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Sunday 26th March

Top Gear’s Top 9: silly engines in sensible cars

How do you make a practical family car completely idiotic? With a ridiculous engine, of course!

Top Gear’s Top 9: stupid engines in sensible cars
  1. Ford Excursion 6.8 V10

    Ford Excursion 6.8 V10

    The Ford Excursion is classed in its American homeland as a ‘full-sized SUV’ and everywhere else as ‘a small planet’. Being big enough to seat most of New Hampshire, the mid-2000s spec giant was supplied with a variety of V8s through its short life, to help it move faster than wind erosion. 

    You’d imagine that the stupidest engine on the menu was the 7.3-litre turbodiesel V8 that Ford borrowed from its family of bus and truck engines. But no. The dubious honour of maddest engine in the brochure goes to the optional 6.8-litre V10, which developed a mighty 310bhp. So, less power than a VW Golf R, from an engine over three times the size. Magnificence. 

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  2. Dodge Ram SRT-10

    Dodge Ram SRT-10

    But Ford is not the only carmaker to have seen a V10 lying about near a large truck and thought ‘hmm, those two should get together'. From 2004 to 2006, Dodge would sell you a Ram pick-up with the 8.3-litre V10 from a Viper poked under the bonnet.

    Good for 510bhp and 0-60mph in 4.9sec (in the single cab configuration), the Ram SRT-10 will go down in history as one of the most American objects to have ever existed. 

  3. VW Touareg W12 Sport

    VW Touareg W12 Sport

    Thought this was just going to be a list of times the Americans overcooked their lunch for us to laugh at? Wrong! The Europeans are by no means above slotting preposterous engines into normcore cars. You’ve heard of the Touareg 5.0-litre V10 TDI: a love letter to gearbox-destroying torque that Volkswagen would probably rather you forgot all about.

    But did you know there was also an even loonier Toe-rag, equipped with the 6.0-litre W12 bi-turbo powerplant usually reserved for Bentley? The king of Touaregs developed 450bhp, which wasn’t enough, because it weighed 2,542kg, Only 500 were made before VW got on with more sensible projects. 

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  4. VW Passat 4.0 W8

    VW Passat 4.0 W8

    In fact the early 2000s were a bit of a mad five minutes for Volkswagen, which also decided to take the utterly tedious and nondescript Passat, and give it a new type of eight-cylinder engine. Instead of a conventional V8, it built a W8 – effectively four banks of two cylinders arranged in a more compact block. Good for a measly 271bhp, sales were slower than the near seven-second 0-62mph time, and VW killed it off after only a handful of years on sale. 

    However, it retained the idea of a ‘W’ engine, doubled the cylinder count, added a few more turbos, and something called the Bugatti Veyron was the result...

  5. Toyota Previa SC

    Toyota Previa SC

    Heard the one about the supercharged, mid-engined, rear-wheel drive minivan? That’s what Toyota could sell you in the 1990s. The engineers lay a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine flat, and shoved it under the front seats.

    Good news: a short bonnet and perfect weight distribution.

    Bad news: no room for a bigger engine when buyers wanted more than 133bhp.

    Solution? Toyota supercharged the mid-engined minivan, boosting it to 154bhp. Sales remained paltry, and when this generation of Previa died, the concept of a mid-engined MPV went with it.

  6. Mercedes R63 AMG

    Mercedes R63 AMG

    In these days of downsized engines and hybrid boost, where even a new C63 only has a 2.0-litre four-pot engine, the very idea of Mercedes once offering a 6.2-litre V8 seems absurd.

    What’s downright crackers is the sheer variety of cars that legendary engine lived in. Saloons, estates, SUVs, cabriolets… and a six-seater MPV-SUV weirdo called the R-Class. Only 12 R63s were sold in the UK, because apparently demand for a 503bhp six-seater muscle car wasn’t as strong as AMG expected. 

  7. Audi Q7 V12 TDI

    Audi Q7 V12 TDI

    Not to be outdone, Audi decided a global financial meltdown was the ideal time to launch its own sensible family car with an outrageous engine. Here, it outfitted the ugly Q7 with a 6.0-litre V12 turbodiesel, distantly related to the powerplant that was taking Audi to multiple Le Mans 24 hours wins at that time.

    And yet, Audi never leveraged its endurance success to shift supercars. Instead, we got a 737lb ft, 2.7-tonne ode to all that’s right – and wrong – with German engineers. 

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  8. Chevy Suburban 2500 8.1 V8

    Chevy Suburban 2500 8.1 V8

    Back to the Americans then. And to the ninth-generation Chevrolet Suburban SUV, which was sold with a variety of V8s bigger than 5.0-litres in capacity, or a couple larger than 6.0 litres. But for the larger 2500 series models, there was the tantalising option of an 8.1-litre V8, which only churned out 325bhp.

    So, it was less powerful than the 6.1-litre V8, but much torque-ier, and that’s handy if you’ve got stuff to tow. Like speedboats. Or Mount Rushmore.

  9. Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

    Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

    Take a three-row family SUV, plumb in the engine from a Dodge Hellcat. Recipes come no more silly in 2022. This 6.2-litre, 710bhp supercharged anachronism weighs over 2.4 tonnes, but can achieve 0-60mph in 3.6 seconds.

    It’s proof that America will carry on the noble art of silly engines in sensible cars long after Europe and Japan appear to have left it behind.

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