The 10 Best Car Engines for 2016

All-new BMW X1 and 340i launch drive in Chihuahua, MX.
Source: BMW

With another year having come and gone, it means that there is a whole new year of new powertrains and engines to look forward to. As auto technology progresses, so do propulsion systems, as they become more powerful and efficient with every new calendar cycle. Last year brought a slew of new tech and engineering quirks from the world’s automakers, and with 2016 right around the corner, automakers continued to make their engines more refined and user-friendly.

While most people may not give much thought to engines and motors beyond what options they have in a particular vehicle, there are those out there who put a considerable amount of time and energy into testing and investigating all of the options on the market. One of those organizations, WardsAuto, evaluated 31 engines and powertrains to come up with a list of 10 winners for its list of 2016’s best. These are all new or improved powertrains, and the winner’s list encompasses a wide variety of different configurations and systems — plug-in hybrids made an especially strong showing this year.

“This is a list that’s loaded with innovation, from hybrids to muscle cars,” said Drew Winter, the director of content at WardsAuto. “We have three groundbreaking electrified drivetrains for the first time ever, each representing a different technology: the gas-electric Prius hybrid, the plug-in hybrid Sonata and the extended-range electric Volt.”

Which engines made the cut? Read on to find out.

1. BMW’s 3.0 Liter Turbocharged Inline-Six From the 340i

All-new BMW X1 and 340i launch drive in Chihuahua, MX.
Source: BMW

Since 1995, when Wards began its 10 Best Engines awards, BMW has walked away with 32 of them. As a new trim for BMW’s line of 3 Series cars, the 340i nestles on the top end in terms of refinement and power and carries on the tradition. Capable of 320 horsepower thanks to a larger twin-scroll turbocharger, higher compression ratio and “the impeccable balance afforded by an inline layout, BMW proves once again an engine need not make outrageous horsepower or torque numbers to be enormously rewarding and thrilling to drive.”

2. GM’s 3.6 Liter V6 From the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac ATS

Source: Cadillac

The 3.6 liter V6 sees dual action in both the Chevrolet Camaro and the Cadillac ATS — a peculiar pairing, being that one is so brash and another is so refined. Nonetheless, Wards was impressed enough by the engine that it awarded it and its 335 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of twist a coveted spot on 2016’s best engines’ list. “Editors love both applications of this engine, especially knowing it can be had in the Camaro for as little as $30,795,” Wards said.

3. Chevy’s 1.5 liter four-cylinder/120-kW Drive Motor From the Volt

2016 Chevrolet Volt
Source: Chevrolet

New from the ground up for 2016, the Chevrolet Volt uses a next-gen Voltec powertrain that’s been prodded and tweaked to deliver over 50 miles of pure electric driving before the dinosaur juice kicks in. “If consumers found anything objectionable in the first Volt, it appears they’ve all been fixed in the second,” Wards said. “The base price of $33,995 grows even more attractive with a $7,500 federal tax incentive.”

4. Ford’s 5.2 Liter V8 From the Shelby GT350 Mustang

The All-New Ford 5.2-liter V8
Source: Ford

Known colloquially as the Voodoo V8, Ford’s latest engine boasts 526 horsepower and a race-tuned setup thanks largely to its unique flat-crank construction — a strategy usually employed by the likes of Ferrari. Its 8,250 RPM redline is almost as impressive as its gorgeous soundtrack, and the unit — found exclusively in the new Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs — manages to nail the 100 horsepower per liter mark, which Wards notes is unusual for V8s without forced induction.

5. Hyundai’s 2.0 Liter four-cylinder/50-kW Drive Motor From the Sonata PHEV

2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid
Source: Hyundai

We drove the standard Hyundai Sonata hybrid and were very pleased by how refined and unintrusive the switch off between gasoline and electric was, so we can imagine that the PHEV only improves on that. Boasting 27 miles of electric range before utilizing the gasoline engine, the Sonata PHEV manages between 41 and 80 miles per gallon once the whole system is working in tandem, per Wards’s editors’ experiences. 

6. Nissan’s 3.5 Liter V6 From the Maxima

2016 Nissan Maxima
Source: Nissan

The 3.5 liter V6 in Nissan’s new Maxima isn’t as groundbreaking as other powertrains found on this list, but the “VQ makes for light, lively and refined power delivery, and the sterling midrange torque is still there.” Wards notes that “61% of the new VQ’s parts have been redesigned to reduce friction and weight and promote better breathing. The new heads, intake ports and intermediate locking valve timing make for more complete combustion, and a new intake manifold with wider and shorter runners improves airflow.” All told, it’s the sum of small differences that change the engine completely.

7. Fiat-Chrysler’s 3.0 Liter Turbodiesel V6 from the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee

Ram EcoDiesel
Source: Ram

Considered the only diesel in its segment, the 3.0 liter V6 built by VM Motori in Italy provides a hefty lump of 420 pound-feet of torque paired with respectable fuel economy figures to make the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee some of the most competitive in their fields. “Ten days of testing yielded observed fuel economy approaching 24 mpg. Nothing wrong with that,” Wards said of the Ram. That’s where midsize sedans were about five to ten years ago.

“Ram engineers have done such a stellar job of integrating this powertrain that most people wouldn’t guess there’s a diesel under the hood,” said a Wards editor.

8. Subaru’s 2.0 liter Turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer from the WRX

Source: Subaru

Making Wards’s list for the second time in as many years is Subaru’s stellar “poster child for high-output, affordable turbocharged 4s.” Its flat format keeps weight low, while 268 horsepower from four cylinders is nothing to sneeze at. It beat out four other four-cylinder turbos for the spot, and “makes the WRX fast, fun and spirited, while being perfectly suitable for daily driving. This is a great engine that completes the package: a reasonably priced practical sports car with a rally racing heritage.”

9. Toyota’s 1.8 liter four-cylinder/53-kW Drive Motor from the Prius

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet
Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Though the overall architecture of the Prius drivetrain hasn’t changed, Toyota’s tweaking has resulted in a boost in both power and fuel efficiency. Wards’s editors saw 61 miles per gallon in real-world driving. “The benchmark for hybrid-electric vehicles is setting a new benchmark,” an editor wrote on his scoresheet. At under $25,000, it’s not only the cheapest drivetrain on Wards’s list, but among the best fuel-efficiency for the dollar available.

10. Volvo’s 2.0 liter Turbo/Supercharged four-cylinder from the XC90

Source: Volvo
Source: Volvo

“Porque no los dos?” proclaims the cute Spanish girl in Old El Paso’s ad for taco shells. It’s apparently what Volvo was thinking too, as it said, “Why not both?” and turbocharged and supercharged an inline-four for duty in its XC90. Wards’s editors “routinely got better than 24 miles per gallon in a big 7-passenger CUV with all-wheel drive,” because of the engine, which produces 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.