Auto industry analyst WardsAuto had an awards ceremony late last week to hand out their 2020 10 Best Engines and Propulsion Systems trophies. The long-running award, formerly known as Wards 10 Best Engines, has recently modified its title to reflect that some of the best in the business are no longer engines at all.
Despite the rise of electrification, though, the classic V8 still found a spot in the top 10. This year has one of the most diverse powertrain lineups the awards has seen in 26 years. Editors with Wards Auto evaluated all 26 eligible new or significantly improved engines and electric propulsion systems (as well as last year's winners) to determine the winners. This year, eligible powertrains needed to come in vehicles with a base price of under U.S. $65,000, though that qualifier will be gone for 2021.
BMW B58 3.0L Turbocharged I6 (BMW M340i)
The B58 inline-six launched in 2016, making the Wards list that year. Since then it's continued to be improved and continued to make the list. Now, versions of that engine are found in most of BMW's lineup. The winning version is found in BMW's 40i cars and crossovers like the M340i, X3 M40i, and X4 M40i. In those vehicles, it makes 382 hp. The Wards editors said "topping 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) under heavy throttle. Priceless."
Daimler 3.0L Turbocharged I6 48V (Mercedes-Benz GLE 450)
The GLE 450's 48V-boosted inline-six (badged EQ Boost) uses an electric starter/generator to add 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the inline-six's 362 hp and 369 lb-ft. It allows the driveline to use that electric torque to help eliminate turbo lag and it also allows the engine to shut off more often to save fuel. The 48V electrical system has benefits that go beyond the drive system like allowing a more advanced anti-roll system and improved adaptive damping.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 3.6L 48V eTorque V6 (Ram 1500)
The eTorque V6, like the Daimler engine, uses a 48V motor/generator. It's attached to the crankshaft here by way of a belt and can add 12 hp and 39 lb-ft of torque. That system allows more use of start-stop, including giving the driver air conditioning while the engine is stopped. The engine itself is modified to be capable of running on the Atkinson cycle, a modified combustion cycle that adds fuel efficiency.
Ford 2.3L High Performance Turbo I4 (Ford Mustang)
The Mustang's 2.3L four produces 332 hp with the High Performance option box ticked, more power than the 4.6L V8 produced just a decade ago. It doesn't hurt that it delivers that power with much better fuel economy in normal driving. Linked with a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic, this engine gives the Mustang base model performance that puts almost any older V8 Mustang to shame.
General Motors 3.0L Turbodiesel I6 (GMC Sierra)
GM's latest 3.0L Duramax inline-six is one of three inline-sixes on the list, but the only diesel engine. The engine, new for the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado but soon to be in the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, offers 277 hp and a whopping 460 lb-ft of torque. It also gives the pickup class-leading highway fuel economy.
GM 6.2L V8 (Chevrolet Corvette)
The new Corvette puts the engine in the rear, and it's a cracker. A 495 hp powerhouse that is the only V8 engine on the list this year. The big small block delivers power, torque, and performance that makes it quicker than many supercars. For a fraction of the price.
Honda 2.0L Atkinson I4 Hybrid (Honda Accord Hybrid)
The Accord hybrid uses one engine, two motors, and zero transmissions to put a total of 212 hp to the road. The gas engine is normally used to spin one of the motors, acting as a generator, with the other motor turning the tires. At certain highway speeds, the engine is linked directly to the wheels at a fixed ratio, so the new Accord can run in EV mode, hybrid mode, or gas-only mode. It's a smooth and efficient powertrain, though you might occasionally notice engine RPM climbing without your speed changing as the system does its thing.
Hyundai 150 kW Propulsion System (Hyundai Kona Electric)
The only all-electric powertrain on the list this year, the Kona Electric's electric motor delivers 201 hp to the front wheels and a 64 kWh battery pack allows for an estimated range of 415 km. Wards editors said, "thank you, Hyundai, for fun-to-drive, inexpensive BEV."
Hyundai 1.6L Turbocharged I4 (Hyundai Sonata)
The new Sonata is definitely eye-catching thanks to its bold styling, but the engine is worthy of attention as well. The 1.6L turbo uses a new Continuously Variable Valve Duration system that can alter how long the valves stay open. That lets Hyundai change how much air gets in, effectively giving it a longer stroke but without the extra friction that would come with. It makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft, and Hyundai says it's five percent more efficient than the engine it replaces.
Nissan 2.0L VC-Turbo I4 (Nissan Altima)
Nissan's 2.0L turbo four uses a trick crankshaft mechanism to change the compression ratio inside the engine. Raise it for more efficiency under low-throttle conditions, lower it to allow the turbo to pack in more boost when full throttle is commanded. Despite all that's happening inside, it's transparent to the user. All you'll care about is the 248 hp and the less-frequent stops for fuel.