Wards 10 Best Engines competition has recognized outstanding powertrains for 22 years. This installment of the 2016 “Story Behind the 10 Best Engines” series looks at the development of Ford’s high-performance 5.2L “Voodoo” V-8.           

With ever-increasing emphasis on efficiency and electrified propulsion, Wards 10 Best Engines have evolved into a highly diversified group, including numerous hybrid-electric vehicles and plug-ins in addition to internal combustion engines big and small. For 2016, WardsAuto editors chose to honor just one V-8: the naturally aspirated DOHC 5.2L in the Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang.

“Our panel of eight gobsmacked editors deems it worthy of a 2016 Wards 10 Best Engines trophy because it runs like American Pharoah on a trough full of steroids,” writes Editor Tom Murphy. But beyond its rare flat-plane-crankshaft and distinctive full-throttle yowl are substantial improvements compared to the fine 5.0L DOHC V-8 that earned Wards 10 Best trophies in 2011 and 2012.

It is an all-new engine, not a derivation of the 5.0L, Ford says. “Only the valve keepers and keys, a rear seal retainer and some fasteners are shared with any other Ford V-8,” says chief engineer Eric Ladner. “Different bores, water jackets and head bolts drove us to a new block. The crankshaft, rods, bearings, cylinder heads, intake and exhaust valves, oil pan, pickup tube, gaskets and even the rear crank seal are unique.”

Though larger in displacement than the 5.0L and 20% more powerful, it is a significant 13 lbs. (5.9 kg) lighter with a higher 12.0:1 compression ratio, 10% higher volumetric efficiency and less friction. It also has a stupendous 8,250-rpm redline. That redline, and the high levels of airflow the engine requires, are the primary reasons for its flat-plane crank.

A high-flow intake manifold and long-tube exhaust headers can maximize flow, but long headers move the catalytic converters too far away for emissions-compliant light-off. The flat-plane crankshaft – which positions half of its eight pistons 180 degrees opposite the other half (when four are at top dead center, the other four are at bottom) – effectively makes the engine’s short-tube headers perform like long ones. And with big high-lift (14 mm) valves and a large (87-mm) throttle body, Ford says the 5.2L’s intake and exhaust ports flow better than those of the Ferrari 458 flat-plane-crank V-8 it was benchmarked against.

The crankshaft itself is gun-drilled to further reduce weight and improve breathing. And the 10-quart (9.5L) composite oil pan is lighter than the 5.0L’s 8-quart (7.6L) pan with baffles tuned to prevent oil starvation during high-g cornering and braking.

The 5.2L V-8 team’s objectives and targets began with those of the car for which it was designed. “It would be a serious track car that is street capable as well, so that set up the parameters of what was important,” Ladner relates. “Discussions were around light weight and high performance, not just power but the broadness of the torque curve and power band, especially in the range where it will be used on the track.”