They Forgot the V8s: Wards Announces 10 Best Engines for 2017

Volvo V60 Polestar engine


For the past 23 years, WardsAuto has published a list of the 10 best engines available for the upcoming model year. In an industry where reviews are more and more dominated by instrument tests, where cars are differentiated by tenths (if not hundredths) of a second on a drag strip and by tenths (if not hundredths) of a g-force on a skid pad, Ward’s list is based on objective, but also delightfully subjective, data.

Rather than wringing out the year’s best engines on a racetrack or skid pad, Ward’s tests them in everyday situations. The result? A definitive list of the best engines, based on how they’d actually be used by you or me. Every year includes a few expected inclusions, a handful of surprises, and a questionable omission or two. This year proves to be no different, with one exception: For the first time in the award’s 23-year history, not a single V8 made the list.

Unlike a “top 10” list, WardsAuto doesn’t rank its selection in any particular order, announcing them in alphabetical order instead:

  • BMW 3.0-liter turbocharged DOHC I-6
  • Chevrolet 1.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder/Dual motor EREV
  • Chrysler 3.6-liter DOHC V6/Dual motor PHEV
  • Ford 2.3-liter turbocharged DOHC 4-cylinder
  • Honda 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder/Dual motor HEV
  • Hyundai 1.4-liter turbocharged DOHC 4-cylinder
  • Infiniti 3.0-liter turbocharged DOHC V6
  • Mazda 2.5-liter turbocharged DOHC 4-cylinder
  • Mercedes-Benz 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC 4-cylinder
  • Volvo 2.0-liter turbo/supercharged DOHC 4-cylinder

There are definitely a few surprises. First, the 3.0-liter inline-6 that WardsAuto tapped isn’t BMW’s N55 engine found in the M2 (a car we adored on the track this fall). Instead, it’s BMW’s new B58 engine, which powers the M240i. Generating 30 fewer horsepower but 26 more pound-feet of torque, the new engine doesn’t just deliver comparable performance, but it does so with improved fuel economy, too. The question is, why isn’t the M2 running this engine?

On the other hand, the Ford Focus RS‘s 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder fall squarely in the “expected inclusion” category. It bested 3 other contenders from Ford for the Best Engines list, and considering its heart-pounding ability, we’re not shocked to see it on 2017’s list.

It’s not all about excitement, though. The Mercedes C300’s 2.0-liter engine made the list largely because of its everyday usability. The power comes on smoothly and predictably, and it makes routine driving enjoyable, if not hair-raising.

The winners from Chevy and Chrysler just look like the inevitable (if forward-thinking) choices. The Chevy Volt wowed WardsAuto again. While the first iteration revolutionized plug-in hybrid technology, this latest evolution continues at the front of the field. Similarly, Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid ushers in a new segment: fuel-efficient minivans. Its 3.6-liter V6 pairs with two electric motors, and the flexibility of the setup will open options for Fiat-Chrysler (a company in need of some hybrid options).

Hyundai’s 1.4-liter in the Elantra Eco, the Mazda CX-9’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and the Honda Accord Hybrid’s powertrain all continue this efficiency-focused trend. The Hyundai pairs well with the company’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and delivers close to 40 mpg, but its inclusion seems more like a nod to the Eco’s value as a car (starting at less than $21,000 and offering nice features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) than it does a credit solely to the engine. Meanwhile, Mazda’s decision to show the world that a 4-cylinder is more than an adequate replacement for a crossover’s V6 has paid off—particularly because that 4-cylinder also makes 310 lb-ft of torque. As for the Honda? Well, a hybrid that feels like a normal, gas-powered car has always been a goal in the auto world, and the Accord seems to get closest, thanks in part to the Accord Hybrid’s eCVT.

The remaining two engines—the Infiniti Q50 and Q60’s 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 and the 2.0-liter twincharged 4-cylinder in the Volvo V60 Polestar—have an enjoyable dichotomy. On the one hand, the Infiniti is a fun upgrade from Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6, the VQ-family engine that has shown up on Ward’s list 16 times. On the other, Volvo is selling the first mainstream turbocharged and supercharged engine in the United States. Sure, it’s no V8, but at 362 horsepower, it compels us question what the output limits of a 4-cylinder really are and whether we’ll miss the V8s after all.

Of WardsAuto’s 10 Best Engines for 2017, which one would you most like to rev?

-Matt Smith

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