Alternative Powerplants – Diesel and Electric Muscle In On Awards
In the old days, say five years ago, the eight editors at Ward’s Auto World Magazine, a trade magazine covering the auto industry, had easy choices—four, six or eight. Those were the variations of gasoline engines offered by major manufacturers and subject to the magazine’s annual “10 Best” competition.
The competition, which is celebrating its 20th year, is well-respected in the industry. Engineers covet the recognition and winners get to add one more accolade to their resumes. Winning companies advertise their triumph in magazine and television ads. And with the winners we have had the opportunity to drive, we concur with Ward’s choices. The criteria are fairly strict. Contestants are evaluated over a two-month period on:
- Observed Fuel Economy
- Relative Competitiveness
- Noise, Vibration & Harshness
- In addition, the engines must be found in cars costing less than $60,000, eliminating exotic engines
But something has changed at the end of the past decade. As engines have become more sophisticated on the path to meet both consumer expectations and government regulations, they have also become more diverse. Gasoline engines added direct injection, turbocharging and supercharging. Diesel powerplants were added to the mix. Hybrid powertrains, employing both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, joined the fray.
An Electric Contender
Finally, stand-alone electric motors emerged as contenders. The selections for the Top 10 Engines of 2014 represent one of the most diverse groups the magazine has ever presented. Three diesel engines and an electric motor have joined six gasoline internal combustion engines.
But even those gas engines are far from what was the norm only a few years ago. One of the gas-powered finalized was the 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine found in the Ford Fiesta. Configurations from that 3-cylinder to the new Corvette Stingray V8 and even including an electric motor took home the trophies this year. The six-cylinder engines were probably the most diverse, coming as V6s, inline 6s and even a horizontally-opposed flat 6 and featuring both gas and diesel fuel.
What stands out this year is the prominence of the alternatives to gas engines. Only six diesel engines were picked to compete in the program (of a total of 44), but three were named finalists. The three were the European-sourced 2.0-liter Chevy Cruze diesel, the Italian 3.0-liter V6 diesel from Chrysler that will be found in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 and the all-new BMW inline 6 that shows up in the 535d.
Similarly, with the electric motors (technically not even engines), not many were evaluated. but one made it to the Top 10 – the 83 kW motor that powers the Fiat 500e electric car. It became only the second EV motor to win the award. Evaluators praised it as a “little guided missile” and felt it emulated the expected performance of an internal combustion engine better than any electric motor they have ever tested.
Fuel Efficiency Standouts
The fuel efficiency of all 10 of the engines is pretty spectacular – even the Corvette V8 delivers 29 mpg on the highway. One interesting side note of this test underscores the international nature of the modern auto
industry. While the nameplates for the engine manufacturers looks like a cross-section of European, American and Japanese companies, the region of assembly for the engines plays out like this: 6 from Europe, 2 from the U.S. and 2 from Mexico.
Wherever they come from, this Top 10 list is a good entree to finding some of the best cars on the market when it comes to efficiency. The engine’s a great place to start when evaluating a car, particularly if you’re focused on efficiency. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
- Audi 3.0-liter TFSI DHC V6 (26 MPG Highway-gas)
- BMW 3.0-liter DOHC I6 (38 MPG Highway-diesel)
- Chrysler 3.0-liter DOHC V6 (28 MPG Highway in Ram 1500-diesel)
- Fiat 58 kW Electric (108 MPGe Highway-electric)
- Ford 1.0-liter I3 (45 MPG Highway-gas)
- General Motors 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (46 MPG Highway-diesel)
- General Motors 6.2-liter OHV V8 (29 MPG Highway-gas)
- Honda 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 (34 MPG Highway-gas)
- Porsche 2.7-liter DOHC H6 (30 MPG Highway-gas)
- Volkswagen 1.8-liter TSI DOHC I4 (36 MPG Highway-gas)
Photos by by Michael Coates and John Faulkner
Posted Feb. 6, 2014