Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

We see Ford Motor Co. has drawn some criticism for its strategy of feeding buyers a steady diet of sometimes minor variations of its popular Mustang ponycar. Some don’t really qualify as a “new” model or even can be designated a trimline.

But criticize? Who cares if Ford’s big Mustang news for the year is a glass-roof option, or it orchestrates releases of a new “Bullitt” or a dozen other versions, as long as there’s a Mustang that moves you?

That’s how we feel about the dazzling 4.6L SOHC V-8 that is the signature – and seminal – Mustang engine.

There’s been a sudden proliferation of variants of the chesty modular V-8. But that’s OK with us. Although the differences in the recipe are comparatively minor, we definitely aren’t going to argue about too many choices for the industry’s most emotive-for-the-money V-8.

Returning for a fourth consecutive 10 Best Engines win, the 4.6L is beginning to construct the kind of legend that will make aficionados finally forget the long-loved 4.9L OHV V-8 of the previous-generation ‘Stang.

If those two illustrate the ages-old argument about whether the overhead-valve or the overhead-cam is better, we’ll take the 4.6L OHC job every time.

We did feel slightly fleeced in ’07 when Ford peeled back the spec on the Shelby GT’s 4.6L from the 325 hp we were led to believe it produced to the 319-hp spec on which Ford finally settled.

We’re not trying to suggest we can discern 6 hp one way or the other. We’re merely saying it doesn’t instill faith in the “system” when such things aren’t nailed down from the beginning.

Further splitting hairs is the latest variant of the 4.6L V-8, this for the ’08 Mustang Bullitt and purportedly making 315 hp and 325 lb.-ft. (441 Nm) of torque.

That means we’ve got the “standard” (and still quite special) Mustang 4.6L at 300 hp, the new Bullitt variant at 315 hp and the Shelby GT making 319 hp. Never mind the subtle differences in torque ratings, too.

All this might be cause for criticism if it wasn’t such good, wholesome fun. This is exactly the same game Detroit used to play with muscle-car buyers back in the day.

But in the 1960s, the propagation was far grander: The ‘68 Mustang, for example, offered five different V-8s and six distinct power ratings. Cool!

So the measly three variants of today’s 4.6L SOHC V-8 are marketing child’s play. We love them all, because you get the same delectable exhaust note, the startlingly effortless revs and enough refinement to make you forget all about the days of those iron-block, overhead-valve V-8s.

Editor Drew Winter says the current 4.6L SOHC V-8 “defines the Mustang. Without it, you don’t have a car.”

Ward’s 10 Best Engines is copyright Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward’s Automotive Group.