Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

It’s hard for us to believe 2008 marks the third 10 Best Engines appearance for Mazda Motor Corp.’s sparkling DISI 2.3L 4-cyl.

When the engine launched in 2005 for the ’06 Mazdaspeed6, it was a radical piece of work – something we’ve come to expect from Mazda’s powertrain unit.

We think this engine is the poster child for how affordable horsepower has become. Three years ago, there wasn’t really anything even close to generating 114 hp per liter at the Mazdaspeed3’s price point of $22,935.

Yes, there are models from Japanese auto makers with hyper-tuned turbocharged 4-cyls. that make more power and torque, but the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution cost 10 grand more.

Now, however, there is some new competition. Chevrolet’s new 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. in the HHR SS is making 260 hp (130 hp/L), and Chrysler’s Dodge Caliber SRT4 slams out 285 hp (119 hp/L) from its turbocharged 2.4L 4-cyl. Both, at $22,995, are within the cost of some floor mats from the price of the Mazdaspeed3.

Best Engines testers still consider Mazda’s DISI 4-cyl. the best of the breed, however. Like the GM 4-cyl., it has gasoline direct injection (GDI to us, Direct Injection Spark Ignition, or DISI, to Mazda), which is a supreme advantage for small-displacement turbocharged engines.

GDI is a low-rpm torque enhancer, the perfect companion for turbochargers, which need a few seconds at low rpm to really start generating their power-hiking huff.

And with twin balance shafts and beefed-up internals, this power-dense version of the Mazda-developed global MZR 4-cyl. architecture (also used by one-third owner Ford Motor Co.) is more refined than either of its direct competitors.

We were disturbed to see the Mazdaspeed6, the company’s other performance model to use this engine, dropped for ’08.

But if the front-drive Mazdaspeed3 is too much edgy overload (specially developed engine-management software does a so-so job of quelling torque steer), this engine does stellar duty in the CX-7 crossover, which uses all-wheel-drive to take torque steer to the woodshed.

Mazda’s DISI 2.3L turbocharged DOHC I-4 is a whole lotta power, a whole lotta technology and a whole lotta fun at a fantastic price – a formula for success that makes Mazda one of the best little powertrain developers in the world.

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.