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Hoods up COPY 2021 10 Best EPS testing.png Tom Murphy

2021 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems Quick Hits

A pro-and-con summation of all 39 powertrains evaluated in the 2021 competition. Many comments come directly from editor scoresheets.

Winners in Red


3.0L turbo V-6 355 hp (Acura TLX Type S)
+ State of the art V-6
-  Relatively poor observed fuel economy
= Emulates German sixes at lower price point


Dual-Motor BEV 402 hp (Audi e-tron Sportback)
+ Enjoyable to drive without theatrics
-  BEV platform on the way out
= Good BEV alternative for Audi enthusiasts

3.0L turbo V-6 349 hp (Audi SQ5)
+ Quick response, plenty of power, lots of good ear music
-  Pricey for the power
= Makes great case for downsizing from V-8


2.0L turbo I-4 PHEV 288 hp combined (BMW 330e)
+ Amazing fuel efficiency while never wanting for power
-  22 miles of EV range is on the short side
= Thrilling in EV mode and still engaging even when the battery runs dry

3.0L turbo I-6 48V MHEV 382 hp (BMW M440i xDrive)
+ 48V stop/start smooth as silk
-  Slight transmission hiccups, low rpm lugging
= Engine makes the car


6.2L V-8 495 hp (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray)
+ Power to burn, but easy on fuel
-  NVH might turn some off
= A heart-pumping joy to drive

3.0L diesel I-6 (Chevrolet Suburban)
+ Impressively quiet for a diesel
-  Loses breath +80 mph
= Great fit for this large vehicle

1.3L turbo I-3 155 hp (Chevrolet Trailblazer)
+ Impressive power and torque density
-  Fuel economy could be better
= The little engine that does


1.5L turbo I-3 181 hp (Ford Bronco Sport)
+ Higher hp/L than Chevy engine
-  Drivability and NVH lacking
= Three bangers can replace four pots

3.5L twin-turbo V-6 HEV 430 hp combined (Ford F-150 Hybrid)
+ Unobtrusive gas-electric transitions
-  Price premium for hybrid powertrain
= Clobbers V-8 for response and thrust

2.3L turbo I-4 High Performance Package 330 hp (Ford Mustang)
+ High-revving fun running through 6-speed manual
-  Thrashy and loud at startup
= Efficient Mustang option packed with fun

Dual-Motor BEV 346 hp (Ford Mustang Mach-E)
+ Outperforms on miles vs. estimated range measure
-  Whisper (Eco) mode drivability a downer
= Advanced EV without the “Tech Bro” baggage


3.5L turbo V-6 375 hp (Genesis G80)
+ Competitive hp and efficiency numbers
-  Annoying vibration in accelerator pedal
= Smooth, enjoyable engine (pictured below)

Tom MurphyDSC_0905.JPG


2.0L Atkinson I-4 HEV 212 hp combined (Honda Accord Hybrid)
+ Dual-motor hybrid system still competitive
-  Hybrids ceding spotlight to BEVs
= Supremely smooth at all times


1.6L I-4 HEV 139 hp combined (Hyundai Elantra Hybrid)
+ Surprisingly responsive with remarkable real-world mpg
-  Annoying powertrain transitions at low and mid speeds
= Low price makes it a great hybrid deal

Single-Motor BEV 201 hp (Hyundai Kona EV) 
+ Incredibly fast and responsive
-  Pulsating vibration in accelerator pedal
= Top value and efficiency in this return winner

1.6L turbo I-4 HEV 225 hp combined (Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid)
+ EV mode possible up to 50 mph
-  Some lugging at low speeds
= Good price compared with non-hybrid midsize CUVs

2.5L turbo I-4 277 hp (Hyundai Santa Fe)
+ Shockingly punchy for a middle-of-the-road CUV
-  Hyper response makes it hard to drive smoothly
= Engine helps Santa Fe stand out from the crowd

1.6L turbo I-4 180 hp (Hyundai Sonata/Kia K5)
+ Torquey thanks to world-first Continuously Variable Valve Duration
-  Bad vibes at low rpm
= Past winner offers combo of efficiency, power in non-hybrid


2.0L VC-turbo I-4 268 hp (Infiniti QX55)
+ Variable-compression a technological marvel
-  CVT a bit of a killjoy in this application
= Two-time winner nearly worthy of a three-peat


2.0L turbo I-4 PHEV 375 hp combined (Jeep Wrangler 4xe)
+ 28-mpg observed is impressive for a Wrangler
-  Not sure Wrangler buyers are looking for a PHEV
= Pure EV driving at 70 mph is amazing

6.4L V-8 470 hp (Jeep Wrangler 392)
+ Big, wicked engine with neighbor-waking growl
-  Might be too much power for this vehicle
= Enjoy it before V-8s are extinct

Land Rover

3.0L I-6 MHEV 395 hp (Land Rover Defender 90)
+ Mild hybrid system is saving grace on mpg
-  Unnerving complete vehicle shutdown at long stops
= Plenty of oomph makes this a pleasure to drive


3.5L V-6 HEV 354 hp combined (Lexus LC 500h)
+ Super-intelligent transmission optimizes fuel economy
-  Some whine when thrashed
= Sophisticated Multi-Stage Hybrid system performs flawlessly


2.5L turbo I-4 250 hp (Mazda CX-30)
+ Full torque at just 2,000 rpm
-  Touchy tip-in requires gentle throttle inputs
= Engine is a perfect match for this vehicle


2.0L turbo I-4 305 hp (Mercedes-Benz GLA 35)
+ Sport mode and manual shift mode make this a ton of fun
-  Some turbo lag hurts linear power delivery
= Rewarding for the aggressive driver – 0-60 mph in 5 seconds

3.0L EQ Boost turbo I-6 429 hp (Mercedes GLE 53)
+ EQ Boost adds 21 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque
-  AMG powertrain may be a mis-fit in large CUV
= Cruiser with a proper growl when pressed

4.0L EQ Boost bi-turbo V-8 483 hp (Mercedes-Benz GLS 580)
+ Makes a large vehicle feel nimble
-  Painful fuel economy numbers
= Smooth operator with a slick stop/start


Dual-Motor BEV 408 hp (Polestar 2)
+ Surprising ability to retain battery charge
-  Lack of ignition button can create confusion
= Lithe and quick, fun and easy to drive

Tom MurphyDSC_0980.JPG


3.8L turbo flat-6 572 hp (Porsche 911 Turbo - pictured above)
+ All you need is – a turbo flat-6 from Stuttgart
-  Gritty flat-engine sounds not for everyone
= Pinnacle of Porsche internal combustion as brand pivots to EVs

Dual-Motor BEV 522 hp (Porsche Taycan 4S)
+ State-of-the-art 800V system and fast-charging ability
-  High price tag should bring more range
= Capable of wresting performance crown from ICE brethren


3.6L V-6 48V eTorque 305 hp (Ram 1500 Rebel)
+ eTorque mild-hybrid system a winner
-  Observed fuel economy well below EPA rating
= No longer as cutting edge in increasingly electrified field

6.2L supercharged V-8 702 hp (Ram 1500 TRX)
+ Can be subtle until – bam! – when you floor it
-  Too big to be this quick
= Collector’s item for lovers of monster V-8


2.5L I-4 HEV 243 hp combined (Toyota Highlander Hybrid)
+ Beats or exceeds EPA fuel economy of 35 mpg combined
-  Excessively loud and rough, poor NVH
= Compact car fuel economy in a large, 3-row CUV

Single-Motor Fuel-Cell BEV 182 hp (Toyota Mirai)
+ Superb proof of concept for a propulsion system of the future
-  Runs through hydrogen range faster than miles
= Lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure hurts viability

2.5L I-4 PHEV 302 hp combined (Toyota RAV4 Prime)
+ Torquey EV response at lower speeds
-  Feels weak at higher speeds
= Great package offering up to 42 miles of EV range

2.5L I-4 HEV 219 hp combined (Toyota Venza Hybrid)
+ Tried-and-true, capable and efficient hybrid propulsion
-  Hard to achieve pure EV-mode driving
= Great for those who want electrified efficiency in a simple package


Single-Motor BEV 201 hp (Volkswagen ID.4)
+ Smooth response rather than hyper-aggressive
-  Relatively mild torque rating as BEVs go
= The people’s BEV – an electric car for the masses


Dual-Motor BEV 408 hp (Volvo XC40 Recharge)
+ Gives up longer range for higher performance
-  Lacks some of the unique features of the Polestar
= Proves the Swedes are all-in for BEVs (pictured below)

Tom MurphyDSC_0951.JPG

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