The experts at WardsAuto have been honoring the nation’s top engines – and electric propulsion systems – since 1995. And in that time, they’ve certainly seen their share of new technologies being introduced. What makes the 2017 list of Wards 10 Best Engines so newsworthy is what’s missing: For the first time ever, no V8 engines are included.
Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any high-performance winners. There are. It’s just that, like an increasing number of engines across the industry, they rely on turbocharging. This technology forces more air into an engine, which allows more fuel to be burned, and that increases power and boosts efficiency. Unsurprisingly, seven of this year’s Wards honorees are turbocharged. The other three then feature hybrid technology for an even sharper focus on fuel economy.
The 2017 Wards awards were based on extensive real-world testing of 40 vehicles with “new or significantly improved powertrains” and starting prices below $62,000. The previous year’s winners also were invited back to the competition.
The 10 Best Engines this year were in the following vehicles:
1. 2017 BMW M240i
BMW sets itself apart by relying on an “inline” configuration for its award-winning six-cylinder engine, which also earned a place on last year’s 10 Best Engines list (in the BMW 340i sport sedan). In both that car and the 2017 BMW M240i sport coupe, this engine features a twin-scroll turbocharger and variable-valve control technology. BMW retuned the engine for the M240i, however, with output jumping to 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque as compared to its 2016 counterpart, the M235i. EPA ratings rise to 21/32 mpg city/highway (up from 20/30 mpg city/highway for the 2016 M235i).
2. 2017 Chevrolet Volt
One of this year’s repeat winners, the 2017 Chevrolet Volt combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with an electric-drive system. In EV mode, the car can provide 53 miles of all-electric driving, and that’s with better efficiency than a standard Tesla Model S. The Volt’s gas engine also is highly economical on its own, too. When that unit kicks in to extend the Volt’s driving range by another 367 miles, it does so with an EPA rating of 42 mpg for combined travel.
3. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Wards recognizes an important market breakthrough with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Backed by plug-in power for a 33-mile driving range on electricity alone, Chrysler’s new minivan is a dual-motor hybrid that’s actually the first hybrid of any kind in the segment. Notably, the vehicle’s range also comes at a “miles per gallon equivalent” of 84 MPGe, and if the battery becomes depleted, the Pacifica’s 3.6-liter V6 engine enables more than 500 additional miles of driving, at 32 mpg combined.
4. 2017 Ford Focus RS
Another great example of a small modern-day engine making large amounts of power can be found in the 2017 Ford Focus RS. The highest-performing Focus offers a four-cylinder engine that was originally introduced for the Ford Mustang, but it’s been significantly revised for its new application. Displacement is still just 2.3 liters – not much more than a big bottle of pop – yet the engine can deliver 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Helping matters here is Ford’s EcoBoost technology, which incorporates both turbocharging and direct injection.
5. 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid
The short story here from Wards’ editors: “Among hybrids, this may be the best balance yet of performance and fuel economy.” For the former, the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid gets a combined 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and two-motor hybrid system. In terms of fuel efficiency, EPA ratings for Honda’s midsize sedan are 49/47 mpg city/highway. That compares favorably to the standard 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s 42/38 mpg city/highway.
6. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco represents a new trim for the popular compact sedan, highlighted by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with three key benefits: turbocharging, direct injection and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. With those technologies working together, the Eco model leads the Elantra lineup for fuel economy with EPA grades of 32/40 mpg city/highway. At the same time, though, the engine delivers a relatively peppy 128 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque.
7. 2017 Infiniti Q50
The 2017 Infiniti Q50 seems to be a particular favorite for Wards editors, who previously recognized the sport sedan for having one of the best user experiences in the industry. The Q50’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 has a lot to do with the car’s appeal, too. It provides 400 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque, and EPA ratings of 20/29 mpg city/highway. Infiniti also went beyond turbocharging to ensure optimum performance in the Q50’s engine. For instance, an integrated exhaust manifold increases responsiveness as it cuts cold-start emissions.
8. 2016 Mazda CX-9
A Dynamic Pressure Turbo is the difference-maker for the 2016 Mazda CX-9. According to the brand, this is the first turbocharger that can adjust operation based on the speed of the engine, so that it’s ready to provide power more quickly at lower rpm. The CX-9’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine ends up with more than enough output for Mazda’s three-row SUV – 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque with regular gas – along with EPA ratings of 22/28 mpg city/highway. (The CX-9 is rated for 250 horsepower with premium gasoline.)
9. 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 stood out from a crowded field of small four-cylinder turbos this year, thanks in part to its readily available torque: All 273 pound-feet are ready for work at a low 1,300 rpm. An upgraded version of the standard engine for the Mercedes-Benz CLA, the C300’s 2.0-liter turbocharged unit, backed by revised valve timing, also makes 241 horsepower and touts EPA ratings of 24/34 mpg city/highway.
10. 2017 Volvo V60 Polestar
After winning a 10 Best Engines trophy with this engine last year, in the Volvo XC90, the automaker has re-engineered that SUV’s engine for use in the performance-oriented Volvo V60 Polestar, with impressive results. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit is both turbocharged and supercharged, and it produces 362 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque. Unsurprisingly, the V60 Polestar is the fastest Volvo wagon ever, with the brand claiming a 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds. It also gets EPA ratings of 20/27 mpg city/highway.