Muscle cars of one form or another have found a receptive audience among judges for 10 Best Engines competitions over the past 16 years.
As consumer preferences have moderated, so have our selections. True, this year’s list includes only one V-8, but two forced-induction V-6s could pass as V-8s: the Ford Taurus SHO’s 3.5L EcoBoost and the Audi S4’s fabulously indulgent 3.0L DOHC supercharged TFSI.
With a specific output of 111 hp/L, this Germanic gem produces 333 hp and 325 lb.-ft. (441 Nm) of torque with an efficiency that makes it the envy of much bigger and throatier V-8s.
Among those V-8s left in its vapor trail is the engine it replaces: the naturally aspirated 4.2L that left Ward’s editors intoxicated with its symphonic exhaust note en route to three consecutive 10 Best Engines placements from 2004-2006.
The old S4 may have stayed on the list beyond 2006 if not for its gas-guzzling tendencies. The battle among judges years ago about the efficacy of such a thirsty little European rocket was intense.
This year, there wasn’t much of an argument about the new, downsized direct-injection supercharged V-6 that gives up nothing to the old 340-hp V-8. The V-6 trails it slightly in the horsepower measure but trounces the V-8 in torque by 23 lb.-ft. (31 Nm).
The new S4 can sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.9 seconds. The old V-8 did it in 5.3 seconds. You coulda had a V-8, but you don’t need it. With a towering specific output of 111 hp/L, the all-aluminum 3.0L TFSI strikes like an archer’s arrow.
Audi loads up the new S4 with wonderful gadgets to boost performance: The Drive Select button adjusts engine and throttle mapping, tightens dampers and provides dynamic steering.
A new 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission should deliver crisp, rapid gear shifts, while our tester came with a 6-speed manual that shifted confidently and worked well with the Quattro AWD system to channel energy to all four corners.
Ward’s editors appreciated the 3.0L TFSI’s many personalities. During casual cruising, the engine is supremely quiet, able to lull a small child gently to sleep. But the S4 begs curious drivers to downshift and crack open a wide-open run for glory. They are not disappointed.
“Felt like I never had to leave third gear,” writes Associate Editor James Amend. “It really lets you wind it out.”
The same engine pulls double duty in the larger Audi A6, but is tuned down for the U.S. market to 300 hp and 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque.
With an engine this versatile, the question must be asked: Have muscle-car V-8s met their match? Probably not, unless technology like that on Audi’s supercharged 3.0L becomes more affordable and mainstream.
Some people consider V-8s a guilty pleasure. Think of the 3.0L TFSI as all pleasure, without the guilt.
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