2017 10 Best Engines: High-Tech V-6s Wear Versatility Crown

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Even in an era when downsize-boosting is the prevailing trend, naturally aspirated high-feature V-6 engines remain a bread-and-butter powertrain for automakers in the U.S.

It’s hardly surprising the layout continues to be a favorite, either, given the five units tested for the 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines competition.

For starters, the gasoline V-6 arguably is the most ambidextrous engine out there. Thanks to technology advancements such as direct injection, their power-per-liter rates have soared to where they turn a sports coupe into a track-ready tiger, or a go-anywhere, do-anything CUV into people hauler with respectable fuel economy.

General Motors’ volume 3.6L V-6, a returning winner as tested in the Cadillac ATS and Chevy Camaro sport coupes, added cylinder-deactivation last year and impressed WardsAuto experts with how often it would remain in fuel-saving 4-cyl. mode. But the big story is how its 335 hp put a real kick in our pants with tremendous responsiveness, gobs of torque and epic V-6 growl.

At roughly 1,000 lbs. (454 kg) heavier than the ATS, the Nissan Pathfinder will not be taking down the twisties anytime soon. But its 284-hp 3.5L VQ V-6 with newly added GDI moves the truck ably enough around town or up the occasional trailhead. A continuously variable transmission boosted fuel economy to upwards of 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) during testing.

Like the Pathfinder’s sturdy six, the 3.5L single-overhead-cam V-6 inside the Honda Ridgeline switched to GDI fuel delivery this year from port injection. The 280-hp i-VTEC engine seems a perfect fit for the Ridgeline’s lifestyle buyers, while a peak 22 mpg during testing should make it easy on owners’ wallets.

The V-6 also is inherently smooth, too, evidenced by the 3.3L GDI V-6 inside the Kia Cadenza. It idles as quietly as a bassett hound, but its 293 hp springs to life like a bull terrier. It’s the most powerful engine Kia has in the U.S. and should satisfy a segment looking for V-8-like characteristics in their large sedan.

The 3.5L V-6 turning the wheels of the Nissan Maxima midsize sedan, like its stablemate in the Pathfinder, comes from the VQ line, which has earned a record 16 Wards 10 Best Engines awards. Although it sticks with old-school port injection, the returning winner was new last year with technologies targeting greater refinement, power and torque. A superb combination of silkiness and motivational grunt, WardsAuto judges simply call it The Velvet Fist.

Whether small or large, today’s high-feature V-6s are up to the task and perform it more satisfyingly and economically than ever.

jamend@wardsauto.com

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