We drove many incredible cars in 2016, and 2017 is shaping up to be even better with cars like the Honda Civic Type-R, Mazda Miata RF, and an all-wheel drive Dodge Challenger. To help us in our quest for all things perfect in the powertrain pit, WardsAuto.com has released its annual list of best engines. Each year, the team over at Wards spends a lot of time putting this list together.
First held in 1995, this friendly competition doesn’t just focus on engines, but the engineering behind them. Requirements state that motors must either be all-new or “significantly improved” in order to give editors reason to score powertrains around horsepower, torque, comparative specs, noise attenuation, observed fuel economy, and new technologies.
The goal is to find out whether a particular propulsion system can sell a car or raise the bar within its segment, and this year marks the first time in history that a V8 failed to make the cut. Turbocharged six-cylinder alternatives have made a legitimate argument for the replacement of high displacement, and with seven of the 10 finalists sporting a turbo, boost continues to be big business for automakers as they push for advancements in forced induction.
According to Wards’ report, in order to be eligible, all 40 vehicles tested could not cost more than $62,000. Once selected, each had to be driven by members of the editorial board during the months of October and November. Editors were then reportedly instructed to go about their daily lives in all 40 vehicles, as “driving to and from home, work, school, the hardware store, and on weekend roadtrips” allowed them to determine why a quarter of the powerplants tested were worthy of praise, before dumping the rest. Here are 10 engines that rule the propulsion roost and why you need to test them out if you plan to buy new in 2017.
1. BMW M240i 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six
BMW had not one but two 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engines in this year’s competition, and while the new M2 coupe’s N55 motor is sharp as hell, it’s the B58 that kicks off the list. Having been recently upgraded from 320 horsepower to 335 for the M240i, Wards refers to this modified powertrain as “slippery fast and incredibly smooth,” and commends it for consuming less fuel than certain four-cylinder turbo models on the market as it reportedly reached 26 mile per gallon averages after a dozen days of driving. With 369 pound-feet of torque on tap allowing the ability to hit 60 in just 4.4 seconds (or 4.2 with xDrive), this potent powertrain wins big with performance fans and efficiency snobs alike.
2. 2017 Chevrolet Volt Voltec plug-in
Out of the three plug-ins/hybrids from last year’s competition, only the Chevrolet Volt made the cut for a second consecutive run as it went toe-to-toe with 11 other nominees and came out triumphant. With 53 miles of all-electric range and the ability to turn into a quiet and comfortable long-distance cruiser at the ready, this revised powertrain is a real standout in the versatility department. Plus, with around 300 pound-feet of torque on board, the Volt is an unsuspectingly fast vehicle, and once the EPA’s 106 MPGe fuel-economy rating gets factored in, you can see why Wards calls General Motors’ second-generation Voltec drivetrain “one of the most innovative and disruptive propulsion systems ever produced.”
3. Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Chrysler has created yet another segment-first by rolling out the Pacifica minivan as a plug-in hybrid, dazzling editors over at WardsAuto by providing a “seamless and efficient driving experience.” This powertrain uses two electric motors and an overhauled 3.6-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 in order to achieve 33 miles of electric range, 566 miles of overall range, and real-world economy numbers that top-out at 30 miles per gallon. Wards says the practical and functional Pacifica Hybrid is a “game-changer” for the brand, and that fans of this powertrain will be pleased to know that Fiat-Chrysler’s eHybrid system will be part of a program to expand electrification to other front-wheel-drive vehicles down the line.
4. Ford Focus RS 2.3-liter turbo-four
WardsAuto refers to the turbocharged 2.3-liter in the Ford Focus RS as “high-strung, high-emotion, track-ready,” and we couldn’t agree more. Featuring 350 horsepower and the same figure for torque at all four wheels with virtually zero turbo-lag, this engine makes for one insanely fun hot hatch. Wards claims that “of the 40 powertrains tested this year, including many geared for high performance and sporting high-end badging, none was more exhilarating to drive than the Focus RS.”
5. Honda Accord Hybrid 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Honda’s Accord Hybrid was the only conventional hybrid out of three to make the cut this year due in part to its ability to “fool many drivers into thinking they’re not piloting a gas-electric hybrid.” By taking a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-banger and bonding it to a traction motor, the automaker was able to generate 212 horsepower, and with the the traction motor engaged, torque jumps to 232 pound-feet.
Editors say that the latest Accord Hybrid is both fun and easy to launch off the line due in part to the secondary motor, which functions like a generator, specializing in piping electricity to the traction motor in order to keep the car’s lithium-ion battery pack charged. Apparently some judges/editors were able to achieve 47 mile per gallon averages with this powerplant, and the publication states that “among hybrids, this may be the best balance yet of performance and fuel economy.”
6. Hyundai Elantra Eco 1.4-liter turbo-four
It’s always nice to find a miniature gasoline engine that delivers the kind of refinement, performance, and fuel economy that makes buyers overlook the fact that they are driving an inexpensive subcompact. Enter the Hyundai Elantra Eco and its turbocharged 1.4-liter Kappa four-cylinder, which can be had for well under $22,000 loaded and boasts up to 40 miles per gallon. Praised for being “quiet, exceedingly capable, affordable, and fuel efficient,” this micro-sized motor is a runaway hit for the Korean automaker.
Unlike other pipsqueak powertrains on the market, Wards commends this powerplant for feeling far more potent than its 128 horsepower numbers suggest. Low-end torque feeds the front wheels from 1,400 RPM all the way up to the 3,700 mark. Once attached to a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the Kappa capitalizes upon having its exhaust manifold buried within the head for more direct throttle responses, while a pair of thermostats separately control cooling to the head and block for greater efficiency gains and to cut heat soak.
7. Infiniti Q50 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6
Wards said that this new engine is so good, they are confident it will “boost the visibility and image of Nissan’s luxury brand.” Generating an impressive 400 horsepower, this 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 finally rockets Infiniti into the performance arena where it belongs, allowing it to confidently compete with many of Europe and Japan’s top performance sedans.
Utilizing mirror-bore cylinder coatings, electronically engaged intake timing, continuously variable valve timing, and integrated exhaust manifolds, Infiniti’s family of VR engines is “a dynasty in the making,” and according to WardsAuto makes for a commuter car that is “silky smooth, quiet when you want it to be, and capable of delivering respectable fuel economy.” With 23 mile per gallon averages from the EPA, a reasonable $50,000 mid-range sticker price, and a more affordable and efficient 300 horsepower model at the ready, there is a lot to like about the direction in which Infiniti is headed.
8. Mazda CX-9 2.5-liter turbo-four
Mazda really broke the mold when it engineered the first-ever turbocharged Skyactiv engine and installed it in the sensational CX-9 SUV. By incorporating both direct injection and an exhaust scavenging cylinder-head that focuses on performance and efficiency, Mazda has found a way to offer the low to mid-range torque of a V6, but with the added boost that only a “Dynamic Pressure” turbocharger can offer.
Heralded as an industry first, this clever snail relies on a butterfly valve within the exhaust to build pressure at low engine speeds in order to eliminate lag, and give the SUV the 310 pound-feet of torque it needs to tow 3,500 pounds. The 2.5-liter four also harbors the ability run on regular octane if you only require 227 horsepower, while dumping premium in returns 23 more ponies for performance fans, for a full 250 horsepower total.
9. Mercedes-Benz C300 2.0-liter turbo-four
Out of the dozen low-displacement turbocharged four-cylinder motors tested, WardsAuto came away most impressed by the 2.0-liter found in the rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz C300. With 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, the stately sedan sits on middle ground within the small turbo segment.
Peak torque pounds the pavement at just 1,300 RPM, and the direct-injected motor continues to crush all the way to redline, with luxury-grade smoothness reminding you that this is still a soft German sedan designed for smooth sailing above all else. With Wards’ editors logging 26 mile per gallon averages, the M274 motor makes the old version found in the CLA look dated as it boasts re-calibrated valve timing, fewer pump losses, and a high-strength aluminum head.
10. Volvo V60 Polestar 2.0-liter turbo/supercharged four-cylinder
The inline-four found within Volvo’s 2.0-liter V60 Polestar should come with an explicit warning sticker because it is just that f***ing good. Harnessing both a turbocharger and a supercharger, this pint-size performance engine generates a whopping 362 horsepower. By taking the silky smooth T6 motor out of the family-oriented XC90 and attaching a larger turbocharger, stronger connecting rods, re-ground camshafts, bigger air intake piping, and a high-flow fuel pump, Volvo has been able to create a V60 that can hit 60 in just 4.5 seconds, all while looking sensational in the process.