s the way the powertrain’s combined peak 212 hp is delivered to the front wheels that really wows us.
There’s a lot of complexity in this third-generation hybrid powertrain, with the propulsion system quickly shifting between electric, hybrid or engine drive as required, accounting for whether the driver has opted to run in normal, sport or economy mode.
But the operation is all very seamless, quiet, amazingly responsive and affordable (with a $25,100 base price) – making believers out of even our staunchest hybrid skeptics.
The fuel-cell race is heating up and Hyundai’s Nexo (see photo, lower left) now leads the pack with a range of up to 380 miles (612 km) and efficient packaging that does not compromise rear-seat legroom or cargo space.
With the ’19 Nexo, Hyundai makes a compelling case for high-volume, hydrogen-powered vehicles. It’s a fun-to-drive electric crossover for mainstream consumers with the range and refueling time of a conventional car or truck.
And this propulsion system also is the foundation of the automaker’s autonomous, electrified future. Because it can be refueled quickly, Hyundai says it’s more capable than battery-electrics when handling the huge energy demands of self-driving guidance systems.
Most importantly, the Nexo’s propulsion system demonstrates scalability. Its high-pressure fuel tanks, valving and other components are shared with the automaker’s growing fleet of fuel-cell powered trucks and buses.
Hyundai engineers didn’t just build a vehicle. They created a time machine you can sit in today and see the future.
Hyundai’s second 10 Best Engines trophy this year goes to the ’19 Hyundai Kona Electric CUV, powered by a 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 150-kW permanent magnet synchronous motor.
This propulsion system’s 291 lb.-ft. (395 Nm) of torque makes the Kona a blast to drive. With all that thrust arriving almost immediately, it is virtually impossible not to burn rubber in the Kona Electric – only the slowest, most measured take-offs avoid doing so.
Judge Winter notes the “neck-snapping power and torque, whether accelerating from a stoplight or passing on the expressway.”
And with 258 miles (415 km) of EPA-estimated all-electric range, the Kona is the longest-range, non-Tesla battery-electric vehicle available in the U.S., making it attractive to those who want gasoline-engine-like range in a popular CUV body style.
The Kona goes a long way to eliminate range anxiety for those shoppers considering an EV.
Pound the accelerator in the ’19 Infiniti QX50 and prepare to be surprised by the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. under the hood. Nothing short of a burst of nitrous can prepare you for the sudden surge of low-rpm power from such a small engine.
It’s mind-blowing what’s happening inside the QX50’s variable-compression engine: Using a patented multi-link device between the connecting rods and the crankshaft, the VC-Turbo shortens the length of the piston stroke, modifying the compression ratio from 14.0:1 to 8.0:1, depending on load and demand, all while the engine is running at speed.
Under hard throttle, the switch to low compression comes on like a kick in the pants with the 268-hp VC-Turbo delivering 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) of torque at a mere 1,600 rpm.
This engine produces the power of the 3.5L V-6 it replaces, but with a 27% gain in fuel efficiency. The VC-Turbo also is available in the all-new Nissan Altima sedan.
Since 2001, Toyota has earned six 10 Best Engines trophies for hybrids – more than any other automaker. The ’19 Lexus UX 250h luxury crossover is yet another groundbreaking gasoline/electric powertrain that is smooth, efficient and fun to drive.
Underhood is the 2.0L Dynamic Force 4-cyl. high-compression engine (see photo, lower left) that achieves 40% thermal efficiency and relies on both port and direct fuel injection. Consider it a sibling to the 2.5L engine that helped the Camry Hybrid earn a 10 Best Engines trophy last year.
The electric side of the UX hybrid powertrain comes from three electric motors – two embedded within the transmission and the third incorporated in the rear differential to drive the rear wheels and provide all-wheel drive.
We enjoyed the turbo-like punch from the 24-kW battery, while noticing an impressive 38 mpg (6.1 L/100km) during our test drives. The UX 250h is an affordable, upscale hybrid billed as America’s most fuel-efficient utility vehicle without a plug.
FCA’s Pentastar V-6 has been around for nearly a decade, but the updated version in the ’19 Ram 1500 pickup benefits from marvelous innovation.
The 3.6L gasoline V-6 comes with FCA’s new eTorque, a 48V mild-hybrid system that provides efficient power boost at launch and improves fuel economy. It works seamlessly and impressively.
eTorque shows its stuff in various ways, including putting the fullsize truck in motion. Typically, moving automotive mass from a standstill gobbles up fuel.
But that’s mitigated by a dollop of electrical propulsion. The result: Our judges saw up to 22 mpg (10.6 L/100 km) during more than 500 miles (805 km) of testing. That’s outstanding for a 2½-ton truck with 4-wheel-drive that never feels underpowered.
eTorque makes the vehicle’s fuel-saving stop-start system work almost imperceptibly. It’s one of the best around.
FCA’s 48V eTorque system also is paired with the 5.7L Hemi V-8 in the Ram 1500 and 2.0L turbo-4 in the Jeep Wrangler.
Since 1995, the Wards 10 Best Engines competition has recognized outstanding engines and electrified propulsion systems, as well as the technology and engineering behind them. All new or significantly improved powertrains, as well as last year’s 10 returning winners were eligible. Vehicles must have a base price no higher than $64,000.
Editors score each powertrain based on horsepower, torque, comparative specs, NVH management, observed fuel economy and the application of new technology.
The winning automakers will be honored Jan. 16 at a WardsAuto ceremony in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show. On the same day, WardsAuto is hosting a separate 25th anniversary celebration to honor all automakers that have won 10 Best Engines trophies since 1995.
Please visit WardsAuto.com in the coming weeks for additional commentaries, profiles of the winning engines, videos and more information about the 2019 Wards 10 Best Engines.
– with the WardsAuto staff