Cars and Calibres

Racing improves the breed

Cars and Calibres

The makers of Ferrari (left) and Porsche know the value of taking as much power out of as little as possible.

The makers of Ferrari (left) and Porsche know the value of taking as much power out of as little as possible.

Stuttgart and June means the International Engine of the Year Awards, and this year marked some things that stayed the same and some things that were very interestingly different.

We will tell you who won, but what is far more important is what these prizes indicate. For one thing, the overall International Engine of the Year has been defended successfully by only three engines in the past.

The BMW M V10 took top prize in 2005/2006, but after that it was the much smaller VW 1.4 Twincharger in 2009/2010 and the Ford 1-liter Ecoboost in 2012/2013/2014. Clearly, engineering focus was put on developing stellar smaller engines.

Well, this year, the top award went once again to a very large sporting engine, although it is an engine that has actually been downsized.

Ferrari’s 3.9-liter twin turbo V8 defended its crown this year, also taking the Performance Engine of the Year Award and in the 3- to 4-liter class. The 4-liter and up class win went to another Ferrari powerplant, the 6.3-liter V12.

The big Ferrari won once, the “small” boosted one won three times this year. So yes, even the big boys are shifting more of the attention to smaller. They’re just making smaller way more fun.

Now let’s start from the other end. Best new engine has had motors both large and small taking the win, and this year we are extremely happy to see Honda back on the podium. Their 3.5-liter bi-turbo V6 gas-electric hybrid was voted best newbie, with the new Mercedes-Benz 2-liter diesel a close second.

This follows in the footsteps of the BMWs i8, which combined electricity with enthusiast fun in a hugely successful way.

That same i8 engine, by the way, took the 1.4- to 1.8-liter class with its 1.5-liter three-cylinder electric gas hybrid.

Close behind, it was another BMW engine that is also a three-cylinder turbo but not a hybrid, the 1.5 that sees duty in some 1 Series models as well as some MINIs.

Sub 1-liter top prize went again to the Ford 999 cc three-cylinder turbo eco-boost. Still a stellar motor, the 999 cc three-cylinder turbo that powers the new Audi Q2 came in a very tight second.

The 1- to 1.4-liter win went to the PSA Peugeot 1.2-liter three cylinder turbo with a very healthy margin over the second place BMW 1.2 turbo triple as seen in the MINI One.

So this is getting pretty confusing. Small triples of different engine capacities have taken the first three engine size classes, and the middle one is in what is arguably a supercar. This explains why us Engine Award judges have been having problems classifying the new motors.

What comes next? Stuttgart beats out AMG in a tight fight with the 2-liter boxer turbo that powers the slice-happy and wonderfully-balanced 718 Boxster and Cayman.

The contenders included a supercharged gas-electric hybrid from Volvo, which by the way just committed to going only hybrid or full electric in the near future.

This new Porsche powerplant is both loved and hated by many enthusiasts. It isn’t the traditional engine they are familiar with, but in reality, it is the fact that they won this class with a small engine that delivers power smoothly and is an integral part of arguably the best handling regular-production sports cars on the planet (that can be driven happily daily) that tells you where the engineering budget is going nowadays.

The funny thing is that the next class up, 2- to 2.5-liter, has the more powerful 718 engine from the Boxster S and Cayman S but it only came in second to the Audi 2.5-liter 5-cylinder turbo.

So the engine that is more powerful didn’t win its class. True, it went against a motor for the eighth time in a row, and is basically king of the class.

Next class up, 2.5- to 3-liter, went to Porsche again for the 3-liter six-cylinder turbo as used in the 911s, the Ss, and the GTSs. This motor took more than double the points than the closest rival from the M3.

Next class up is where the V8 Ferrari won, and the AMG 4-liter bi-turbo V8 from the GT and the 63s came second. In this class, Porsche had two contenders with their 3.8- and 4-liter boxer turbos from the Turbos and the GT3s and the 911R.

Now look at all the movement, and look who is not there. Ferrari ruled the roost of the biggest, then they came to play seriously in the smaller classes. Same thing with Porsche. Who would have thought a 2-liter from them would win. Then again, both Ferrari and the Stuttgart gang know the value of taking as much power out of as little as possible, so this just makes sense.

Note that these classes used to be won by some very capable inline 6s. So where is BMW? Winning with a triple hybrid in a supercar. We have to rethink everything. Including how we judge.

This year, a new class was added: Electric Powertrain. Previously full electrics could only win in the New Engine, Green Engine, or Performance Engine classes, none of which put them in the running for Overall International Engine of the Year.

Yet, there’s a lot of advancement there, with the full electrics having their own class. The winner for this first year was Tesla. It went against the contenders from BMW, GM VW, and Renault-Nissan, and soundly beat them in a car that is still pretty fun to drive.

The Green Engine class was also won by Tesla, with the i8 hybrid coming in second.

As we said, don’t just look at the winners—look at the movement. Those who dominated larger classes have moved to win the smaller ones. Everything below two liters seemed to be a three cylinder, and they all have crazily wild platforms from commuters to enthusiast supercar.

There is a key thing for all of them, however. With a couple of unfortunate exceptions, none of these winners are boring engines. Rather, they make driving fun.

Perhaps, they sway the judges (and the buyers) because they take the previously mundane and make it dance. In a world where people are saying that driving isn’t fun anymore, it seems to be precisely those with a racing heritage and on-track motorsports experience that are at the leading edge of traditional automotive engineering.

Maybe this is the clearest example yet of how racing improves the breed.

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