2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013Enlarge Photo
You might think that a list of the best engines on sale would be dominated by screaming sports car engines or a muscular V-8 from the latest muscle car.
And while it's true that both feature on the Wards Automotive list of its 2014 Ten Best Engines, as well as several other high-performance units, green engines are starting to make an impact these days too.
So among engines like the new Corvette's 6.2-liter V-8, the Porsche Cayman's 2.7-liter flat six you'll find not one but three clean diesels, one highly downsized turbocharged gasoline unit, and even an electric motor.
Starting with the diesels, Wards commends the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel's 2.0-liter inline four, the new 3.0-liter V-6 unit from the RAM 1500 EcoDiesel, and BMW's powerful 3.0-liter inline six as found in the BMW 535d and the X5 SUV.
BMW's unit in particular was praised for its 413 pounds-feet of torque from just 1,500 rpm, and the fact that economy figures well into the 30s are achievable--officially, the model will reach 38 mpg on the highway. The RAM's diesel also went down well, moving the 6,000 lb truck "with ease" and achieving as much as 24 mpg in testers' hands.
The Cruze was described as a little noisy at lower revs, but was forgiven for "neck-snapping torque" and the possibility of exceeding its official 46 mpg highway rating.
Also economical is Ford's tiny 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder in the Fiesta. The aim is to deliver the economy of a one-liter with the performance of a 1.6.
We've struggled a little with that former claim in the past--small turbocharged engines need a very particular technique to achieve their claimed fuel economy, and it's usually a technique that reinforces a few "slow car" stereotypes about small vehicles.
In EPA testing the Fiesta EcoBoost achieves up to 45 mpg highway, and Wards reports figures of "better than 37 mpg" in mixed suburban driving--showing respectable economy is indeed possible.
Most notable of all though is the inclusion of the electric motor from Fiat's 500E electric car.
Pedants may point out that it's not actually an "engine" as such, but it stands in hallowed company nevertheless. Testers were impressed by the way its 147 lb-ft of torque provided brisk performance, and its consistent out-performing of the official 85-mile EPA-rated range.
And as we found in our own test, it's a whole lot of fun, too.
It's an impressive sign that so many fuel-efficient engines have made their way onto such a list. Engines are no longer evaluated simply for their performance or size, but their all-round capabilities--and the latest diesels, downsized turbocharged units and even electric motors are very capable indeed.