Our Favorite Engine of all Time: Staff Picks
From four-banger fuel sippers to V-8 horsepower champs to turbodiesel torque monsters, these are our favorite engines.
The engine, in many large ways, dictates the character of the vehicle in which it's mounted, the operator's experience behind the wheel, and the level of enjoyment, utility, and capability you can expect from your trusty truck, SUV, or 4x4. Got a durable yet underpowered four-cylinder? Set your expectations of overtaking traffic low and settle in for a relaxing journey. Got a turbodiesel torque pig? Then enjoy the knowing you can haul a house while most likely knocking down impressive mpg numbers. Got a huge-horsepower rowdy V-8? You'll enjoy the sensation of squirting ahead of traffic between stoplights and roasting tire rubber at will. No matter what your kick, your vehicle's engine is the heart of the beast. Here are our favorite engines of all time and why.
Ken Brubaker: Cummins 5.9L Turbodiesel
This was easy. My favorite engine is the 5.9L Cummins 12-valve turbodiesel. It's an engine I could stick in almost any 4x4 and enjoy power, reliability, and simplicity. I vividly remember when Dodge unveiled the Cummins-powered trucks, and I recall the incredible positive response. The engine helped increase Dodge truck sales, for good reason. By today's turbodiesel engine standards the 12-valve is antiquated, but the demand is still there. Recently I saw a farmer sell a rusted-out Cummins-powered Dodge for top dollar after a lively bidding war among folks wanting to get their hands on the engine. My brother-in-law stuck one in a Chevy after his problematic GM diesel gave out. It's still weird to hear Cummins sounds coming down our one-lane farm road and then see a Chevy. But then again, I've photographed many 4x4s fitted with the 12-valve, so it's clear it has many fans. Me, I'd like to have a 12-valve nestled between the framerails of the truck it was in when it came off the end of the assembly line.
Jason Gonderman: Ford 7.3L "Godzilla" V-8
Asking me to choose a favorite engine of all time is like asking which child is my favorite. There have been so many great engines throughout the past century that choosing just one would cause the kind of stress and agony that I just can't live with. So instead I present to you my favorite engine that is currently available, the Ford 7.3L gasoline V-8. Code-named "Godzilla," this new V-8 from Ford is the real deal. The engine is currently available in the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickups and is rated at 430 hp with 475 lb-ft of torque, both of which are best-in-class.
It also comes standard in the medium-duty F-550, F-600, F-650, and F-750 along with the E-Series and F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis, as well. What makes the engine great is what's inside and the potential that it has. As a pushrod engine (camshaft is in the block, not heads) it's far more compact than Ford's line of modular V-8s. The engine is also built with longevity in mind, coming with a forged steel crankshaft and oversized four-bolt main bearings from the factory. The engine drives great in Super Duty and sounds flat-out awesome. I can even see potential for a supercharged version of this engine to find its way into the next-generation Raptor and possibly even Mustang at some point.
Christian Hazel: Buick 225 Dauntless V-6
I do so many different things with so many different vehicles that it's nearly impossible for me to pick one favorite engine. I mean, if I'm towing, gimme a 6.7L Cummins. If I'm looking to go fast in a quarter mile, I've got a soft spot for big-block Oldsmobiles, even if it's way harder to make the same power with one as a big-block Chevy. But when I think of what I enjoy doing most behind the wheel, it's putting across a cool off-road trail in a vintage Jeep. And to that end, there's hardly anything better than an odd-fire Buick 225 engine. The odd-fire Buick V-6 is an unusual critter. It began its life in the 1962 Buick Special midsize sedan. Buick essentially took a 215 V-8, lopped off two cylinders, and said, "There's your 198-cube V-6." But without retooling the reciprocating assembly to even the firing pulses from V-8 to V-6, the resulting uneven firing pattern gave the Buick odd-fire V-6 an unusual shuffling, staccato exhaust note. In 1964 to maintain similarities with Buick's new 300-cube V-8, the bore and stroke of the V-6 was increased, bringing total displacement to 225ci. In 1967, Buick transitioned to a smoother, quieter inline-six but sold the 225 V-6 to Kaiser, which promptly offered the engines in its 1967-1971 Jeep line as an optional upgrade from the F-head 134-cube four-cylinder engines in CJ and the standard engine in the C-101 Jeepster. In manual transmission applications in front of a T-86, T-14, or (rare) T98 transmissions, the Jeep 225s came with a monstrous flywheel that weighed about 50 pounds, giving the engine massive low-end inertia and resistance to stalling. The engine is compact, relatively lightweight, and fairly powerful. The two-barrel versions clock in at a gross power rating of 160 hp and 235 lb-ft. I ran a Buick 225 in my 1971 CJ-6 as a daily driver. With a swapped-in NV3550 five-speed manual, Pertronix DUI HEI distributor, rebuilt factory two-barrel, and fenderwell headers, the 4.88-geared Jeep on 31s could pull any grade at 75 mph and knocked down an easy 17.5 mpg. And off-road, it would lug down to a couple hundred rpm without stalling. It's a wonderful engine to live with in a recreational off-road vehicle.
KJ Jones: Duarmax 3.0L Turbodiesel
This is a tough one because I've driven many vehicles that were powered by a wide assortment of engines; gas, diesel, electric (well, that one is a motor), CNG/propane. My favorite? Man. It's hard for me to pick just one because they all have strong virtues, and to me, a lot of that decision depends on the vehicle. For example, one of my favorite engines was in a car (my first race car), and I believe this selection is dedicated to truck engines.
But as these things go, my favorite truck engine (right now, anyway) is still considered "new." I am a BIG fan of GM's 3.0L Duramax I-6, the optional diesel engine for 2020 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500s. Why? I like it because it's smooth and has great power and torque for a small-displacement oil-burner. As a hot-rod/racing enthusiast, I like this powerplant because it actually makes the Silverado/Sierra feel somewhat sporty, and I believe there's hidden performance potential that can be brought to the front with simple ECM programming.
I know, it might not be as exciting as the engines my colleagues select as their favorites, but I really believe that pound for pound, the 3.0L Duramax diesel is one of the great ones currently.
Jered Korfhage: Jeep 4.0L HO Inline-Six
Six in a row is simple, and it was the first engine I can proudly say I bought with my hard-earned cash. When I found the red 2002 TJ Wrangler, its 4.0L inline-six had only rolled a few more than 149,000 miles—basically new for anyone Jeep shopping. Continuing what I could only hope was a history of stellar home maintenance, I dutifully poured six separate quarts of synthetic 10-W30 down its gullet and unscrewed the filter probably more often that necessary, but it felt good knowing I was keeping it well-fed. Whether the task was bouncing back and forth from Ohio to Utah at a seemingly maximum speed of 68 mph or planting my foot to the Monsta-lined floor to free myself from the grips of a Midwestern clay-bottom mud hole, the Jeep's engine was there and started for me (just about) every time. And if it didn't, pushing it down a hill and dumping the clutch with the key turned made sure it would!
Verne Simons: Jeep 2.5L Inline-Four
My favorite engine of all time is any engine I have that is tough, reliable, and powerful. One that doesn't knock, doesn't leak, doesn't waste fuel, and so on. Truth be told, it exists only in my head, but I have had a few engines in my day that have come close to fulfilling all of these wishes. For one—I'm not sure it is my favorite, but it sure did last—an AMC 2.5L four-cylinder in my junkyard Jeep, the Shrink Ray TJ. I couldn't kill it. It was beaten, assaulted, turned backward, held upside down (a few times), and generally ignored when it came to the basics of maintenance. The engine owes me or anyone else exactly nothing. The fact that it still runs is a testament to the design. Still, it was hardly powerful and not very efficient, but it was tough, really tough, tough as an anvil.