Judging by the 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines nominees, it’s a glorious time to drive sports cars with small displacement, high-output engines.
We’re testing a truckload of these little bombers, from the raging 350-hp Ford Focus RS to the elite Porsche 718 Cayman, with a pair of Subaru flat fours thrown in for good measure. All brought a strong ability to wow us.
And wow us, they did.
The 2.3L Focus RS sends its mighty torque to all four wheels via a super-precise 6-speed manual gearbox, challenging us to rocket-launch from every stop and attack every bend with fighter-pilot authority. Punch the sport button and it’s impossible not to crack a smile as the exhaust spits and backfires, echoing off the tarmac. This same engine debuted in the ’15 Mustang in slightly milder 310-hp tune; we look forward to the meatier Focus RS version appearing in the pony car.
While we expected nothing less than precision and power from the Porsche 718 Cayman, the all-new turbo flat-4 mounted midship offers a significantly different take on performance. Porsche is downsizing from larger naturally aspirated flat-sixes to smaller fours fitted with turbos to keep the power rolling, leaving some enthusiasts feeling a little, well, flat.
While there’s an unmistakable character change going from a deep-throated six to a raspier, boosted four, you get more power from the latter at 300 hp, along with plenty of high-strung torquey-ness. Run the Porsche 2.0L between 3,500 and 6,500 rpm, like we did, and you’ll find plenty to love.
That brings us to the final contenders in this category, the Subaru BRZ and the WRX, a returning winner. While the BRZ’s updated naturally aspirated 205-hp 2.0L is fun to run in a stealthy 2-seater, the turbo version in the 4-door compact WRX still blows us away. The high-output 2.0L makes 268 hp all while turning respectable mid and upper 20s on the mpg scale.
That’s a combination we all can learn to love.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger