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4-cylinders dominate Ward's 10 Best Engines

For the second year in a row, small fuel-efficient engines make up half of the list.

By Douglas Newcomb Dec 18, 2012 7:04AM

Subaru Boxer engine. Photo by Subaru.For evidence that the internal combustion engine is still alive and well despite the hype about hybrids and electric vehicles -- and that small, fuel-efficient gas engines are on the rise -- look no further than the 2013 Ward's 10 Best Engines awards.

While several powerful V6 and a very powerful V8 made the list, half of the field is composed of 4-cylinder engines for the second year in a row. “The transformation within the powertrain community has been rapid as engineering teams now slather attention on downsized engines,” Wards noted. As recently as 2005, not one 4-cylinder engine had made the list.

Even though the WardsAuto editorial staff evaluated 11 electric vehicles or hybrids in a field of 40 powertrains, not a single one made the Top 10 this year. “When hybrids and EVs have been on the list previously, it was because they were revolutionary and compelling,” WardsAuto World Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter said. “If next-generation EVs and hybrids raise the bar beyond the current Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, then we’ll be happy to recognize them.”

This year’s winners include:

  • 3.0-liter TFSI supercharged DOHC V-6 (Audi S5)
  • 2.0-liter N20 turbocharged DOHC I-4 (BMW 328i)
  • 3.0-liter N55 turbocharged DOHC I-6 (BMW 135is coupe)
  • 3.6-liter Pentastar DOHC V-6 (Ram 1500)
  • 2.0-liter EcoBoost DOHC I-4 (Ford Focus ST/Taurus)
  • 5.8-liter supercharged DOHC V-8 (Ford Shelby GT500)
  • 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Cadillac ATS)
  • 2.4-liter DOHC I-4 (Honda Accord Sport)
  • 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 (Honda Accord)
  • 2.0-liter FA DOHC H-4 Boxer (Subaru BRZ)

Making the cut for the fourth year in a row is Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged 333-horsepower direct-injection V6 that’s used in vehicles ranging from the Audi S4 to A8 and also in Porsche and Volkswagen models.

BMW secured double repeat wins for the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder in the 328i sedan and the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder in the 135is coupe.

Another 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder that made the list is the 136-horsepower engine from General Motors used in the all-new, rear-wheel-drive Cadillac ATS. It replaces a similar 2.0-liter Ecotec turbo that made the winner’s circle last year in the front-wheel-drive Buick Regal GS.

Ford earned two spots on this year’s list, one of three auto makers to do so, and achieved two repeat wins. One is for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder that powers many of Ford’s passenger cars and utility vehicles. The other is the 5.8-liter supercharged V8 in the Shelby Mustang, which at 662 horsepower is the most powerful production V8.

Honda also earned two wins: one for the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and another for the 3.5-liter port-injection V6, both of which are available in the all-new Accord. The 6-cylinder is Honda’s first direct-injection engine in North America.

Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar is another port-injection V-6 that made the list, and has won Ward’s 10 Best Engines award for the third straight year.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine used in the Subaru BRZ coupe also made the cut. Although the BRZ and its twin, the Scion FR-S, were co-developed, Ward's notes that Subaru gets credit for the engine, while Toyota provided the fueling system that integrates both port and direct injection for each combustion chamber.

In addition to the absence of hybrids and EVs, no diesel engines made this year’s list because the only eligible vehicle, the Audi Q7 TDI with a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel, was unavailable for evaluation. Next year’s competition will feature several new diesels from automakers such as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Mazda, Ward's noted.

Ward's 10 Best Engines competition, now in its 19th year, pits the newest engines available in the U.S. auto market against the winners from the previous year. An engine must be available in a production vehicle on sale within the first quarter of 2013 and with a base price of less than $55,000 in order to be eligible.

A panel of 10 Ward's editors select the winners by evaluating 40 new or significantly upgraded engines while on their routine daily commutes around metro Detroit between October and early December. Editors scored each engine based on power, technology, observed fuel economy, relative competitiveness, and noise, vibration and harshness characteristics, with no instrument testing. Winners from the 2012 competition automatically were eligible to be evaluated against the new or improved engines for 2013.

[Source WardsAuto]


Jan 1, 2013 1:51PM
what we don't know is the long term dependability and longevity of these power plants.
Jan 20, 2013 1:15AM
Where's the ole "slant 6" & and 283 cu"  
Dec 18, 2012 9:55AM
“If next-generation EVs and hybrids raise the bar beyond the current , and , then we’ll be happy to recognize them.”

Once the journalist hype dies down, the truth comes out. Makes one wonder: why hype suboptimal solutions in the first place? Why not concentrate on that which is truly revolutionary, like clean diesel engines?
Jan 20, 2013 5:51AM
I must be getting older than I small block Chevy?
Jan 1, 2013 3:08PM
The only engines on the list,that are sold in large numbers,are the Honda 4 cylinder,and the Chrysler V6. They will probably have the best long term reliability also.No super or turbochargers to cause problems.
Jan 20, 2013 4:49AM
look at the stats of a 5.3 chevy pickup engine...virtually no callbacks and all LSX engines are identical. who would pick an editor to judge which engine is the best knowing the money is the influence for these writers. There are no new engines better than GM's LSX.
Dec 22, 2012 6:15AM
How come the pictured engine isn't on the list? Clearly an H-6 Subaru engine. Or a Porsche boxer 6 maybe?  Who picks these images?
Jan 1, 2013 3:27PM

Well written by a bunch of blithering idiot "bench racers".


Most of the "engines" on this list are barely qualified for duty as expensive door stops.


Their service records demonstrate a high level of expense, short service life, and poor reliability.


Toyota makes a lot of noise about their "direct injection" but GM has had it in production since 2008.


GM also has the "Most power dense" engine the S.A.E. has ever tested for production cars....The 2.0L LNF four cylinder engine.

You clowns should do your own research, instead of reading the propoganda of European and Japanese car manufacturers.

Jan 20, 2013 10:15AM
Our FORD Fusions and Focuses don't need no stinking timing belts, and BTW my 2000 Ford Focus Spit Port 2.0 liter 5 speed had 300K and the original clutch when I sold it. that engine did have a  timing belt, I could change it in my driveway in 40 minutes, try doing that on your Honda. I know, I was a Honda tech back in the '90's.  My sister put 3 tranny's in her Honda Odyssey, GARBAGE! The only thing I buy that's Honda is on two wheels, they got that right a long time ago!
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