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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ward's Automotive Names 10 Best Engines of 2009

Auto-industry awards come in all shapes, sizes, and points-of-view. And while we here at C/D annually identify our 10Best cars, trade magazine Ward’s AutoWorld of Southfield, Michigan, takes it upon itself each year to recognize what it believes to be the 10 best engines offered for sale in the U.S. market. Now in its fifteenth year, the awards are unique in that they not only highlight the impact a great powertrain can have on a vehicle, but also how said powertrain effects an automaker’s bottom line, as well as benefits vehicle buyers.

To qualify for the list, the rules were simple: Engines must be available in new U.S.-spec vehicles on sale sometime in first-quarter 2009 with base prices less than $54,000. Ward’s says this price cap ensures a field of high-volume players, which due to budget constraints and a wider array of applications, usually are more difficult for a company to engineer well—you expect to get a stellar powerplant when you throw down your hard-earned coin for a Nissan GT-R or a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. The 10 winners from the previous year also are invited back to defend their titles.

The Winners

Out of a field of 32 nominees, which Ward’s editors evaluated last fall under everyday-driving conditions, the following 10 engines—and their respective vehicles—scored the highest:


Audi 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder (A4)


BMW 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel (335d)


BMW 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder (135i)


Chrysler 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (Dodge Challenger R/T and Dodge Ram)


Ford 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid (Escape Hybrid)


General Motors 3.6-liter DI V-6 (Cadillac CTS)


Honda 3.5-liter V-6 (Accord Coupe)


Hyundai 4.6-liter V-8 (Genesis sedan)


Toyota 3.5-liter V-6 (Lexus IS350)


Volkswagen 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel (Jetta TDI)


Enter the Tau

While neither Toyota’s Lexus-spec 3.5-liter V-6, with its dual direct- and port-injection fuel systems, or VW’s frugal 2.0-liter TDI turbo-diesel surprise us by making the cut, the most notable entry this year is that of Hyundai’s first-ever V-8. Referred to as the Tau and marking the Korean automaker’s first time on the Ward’s list, the all-aluminum 4.6-liter engine is a technical milestone for a company best known for affordable economy cars, yet Hyundai recently was awarded the 2009 North American Car of the Year award with its V-8-powered Genesis luxury sedan.

The 375-hp Tau engine is smooth, efficient, and powerful, but breaks little ground in terms of innovation (variable-valve timing and intake systems are pretty widespread these days). Where the engine really makes its mark is in the fuel efficiency and power. It out muscles and sips less fuel than similar Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes, and BMW V-8s, yet the Genesis is priced thousands less than the established Japanese and German luxury rides the automaker is gunning for.

Indulgence Tempered By Practicality

Although the Ward’s winners represent a solid cross section of modern gasoline, clean-diesel, and hybrid-electric engines, the focus clearly is on mass-market appeal rather than pavement-scorching performance. Priced—just barely—out of contention, we feel the BMW M3’s wailing 4.0-liter V-8, Mercedes-AMG’s thundering 6.2-liter V-8, and the 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 in the Cadillac CTS-V all are worthy of recognition.

However, Chrysler’s revised Hemi V-8 does a good job of getting the juices flowing when fitted in a Dodge Challenger with the six-speed manual transmission, as well as proving its versatility by being equally effective in the new Dodge Ram pickup. We also have no qualms with BMW’s pair of twin-turbocharged inline-sixes being on the list, as we’ve never regretted mashing the throttle and enjoying the potent lag-free thrust of the 300-hp 135i coupe. The 335d’s advanced turbo-diesel has garnered similar praise for how its compound turbos summon uncanny smoothness for a diesel, while also being efficient, stump-pulling powerful, and emissions-compliant in all 50 states.

The mechanical motivators behind C/D’s 10Best-winning Cadillac CTS and Honda Accord deserve cheers as well for the refinement and spirited character that each brings to its brand’s headlining vehicle. But we question the placement of the Ford Escape Hybrid, which for all its gee-whiz electronics and impressive city fuel economy, is saddled with a somewhat rattly, lackluster four-cylinder that is anything but polished. Audi’s new 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder rounds out the 2009 list as one of the best examples of a small, boosted four-cylinder that packs the punch and drivability of a larger, normally-aspirated V-6.

January 2009