Fuel Cells, Electric Motors Join Gas & Diesel Engines
It’s a whole new world. WardsAuto World has been calling out the 10 Best Engines for 20 years. The list has been dominated by the basic internal combustion engine configurations—V8s, sixes and fours, usually fueled by gasoline. During the past decade, hybrid-electric and diesel engines have joined the crowd and a few electric powertrains have been honored. But 2015 looks like a watershed—two traditional (though very modern) and very powerful V8s were picked along with a turbodiesel V6, three four-cylinders (including one in a boxer configuration), two three-cylinders, an electric motor and, for the first time, a fuel cell powerplant.
Wards may be fast-approaching the point where they will need to rename the award and drop the “engine” moniker. Traditionally, electric motors are not described as engines and fuel cell
“powerplants” are really electrochemical reactors designed to create the electricity to run the electric motors found in fuel cell cars.
The bigger import of this year’s 10 Best Engines is its reflection of the diversity of choices the American consumer now faces in the showroom. No longer is the choice between bigger or smaller engines with a commensurate amount of horsepower. Small, turbocharged engines now offer power as impressive as much larger ones, but with the added benefit of excellent fuel economy. Even big gas engines like the two V8s picked this year deliver 20+ mpg highway miles (along with up to 700+ horsepower!). Diesels don’t smoke any more, but continue to offer great torque and significant fuel economy improvements compared to similar-sized gasoline engines. A variety of hybrid powertrains are now joined by pure electric motors capable to head-snapping acceleration without using any petroleum. Finally, fuel cells have entered the mix and because of their technological achievements are likely to make regular appearances in Ward’s lineup.
Here’s a list of this year’s winners with some key notes are their significance:
- Hyundai’s fuel cell. Ward’s may be rewarding Hyundai for its aggressive marketing as much as its technology, but fuel cells are remarkable machines, taking in hydrogen, creating the electricity to run the Tucson for more than 250 miles and emitting water vapor out of the tailpipe. I suspect next year we may see another fuel cell “engine” from Toyota, Honda or maybe Mercedes in the mix.
- BMW’s ground-breaking i3 electric motor. While the motor is impressive, BMW also may be singled out for the package it comes in as well. We just road-tested the i3 and the motor
may be the most BMW part of that package.
- Ford Fiesta’s 1-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Well, now we’ve moved back to the traditional engine, except in a tiny three-cylinder configuration, something previous to this decade relegated to loss-leader econoboxes, East European machines of dubious quality and motorcycles. They’ve grown up now, not in size, but sophistication. The Fiesta engine is a great representative of the genre; we’ll have a road test of it coming up soon, but we can give you a hint—it really works great.
- Mini’s 1.5-liter turbocharged three–cylinder engine. Minihas a reputation to keep up as a “fun” car, so it took three cylinders and made them fun and
powerful enough to keep up the Mini tradition while also delivering more than 30 mpg.
- Subaru’s 2-liter turbocharged boxer four in the WRX. Subaru’s engine may be a fairly traditional four-cylinder but its configuration is not traditional at all. The boxer format, usually only found in high-end sports cars, helps the engine to crank out excellent horsepower while still delivering good fuel economy.
- Volvo’s 1.8-liter turbo four found in the S60. The Wards editors found the power output and fuel economy of this engine exceptional. It stood out from among the 15 turbocharged four-cylinder engines considered for this year’s awards.
- Volkswagen’s 1.8-liter TSI turbo four found in the Golf. This engine is the poster child for the advancement of gasoline-fueled engines in their quest to try to emulate the efficiency of diesels. Since VW is one of the world leaders in diesels, it looks like they have done quite a job of applying some of the technological advances from compression-ignition engines to the spark world of gasoline, with a trifecta of great results in power, fuel efficiency and emissions. We’ve driven this engine and it gives no quarter to any of its challengers.
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ turbodiesel 3-liter V6 found in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 pickup. Last year Wards had three diesels among its final 10; this year one made the cut, but it’s one that’s tearing things up. We’ve been in the Jeep powered by this powerful but fuel-sipping engine and we’ll have the test up soon. Suffice it to say, it deserves its place in the group.
- Corvette’s 6.2-liter V8. What can you say? Here’s a push-rod V8 cranking out 455 horsepower and still delivering more than 21 mpg on the highway. Where’s the sacrifice? Where’s the
pain at the pump that comes with exotic-car level performance. It’s so last century, GM seems to be saying. I’ve driven this car with the seven-speed manual and it’s a blast—not Clean Fleet Report material, but plenty of fun.
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ V8 found in the Hellcat Dodge Challengers and Chargers. Does anyone really need 707 horsepower or a 204 mph top speed? Of course not! But is it a fun challenge for a mass market car company to crank out a car or two with an engine packing those performance stats? Not even a rhetorical question. This supercharged V8 takes an already potent Hemi engine and changes up to 90 percent of its components and software to boost its performance up into the stratosphere. Oh, but did we mention this engine also delivers 22 mpg highway if you lay off the throttle? Such is the way of performance in the 21st
It’s quite a group and one that is likely the forerunner of many to come with a variety of different powertrains all delivering the delicate combination of power and fuel economy that consumers demand. We at Clean Fleet Report think the quest for best ways to move a car down the road is going to continue to turn up great new technologies and we look forward to reporting on those as they arrive on the scene.
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