An entire decade has passed since a V – or indeed anything more than six cylinders – has won the outright International Engine of the Year Award. Back then BMW’s all-conquering, naturally aspirated V10 in the M5 swept to victory. And that result turned out to be a peak for the awards, in terms of cylinder count and displacement at least.
Since then one common characteristic has linked all other winners: IC engine downsizing. Following the M5 heart’s victory, BMW’s own six-cylinder turbo won the outright award for a few years and then, in 2008, there was a momentous leap from 3 litres down to 1.4 litres when VW’s sophisticated TSI TwinCharger took the crown. Things got even smaller after that, with Fiat’s 875cc two-cylinder collecting the overall trophy in 2011 and then, for three solid years, it was Ford’s wonderful 1.0 triple that dominated. Last year the 1.5-litre three-cylinder hybrid powertrain from BMW in the i8 came to the fore, and while that’s 33% larger than Ford’s baby EcoBoost, it’s still a landmark downsized development insomuch that it powers a progressive performance application.
And so on to this year. At first glance it would seem the winning powertrain takes this downsizing trend and rips up the rulebook. After all, here’s a high-performance heart-pounding creation with a V8 design and 3,902cc displacement – and let’s not forget the small matter of 670ps at 8,000rpm and 760Nm torque at 3,000rpm!
In fact the 2016 winner is the third largest outright champ, following BMW’s 5.0 V10 and its 4.4 V8 from 2002; it’s only the second V8 victor (see the aforementioned 4.4 Valvetronic unit); and it’s by far the most powerful title holder, too.
Taking top spot for 2016, then, is Ferrari’s sublimely engineered 3.9 twin-turbo V8 in the all-new 488. By winning the outright award, as well as New Engine, Performance Engine and its category class, which, by the way, was probably the toughest subdivision of all this year, Maranello’s finest becomes one of only three powertrains to take four trophies in one year.
But don’t mistake the Ferrari V8 as some sort of IC dinosaur from yesteryear, somehow lucking out at the 2016 awards among designs that are seen as being planet-friendly. Code-named F154CB, this eight-cylinder is an absolute masterclass in powertrain engineering, and there’s much more to it than just its amazing power delivery, precise control and a wonderful Prancing Horse soundtrack.
While some aficionados were worried when it was confirmed the 458’s successor would swap an atmo heart for a turbo creation, the 488 V8 has proved to be a winner in every way, bringing together highly advanced technologies in one perfect package. Two IHI twin-scroll turbos help deliver the outstanding performance, but to eliminate lag Ferrari has paid special attention to the turbochargers’ compressor wheels, and the sealing between the wheel and the turbine housing, ensuring power delivery is instant and linear.
The V8 also has an ion-sensing system, which measures ionising currents to control ignition timing and adaptively predict misfires, as well as a multispark function that enables the spark advance to be maximised at all revs. It’s technologies such as these that underscore the importance of the V8: these subsystems will trickle down to other FCA products, in turn raising the standard of powertrains around the world. The 488 heart is proof that performance cars – and all passenger cars – need not fear the downsizing trend. In fact, if all engines were this good, the industry’s future would be a forced-induction utopia.
The International Engine of the Year Awards are presented by Engine Technology International magazine, published by UKIP Media & Events Ltd. The Awards involve the voluntary participation of 62 motoring journalists from 31 countries. UKIP Media & Events Ltd receives no advertising or financial support from any car manufacturer or distributor.