It's no secret there are a lot of premium V-8s out there. BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti. Even safety-first Volvo Car Corp. has a V-8.
In fact, some say development has converged to the point where the world's premium V-8s – as a group, those generally of 5L displacement or less – are all but indistinguishable.
Not so with Audi AG's superb 4.2L DOHC V-8. The reasons Audi's V-8 returns for a third consecutive 10 Best Engines award are manifest, most having to do with the “character” said to be lacking from modern-day V-8s.
First, but probably not foremost, are the sounds. Ward's judges' appreciation continues unabated for the basso exhaust aria of the Audi V-8 as performed in the S4 sport sedan.
“Totally intoxicating,” says one editor. “When a V-8 is done right – and the Audi V-8 is terribly, terribly right – there's no better sound from any engine layout.”
From the moment one fires it up until the key is twisted to shut down, this engine engulfs vehicle occupants in a 3-ring circus of aural delight.
Next, and probably foremost, is what must be the Audi V-8's official motto: “Torque: There is no substitute.” We know almost every other premium V-8 fronts higher torque numbers. But a dozen years of 10 Best Engines competitions has taught us a few pound-feet one way or the other does not always tell the story.
Although competitors also have peaks at lower rpm, with Audi's V-8, prodigious torque always seems to be at the ready. If the engine's aluminum block were sufficiently porous, torque would ooze like sap from a maple.
Access to the power is enhanced in the S4 by the manual transmission few competitors offer, but it is also the engine's intrinsic light-flywheel sensation that augments the ever-flowing torque output.
And to us, nothing says “fine machinery” like a V-8 with a power peak of 7,000 rpm. Where many V-8s are ready to pack it in, the Audi 4.2L DOHC V-8 is still snarling, heading for the high-strung power peak that is so unusual and so addictive for a V-8 of any type.
Finally, there is the price. Many of the previously mentioned competitors are fine engines, but come only in vehicles priced out of the reach of buyers with normal means.
The Audi 4.2L mill is one of the few premium V-8s that can be had in a vehicle with a base price (barely) less than the $52,500 10 Best Engines price cap – demonstrating how exclusive this club can be.
McClellan: Wonderful engine, great gearbox, terrific car. What's not to like?
Winter: Buttery-smooth torque, perfect sound, exceedingly well mannered at low speed. This engine turns a good car into a great one.
Murphy: 14 mpg the only drawback – I can make an exception.
Visnic: Almost no sense of reciprocating mass – amazing.
Audi AG 4.2L DOHC V-8
Engine type: 4.2L DOHC 90° V-8
Displacement (cc): 4,163
Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
Bore x stroke (mm): 84.5 x 92.8
Horsepower (SAE net): 340 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 302 lb.-ft. (409 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm
Specific output: 81 hp/L
Compression ratio: 11:1
Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 15/21
Application tested: S4 sedan