Stunningly powerful and efficient gasoline engines and the latest electric drivetrains dominated the intense competition for coveted spots on WardsAuto’s list of the world’s 10 best engines.
For the first time ever, no V8 made the list. Diesels were also shut out despite their appealing combination of good fuel economy and plentiful power.
Turbocharged engines with small displacements and big power numbers, hybrids and plug-in hybrids rule the prestigious list for 2017.
Seven turbos and three hybrids made the list. BMW M204i 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-6; Chevrolet Volt 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and electric motors extended-range electric car; Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid 3.6-liter V-6 and electric motors; Ford Focus RS 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine; Honda Accord hybrid 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and electric motors; Hyundai Elantra Eco 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; Infiniti Q50 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6; Mazda CX-9 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; Mercedes-Benz C300 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; and Volvo V60 Polestar 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged 4-cylinder.
“The pace of product development is really advancing,” WardsAuto Senior Editor Tom Murphy said. “Automakers are really improving their engines fast, and some of the best powertrain engineering is being done in hybrids.”
The Volt’s drivetrain was the only 2016 winner to repeat for 2017.
“It’s a really outstanding vehicle,” Murphy said.
Wardsauto journalists evaluated 40 vehicles: 2016’s top 10 and every impressive new or significantly updated engine that went on sale last year. Multiple editors drive every vehicle in a wide range of conditions.
“We’re increasingly focusing on [real-world] fuel economy,” Murphy said. “It’s becoming the differentiator between good and great engines.”
Wards’s team uses vehicles trip computers to measure fuel economy. Tied into the vehicles’ engine electronics and features like distance to empty, modern trip computers are much more accurate than the old method of filling up, driving and dividing miles covered by gallons pumped at the next refill.
While real-world fuel economy comparisons can’t match the identical conditions of the EPA procedure’s lab tests, Wards editors believe their use of the same group of testers over several days in different conditions and routes smooths out differences in driving style and other factors.
Some of WardsAuto’s comments on the winners:
BMW M240i turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder – Other automakers would give up corporate secrets in exchange for just one of BMW’s excellent inline-6 turbos. With several of them, BMW guards the I-6 legacy, as well as its brand heritage.
Chevrolet Volt 1.5-liter engine and electric motors – There are electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and then there is the Chevy Volt’s propulsion system, a unique blend that delivers the best of both worlds: the spirited performance and whisper-quiet (operation) of a premium EV and the versatility of a plug-in.
Chrysler Pacifica 3.6-liter V6 and electric motors – It easily maintained 35 mpg even after you run out of its all-electric range. That’s pretty remarkable.
Ford Focus RS turbocharged 2.3-liter engine – If there was a slam-dunk engine in this year’s competition, it was this one. Despite the crowded field there was no real debate among the judges during final deliberations as to whether this high-performance challenger was trophy-worthy.
Honda Accord hybrid 2.0-liter engine and electric motors – Incredibly smooth. We saw up to 47 mpg in real-world fuel economy
Hyundai Elantra Eco turbocharged 1.4-liter engine – It was neck and neck with the new Chevy Cruze’s 1.4-liter turbo, but the Elantra Eco’s fuel economy broke the tie.
Infiniti Q50 twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 – A real sleeper. So refined that it’s easy not to realize how much power it has. Fuel economy put it on the list over other 3.0-liter turbos.
Mazda CX-9 turbocharged 2.5-liter engine – A small engine that does really well in a large vehicle. A lot of people on staff thought it was a V6.
Mercedes C300 turbocharged 2.0-liter – On paper, it was the least powerful 2.0-liter turbo we tested, but far and away the most enjoyable. Our observed fuel economy of 28 mpg was pretty amazing.
Volvo V60 Polestar turbo and supercharged 2.0-liter – 362 horsepower from a 2.0-liter engine? We’ve never tested anything with that kind of output.