10 Best Engines Field as Broad as Ever

From the pavement-shaking might of V-8s in the Ford Shelby GT350 and Nissan Titan XD to all-new versions of the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt, the 2016 pool of 31 nominees for Wards 10 Best Engines reflects OEMs’ divergent powertrain strategies.

November 6, 2015

6 Min Read
Engines in new Nissan Titan XD from left Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Toyota Tacoma being tested by WardsAuto editors
Engines in new Nissan Titan XD (from left), Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Toyota Tacoma being tested by WardsAuto editors.Tom Murphy

Sixteen engines with forced induction make up more than half of the 31 nominees in the 2016 Wards 10 Best Engines competition now under way, but the field also includes a resurgence in naturally aspirated V-6s and a 526-hp naturally aspirated V-8 in the Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang.

Inexpensive gasoline in the U.S. has dampened consumer interest in hybrids and electric vehicles, but that isn’t stopping automakers from introducing state-of-the-art fuel sippers such as the new Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, all of which will compete with two returning winners, the hydrogen-fueled Hyundai Tucson FCV and BMW i3 extended-range EV.

The pool of Ward’s 10 Best Engines nominees consists of the 2015 winners plus every new or significantly improved powertrain in a vehicle with a base price below $61,000 and available in U.S. showrooms during the first quarter of 2016.

Eight WardsAuto editors drive the vehicles in October and November during their routine daily commutes in Metro Detroit. Editors score every engine based on horsepower, torque, drivability, noise and harshness mitigation, flexibility, observed fuel economy and onboard technology.

This is the 22nd year for the competition.

As has been the case for many years, the 4-cyl. will dominate the field, with 14 of them in contention and eight of those using forced induction.

The 2.0L turbo-4 remains a popular engine platform, having earned 10 Best Engines trophies in 2015 for the Subaru WRX and Volvo S60. Those vehicles return to the competition and square off against the 228-hp Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop, equipped with BMW’s new B48 I-4, which also is available in the X1 CUV.

The most powerful 2.0L I-4 in this year’s competition, Volvo’s T6, benefits from both turbocharging and supercharging, producing 316 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque in the 7-passenger XC90 CUV.

Smaller turbos in the competition include the 1.6L I-4 in the Hyundai Tucson, 1.5L I-4s in the new Chevrolet Malibu and Honda Civic and BMW’s 1.5L 3-cyl., a returning winner tested last year in the Mini Cooper and now available also in the BMW 218i Coupe.

Even smaller are Ford’s 1.0L EcoBoost 3-cyl., a returning winner being tested this year in the Focus, and Daimler’s 0.9L turbo-3 in the Smart Fortwo.

Not to be overlooked, small naturally aspirated powerplants remain relevant as General Motors launches a 1.5L in the new Volt extended-range EV, and Toyota is expected to have a naturally aspirated engine in its all-new Prius. Previous generations of the Prius have used 1.5L and 1.8L 4-cyl. engines.

New 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. engines also appear in the redesigned Honda Civic, as well as the Hyundai Elantra, Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Plug-in Hybrid.

Other eco-friendly powertrains in the hunt are two returning winners: the 127-kW (170-hp) BMW i3 extended-range electric vehicle and the hydrogen-powered 100-kW (134-hp) Hyundai Tucson fuel-cell EV.

Three Diesels, Five Naturally Aspirated V-6s

On the diesel front, there are three entries, all in pickup trucks but intended for different customers.

GM brings its 2.8L 4-cyl. Duramax in the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado to handle lighter loads, while Nissan offers the stump-pulling might of the 5.0L Cummins V-8 in the new Titan XD.

Splitting the duty-cycle difference is the 3.0L Fiat Chrysler V-6 in the Ram 1500, which is going for a 3-peat.

FCA’s diesel is one of nine 6-cyl. engines in this year’s competition, and four of them are turbocharged.

Five naturally aspirated V-6s from FCA, GM, Nissan and Toyota will celebrate a reunion of sorts. A decade ago, these automakers were launching high-output V-6s that could pull equal duty in muscle cars, luxury sedans, pickup trucks and CUVs.

Sticking with tried-and-true multiport fuel injection are FCA’s redesigned 3.6L Pentastar V-6 and Nissan’s 3.5L VQ in the new Maxima, as well as a previous-generation GM V-6 capable of running on either gasoline or compressed natural gas in a fleet-focused Chevrolet Impala.

Honda’s SOHC 3.5L V-6, a 5-time Wards 10 Best Engines winner, also relies on port injection but is not in this year’s competition because it has not yet been redesigned.

Among these naturally aspirated V-6s, GM’s new 3.6L (codename LGX), appearing first in the Cadillac ATS and employing Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation, is the only one relying solely on high-pressure direct injection.

Toyota remains wedded to the union of both multiport and direct injection in its 3.5L V-6 (codename 2GR-FKS), appearing first in the all-new Lexus RX 350 and Toyota Tacoma.

Last but not least, GM’s LT1 6.2L pushrod V-8 in the new 455-hp Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette Stingray will try for a 3-peat but will face a formidable challenge from Ford’s new 526-hp 5.2L DOHC V-8 in the Shelby GT350 Mustang.

FCA’s 6.2L supercharged Hemi V-8 in the 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat muscled its way onto the 2015 list but is not eligible this year because the base price rose above the $61,000 cap.

One key footnote this year is the exclusion of Volkswagen Group brands from participation for an emissions cheating scandal that draws Audi and Porsche more deeply into the fray with this week’s implication of the 3.0L diesel V-6.

If not for the shameful episode, the VW and Audi brands would have added three more powertrains to the field. One of them was a returning winner, the 1.8L turbocharged 4-cyl. in the VW Golf TSI.

Winners will be announced Dec. 10 at the WardsAuto Outlook Conference in Birmingham, MI. Trophies will be awarded to the winning automakers Jan. 13 at a banquet during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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2016 Wards 10 Best Engines Nominees

BMW i3 / 127 kW battery-electric

BMW 340i / 3.0L turbo I-6

Cadillac ATS / 3.6L V-6

Cadillac ATS-V / 3.6L twin-turbo V-6

Chevrolet Malibu / 1.5L turbo 4-cyl.

Chevrolet Volt / 1.5L EREV

Chevrolet Colorado / 2.8L turbodiesel 4-cyl.

Chevrolet Impala CNG / 3.6L flex-fuel V-6 

Chevrolet Camaro / 6.2L LT1 small block V-8

Ford Focus / 1.0L EcoBoost 3-cyl.

Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang / 5.2L V-8

Honda Civic / 1.5L turbo 4-cyl.

Honda Civic / 2.0L i-VTEC 4-cyl.

Hyundai Tucson FCV / 100 kW fuel cell EV

Hyundai Tucson / 1.6L turbo 4-cyl.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid / 2.0L DI Atkinson 4-cyl.

Hyundai Sonata PHEV / 2.0L DI Atkinson 4-cyl.

Hyundai Elantra / 2.0L MPI Atkinson 4-cyl.

Jeep Grand Cherokee / 3.6L Pentastar V-6

Mercedes C450 AMG / 3.0L bi-turbo V-6

Mini Cooper Hardtop / 1.5L turbo 3-cyl. 

Mini John Cooper Works / 2.0L turbo 4-cyl.

Nissan Maxima / 3.5L VQ V-6

Nissan Titan XD / 5.0L turbodiesel V-8

Ram 1500 / 3.0L turbodiesel V-6

Smart Fortwo / 0.9L 3-cyl.

Subaru WRX / 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. boxer

Toyota Prius / 4-cyl. hybrid

Toyota Tacoma / 3.5L 2GR-FKS V-6

Volvo S60 / 2.0L T5 turbo 4-cyl.

Volvo XC90 / 2.0L T6 turbo/supercharged 4-cyl. 

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2016 10 Best Engines
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