Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

Judges’ Remarks

America, the time has come to downsize.

With oil threatening to shatter the $100-per-barrel threshold and resulting gasoline pump prices locked above $3 per gallon, plus a Washington that’s well on its way to mandating 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) fuel-economy standards, U.S. consumers will have to, at the very least, consider buying smaller cars with smaller engines.

It’s true there’s no substitute for a high-powered V-8 in many cases. A Mustang powered by a V-6 isn’t really a Mustang in our book. A Corvette without a V-8 is unthinkable.

Certainly, it is easy to justify the need for high-torque, big-displacement V-8s in pickups – at least those legitimately used for work purposes.

But with environmental pressures building and the world’s oil supply rapidly diminishing as China and India put more people behind the wheel, the time is now to bury the Me Generation once and for all and do the right thing for the common good.

Speed freaks needn’t worry. If some of the cars tested in this year’s 10 Best Engines competition are any indication, shrinking displacements might not be as painful as you think.

Nearly a third of the nominated engines Ward’s put through the wringer were 4-cyls., with 19 of the remaining 26 V- and straight-6s.

Most offer pretty amazing performance, with engineers squeezing out 90 hp-plus per liter in five of the 11 4-cyls. tested, including the whopping 130 hp/L from the Chevrolet HHR SS 2.0L. Four of the 6-cyl. engines broke the 90 hp/L barrier.

That compares with less than 70 hp/L for Chrysler’s vaunted Hemi V-8 and the Mustang and Corvette engines.

True, these iconic engines are uniquely American and push all the right buttons, but they also are the least efficient powertrain option in a market that desperately needs to change.

Meanwhile, most of the non-V-8s Ward’s tested land solidly in the mid-20 mpg (11.7 L/100 km) range or better in highway fuel economy – a number even the most advanced V-8s struggle to achieve.

No one is saying we need to bury all engines with displacement above 3.0L just yet.

But the time has come – and technology and know-how available – for Americans to buy into conservation, rather than perpetuating the cycle of conspicuous consumption.

For many, smaller engines easily will do the job – and they won’t leave people smacking their foreheads and exclaiming, “I coulda had a V-8.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com

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.