BMW’s classiest tuners work their thoughtful magic on the ultimate diesel X3
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What's the best car engine currently on sale today?
F12's V12? Audi's V10? The little triple from the BMW i8? Have your say here
It’s a simple question that provokes plenty of debate: what’s the best engine on sale today? The beating heart of a vehicle, at least as important as the way a car looks or handles, the motivation can make or break the entire experience. Obviously performance engines have a more visceral connection - they’re designed to be emotional - but there’s plenty of innovative and technologically-advanced motors out there that measure their success by being entirely butlerish, just doing what they’re supposed to do for hundreds of thousands of miles. You could argue that the ‘best’ engine is one that does what it is designed to do most effectively. An engine that isn’t reliable loses points, and one that does 250k miles without an oil change must be pretty robust, but likely as dull as fat-free cake.
The question, therefore, is a bit of a conversational hand grenade. The Dodge Demon’s 6.2-litre Hemi-headed V8 gets a big-boost, twin-screw IHI supercharger to deliver 840bhp and 770lb ft of torque (on 100-octane petrol), sounds like a thunderstorm trapped in a tin shed and is capable of pulling the Challenger’s front wheels off the ground at launch, but is it clever? Does it need to be? A Ferrari 488’s 3.9-litre bitiurbo V8 produces 661bhp (170bhp-per-litre) and is the current International Engine of the Year Performance car engine, but is it an engine that ticks all the boxes?
A Tesla doesn’t have an ‘engine’ at all, but it still manages to produce acceleration figures that make supercar manufacturers wince - and the only noise it really makes is the sound of tortured tyres. Which is confusing and delightful in equal measure. And it gets more complicated: a BMW i8 has a three-cylinder turbo petrol engine allied to its electric motor set up, and thanks to some aural tuning sounds good, too. But it’s also fitted to a Mini, where it isn’t quite so exciting. Similarly the Honda NSX’s 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 is allied to a triplet of electric motors and produces awesome drivability, but it has a habit of sounding like a large dog coughing up a hairball.
But little, clever engines can be magic, too. Ford’s 999cc three-cylinder turbo typically produces 123bhp and 148lb ft of torque, but it fits - quite literally - onto a sheet of A4 paper, and motivates much bigger cars than its displacement suggests it should, with grown up refinement thanks to clever flywheel and crank-pulley counterweighting. Similarly, PSA’s 1.2-litre offering is arguably the best of the small-capacity triples available - Paul Horrell (who knows a thing or two about engines), certainly thinks so. So there’s the satisfaction of engineering nouse, as well as chest-beating performance figures and apocalyptic engine notes.
So the question stands - what does TG.com think is the best engine currently on sale?
Here’s a few that the TG office think should be in with a shout as well as the one’s we’ve talked about…
BMW 1.5-litre 3-cyl diesel: 1 Series/2 Series/3 Series
Ferrari 3.9-litre biturbo V8: 488 GTB/Spider
Ferrari 6.3-litre V12 - F12, F12 TdF, LaFerrari
VW 1.5-litre TSI Evo - VW Golf
Mercedes AMG 4.0-litre Biturbo V8 - GT, GT S, C63, many more…
Aston Martin 5.2-litre V12 biturbo - DB11
Porsche 4.0-litre flat-six - 911 R, 911 GT3, GT3RS
Lamborghini n/a 6.5-litre V12 - Aventador S
Audi/Lamborghini n/a 5.2-litre V10 - R8 V10/ Huracan
BMW 3.0-litre 6-cyl - M550d/X550d
Bugatti 8.0-litre W16 quad-turbo - Chiron
Jack Rix: “The 3cyl in the back of the BMW i8 – when combined with the motors and lightweight carbon body delivers near-supercar performance… and it sounds good too.”
Jason Barlow: “The Twin Spark in the Alfaholics GTA-R. Best sounding four-pot I’ve heard in years.”
Paul Horrell: “The Porsche GT3’s 4.0-litre six: its extraordinary mid-rev kick and sound seem unsurpassable. Until you visit its high revs… but then again, Audi’s 2.5-litre, aluminium block five-cylinder is an amazing, compact, light route to 400bhp and big tunes. Then there’s Jag’s supercharged V6, the BMW 3.0 six-pot diesel, the simple-concept/classy execution of GM’s LT4…”
Tom Ford: “The best engine in the world - that you can actually buy - is the Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C. It’s a 14-cyl, two-stroke turbo and it produces 107,390bhp. Or thereabouts. Oh, and it happens to be 44ft high, weighs 2,300 tonnes, burns heavy oil and goes in the middle of container ships. The pistons are six metres high and weigh five and a half tonnes each, so it might not be an easy conversion for a classic car. If you’re talking about production car engines, for me, there’s something about a V8 that floats my boat. So something like the Corvette Z06’s supercharged LS7, or the Mustang GT350R’s ‘Voodoo’ flat-plane crank 5.2.”
Tom Harrison: “The V8 diesel in the Audi SQ7 is clever. The flat-six in 911 GT3 and V10 in Audi R8 - not clever but excellent. Oh, the AMG 4.0-litre V8 is tremendous. On the other end of the scale, Ford’s 1.0-litre 3cyl…”
Vijay Pattni: “Something about that naturally-aspirated V10 in the R8 keeps coming back to me, though the V12 in the Ferrari F12tdf is bloody special too. As is the 4.0-litre AMG unit, the V12 from the Aventador S, and indeed Ford’s little triple…”
Ollie Kew: “Unlike the Ferrari V8 and Porsche turbo six, AMG’s ‘hot vee’ 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 is a turbo engine worthy of its atmospheric predecessors. A wonderful example of downsizing not equalling character dilution. Audi/Lambo V10 is not only mind-blowing to wring out but also slightly poignant as the last big non turbo screamer standing. (Seconding PH on the Audi 5-cyl argument. Would anyone care about a TTRS or RS3 if it had a four-pot?)
“Special mention for the Mini 1.5-litre 3-cyl turbo. And don’t forget the Porsche 718! Only joking.”