Turbocharged, supercharged, diesel and electric powerplants dominate the list of ‘best new-car engines’ for 2014.
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that a car’s engine is its signature component. Even with the sleekest styling and poshest accommodations, a sports car that packs a merely meek engine is as much a poseur as is an economy car that gets SUV-like gas mileage.
Each year the experts at the industry publication WardsAuto in Detroit, Mich., select what it considers the 10 best new-car engines. According to the editors these recognize, “outstanding powertrain achievement, world-class technologies and those rare engines or electric propulsion systems that are so compelling they help sell the vehicle.”
For 2014 the list is dominated by non-traditional powerplants, including turbocharged, supercharged and diesel-powered engines and even one electric motor. No matter what the inherent method of momentum, all of these engines leverage the latest technology to maximize both their power and fuel economy, and run the gamut from the tiny and ultra-efficient 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder unit offered in the subcompact Ford Fiesta to the mammoth 6.2-liter “small block” V8 in the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray sports coupe that proves there’s no substitute for sheer displacement.
While at least four engines tend to repeat from one year’s 10 best list to the next, for 2014 only two of 2013’s powerplants remain recognized, the Honda Accord’s peppy and fuel-efficient 3.5-liter V6 and the powerful supercharged 3.0-liter V6 featured in the Audi S5. The former beats many smaller engines in terms of fuel economy with an EPA rated 34 mpg in highway driving, while the latter was cited for its “brute strength, luscious torque and supreme refinement.”
“We weren’t looking to throw the bums out, as they might say about an election. We were just really impressed with a flood of new powertrains,” says Drew Winter, WardsAuto editor-in-chief. “What was great yesterday might be less impressive tomorrow because engine technology is changing so rapidly.”
As an example, a Fiat engine not only places among WardsAuto’s top 10 for the first time, it’s for an electric motor, the 83-kW unit found under the hood of the diminutive 500e. Unfortunately the car is only sold in California, at least for the time being; market forces might force the automaker to send it into wider distribution if gas prices spike back upward in the coming year.
Other engines cited among 2014’s best include turbodiesels in the BMW 5 Series luxury sedan and the compact Chevrolet Cruze. The BMW version generates a strong 413 pound-feet of torque that delivers V8-like thrust, while the Cruze’s turbodiesel is rated at 45 mpg on the highway. Meanwhile, the Ram 1500 was called out as being the only light-duty full-size domestic pickup to offer a diesel engine; it comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and delivers fuel economy that handily beats the competition.
Also making this year’s list is the horizontally opposed 2.7-liter six-cylinder in the Porsche Cayman two-seat sports coupe (the cylinders are aligned horizontally rather than in an inline or “V” shaped formation; this is said to lower a car’s center of gravity and boost its handling in the process), and the lively 1.8-liter turbo-four in the compact Volkswagen Jetta sedan.
A panel of eight WardsAuto editors evaluated 44 engines among all vehicle types during October and November in the course of their daily commutes and weekend activities in and around the Detroit metro area. Engines were rated according to a wide range of characteristics including horsepower and torque, fuel economy, noise, vibration and harshness characteristics, technology and how they fared against competing powerplants.
© CTW Features
Best New-Car Engines for 2014
• 3.0-liter Supercharged V6; Audi S5
• 3.2-liter Turbodiesel I6; BMW 5 Series
• 3.0-liter Turbodiesel V6; Ram 1500
• 83-kW Electric Motor; Fiat 500e
• 1.0-liter Turbocharged I3; Ford Fiesta
• 2.0-liter Turbodiesel I4; Chevrolet Cruze
• 6.2-liter V8; Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
• 3.5-liter V6; Honda Accord
• 2.7-liter H6; Porsche Cayman
• 1.8-liter Turbocharged I4; Volkswagen Jetta
Source: WardsAuto, Detroit, Mich.