What is in this article?:
- 20 Years of Favorite Engines
- Hybrids Make Cut
The Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition is in its 20th year. We mark the occasion by recalling those that are hard to forget.
Ward’s 10 Best Engines has been recognizing powertrain excellence for 20 years.
Hybrids Make Cut
One would have thought the sky was falling when WardsAuto editors picked the first-generationPrius powertrain in 2001. Until then, every engine on the list was powered solely by gasoline, except for one, the Passat TDI (1997 winner).
Expanding the competition to incorporate vehicles with electrified drivetrains bordered on heresy among critics.
But the editorial staff stood its ground and decided every powertrain would get an equal shake. If it turns the wheels, we’ll cop a feel.
The rules were the same when the Chevrolet Volt made our list in 2011, impressing us with 35 miles (56 km) of all-electric range before a 1.4L gasoline engine kicked in to generate enough juice to drive another 330 miles (531 km).
The Volt promised to make range anxiety a thing of the past.
Porsche’s 250-hp 3.2L flat-6 in the first-generation Boxster S earned a trophy in 2000, and Associate Editor Byron Pope will never forget that magnificent engine.
He was working for Autoweek at the time and managed to squirrel away the magazine’s long-term Boxster S for long weekends and holidays.
“It was just a great engine in a great car with an ideal power-to-weight ratio,” Pope recalls. “I loved driving it.”
The two remaining engines earning recognition among our 10 faves from the past 20 years extend to the earliest days of our competition.
In fact, it has been said on more than one occasion that’s 2.2L VTEC 4-cyl. in the Prelude and ’s 3.0L VQ V-6 in the Maxima motivated former editor Bill Visnic to suggest a competition dedicated to engines.
Editor David Zoia recalls’s 4-cyl. making the list in 1995 and 1996 with nary a word of dissent.
“It was hands-down the industry’s best 4-cyl. engine,” he says. “It was high-revving, responsive off the line and super smooth. And it was inexpensive, in a mainstream car.”
Another engine that felt as if it ran friction-free was’s masterful VQ, which holds the record with 14 consecutive Ward’s 10 Best Engines wins, from 1995 to 2008.
The Maxima was and remains a spacious 4-door, and the VQ helped establish the segment for front-wheel-drive sport sedans.
The 3.0L VQ expanded displacement to 3.5L and then 3.7L, and much of the original all-aluminum, DOHC, power-dense DNA lives on in VQ engines throughout the Nissan and Infiniti portfolios.
It is highly doubtful another engine will ever rack up 14 consecutive wins. Change comes much more quickly now in the powertrain world, and newer engines often have an advantage. For 20 years, the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list has served as a resource for tech-savvy consumers shopping for the best value and performance.
That includes WardsAuto editors, who have purchased Audis, Chevrolets, Chryslers, Fords, Mercedes, Minis and Nissans with engines that have been on the list.