Completely Random 10BE Thoughts

Readers vent about engine problems; why the EcoBoost 4-cyl. trumped the V-6; and why this year’s list has no diesel.

January 6, 2012

3 Min Read
Judge Murphy with Skyactiv 20L in Mazda3
Judge Murphy with Skyactiv 2.0L in Mazda3.

After three straight months of marshaling the WardsAuto editorial team through the annual grind of 10 Best Engines, I need something to think about besides compression ratios, balance shafts and bores and strokes. I need a vacation.

But first, some random thoughts about this year’s competition:

  • Hey, Nobody’s Perfect

The announcement of Ward’s 10 Best Engines winners each December inevitably brings angry emails from disgruntled consumers who have owned vehicles with some of these celebrated engines and found them to be deficient in one way or another.

I empathize with these readers because I’ve been there. One bad experience can sour a buyer for life.

Still, driving a press car for a week or two will not reveal nagging problems that surface after 10,000 or 50,000 miles (16,093-80,465 km). If the problem is serious enough, a recall will round up the cars to be fixed, and that information then could factor into our deliberations.

But the point of the competition is to honor auto makers’ willingness to take chances on new technologies. If an engine is efficient, quiet, stands above its competitors and makes a vehicle fun to drive, it will be in the hunt for Ward’s 10 Best Engines.

  • Which EcoBoost Belongs?

We tested two Ford EcoBoost engines this year, the 2.0L 4-cyl. in the Edge and the 3.5L V-6 in the F-150. The V-6 made our list when it was new in 2009 in the Taurus SHO but stayed only one year, largely due to disappointing fuel economy.

In the ’12 F-150, the direct-injection turbocharged V-6 makes the same 365 hp, but the torque rating is massively upgraded to 420 lb.-ft. (569 Nm), thanks to throttle mapping and changes to the engine controller.

We knew we’d have to compare an F-150 with the 5.0L V-8 with an EcoBoost F-150 while towing trailers of equal weight. Ford was happy last summer to host four WardsAuto editors at its Romeo, MI, proving grounds, where 5,000-lb. (2,268-kg) trailers were hitched to the trucks.

The EcoBoost F-150 was faster in uphill and flat-surface acceleration and also trounced the V-8 with an extra 40 lb.-ft. (54 Nm) of torque. No question, the EcoBoost wins on paper, is quiet and in general feels perfectly suited for the F-150.

But after casual highway driving of about 75 miles (121 km) to and from Romeo – and including the towing tests at the track – the V-8 finished with a 14.8-mpg (15.8 L/100 km) reading, slightly better than the 14.5 mpg (16.2 L/100 km) readout for the EcoBoost.

The EcoBoost V-6 is a great engine, but it’s less compelling when real-world fuel economy actually lags the V-8. That is why we voted for the 4-cyl. EcoBoost: It represents a bigger shift in Ford’s overall powertrain strategy.

  • Where’s the Diesel?

We tested only two this year, the 2.0L 4-cyl. in the Volkswagen Passat (a 3-time winner) and 3.0L V-6 in the Mercedes M-Class.

Both were good. The Mercedes barely missed the cut and our editorial colleagues could not be convinced the VW diesel is worthy, even though three of us averaged 44 mpg (5.3 L/100 km) during short highway jaunts around metro Detroit.

Neither of these two engines features breakthrough technologies, and that’s what kept them off the list. But don’t be discouraged, diesel lovers. A European diesel in the Chevy Cruze will be in the running, hopefully next year.

And we still hold out hope for insanely high gas prices, which will shift demand and kick-start diesel programs for every OEM.

See? I need a vacation.

[email protected]

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