As you have seen here on the front page of BangShift, from time to time we review new cars. I actually get to drive a lot more cars than you see on these pages. Why? Well we pick and choose the ones we want to review on the basis if whether or not we think you’ll care about them, or threaten to set me on fire for saying positive things about them. On average, I am able to drive a car a week from someone. Sure, lots of them are uninspired heaps and that’s why I don’t waste your time or mine running a story on a car that wouldn’t do anything to spin your crank. All of the cars provide a pretty interesting education and it certainly changes the way I look at anything I see rolling down the road these days, especially the small displacement stuff. The honest answer is that I respect small displacement turbocharged engines a lot more now than I did a year ago and I am not ashamed to say it. There’s lots of power out there in small packages and while I think that the V8 will forever be a part of the pickup truck and pony car scene, it isn’t too difficult to see it becoming a very high end option on “regular” cars and disappearing on even more. I know there is reason to hear that and gnash your teeth, get pissed, and scream from the hills, but other than the nicer sound, what’s the difference in a 400hp V8 and a 400hp twin turbo V6? Power is power, right?
That’s pretty much where I am at right now. In the scope of this year I have had far more turbocharged four and six banger cars than I have had V8 vehicles. I did have a twin turbo V8 BMW X5 that was a certified lunatic fringe rocket ship, but that’s another story for another day. The Subaru WRX STI that we reviewed a couple of weeks back was a great little car with an engine that was barely 150ci and produced more than 300hp. It did not get great fuel economy, but it was hilarious to drive and took everything we threw at it. This week I am in New Jersey for the NHRA Summernationals drag race. I drove down to my location yesterday from my home outside of Boston in a press car. The whip is a 2014 Audi A3 with a 2.0L turbocharged four banger with 220hp and a six (seven?) speed automatic transmission. Leaving the taught and fun suspension setup out of the way and concentrating just on the little engine, it gave me over 32mpg average fuel economy in a drive that ranged from long 80mph blasts to periods of sitting in gridlock crossing the George Washington Bridge in New York. It did all of this while providing a shocking amount of passing power and the ability to squirt through traffic with aplomb. I guess it was the feeling I got mashing the pedal in this car that really settled my mind into the fact that we’re heading into this brave new world of punchy, small, high output engines. Hell, I had a Volvo a couple of weeks ago with a four banger that was turbo AND supercharged, producing more than 300hp and it would wipe the floor with most anything you wanted it to at the stoplight grand prix.
Last weekend at the Kansas Nationals, an NHRA race I was announcing at in Topeka, Kansas Shaun Vincent won Competition Eliminator in a Chevy S-10 bodied, tube framed truck powered by a 268ci Chevy V6. Naturally aspirated this truck was running into the 8s and making an ungodly scream as Vincent shifted it at nearly 10,000 RPM on every lap. In speaking with Vincent in the winner’s circle and gathering some information on the truck he told me that his dad had always raced V6 engines and that’s why they run one in this truck. I’ll be the first to admit that there are sacred cows. NASCAR without screaming small blocks would be bad. Top fuel without fire spewing hemi V8 engines would be sad, but I’ll also be the first to admit that some stuff needs to change in a hurry. NHRA Pro Stock is an incredibly tight and tough class, but 500ci gas V8s with carbs on them plugged into the front of swoopy modern bodies does no one any good. Production based Pro Stock racing with factory based V8s, factory based turbo fours, or whatever would be awesome to watch and it would reconnect people with the cars, which is something that needs to happen in my opinion.
The number of cars you can get a V8 in these days is actually miniscule. Think about it. At Ford there is ONE model of car you can get a V8 in and that’s the Mustang. Thankfully, so long as F150s are the bread and butter of that company there will be a V8 option for the trucks and therefore one for the Mustang. At Dodge there’s a couple models in the Chrysler 300, Charger, and Challenger, along with the trucks of course. Chevrolet? The Camaro, the SS, and the Corvette with the trucks as well. Nissan has a V8 in their pickup truck, Toyota has one in their Tundra and it is optional in an SUV or two, and that’s about it. I’m not sure if that snuck up on anyone else, but when I thought it through I was kind of like, “HUH.”
From the throaty sound to the heritage of the configuration, nothing will replace the V8 engine in my heart and the heart of virtually every hot rodder out there. That being said, they are being replaced as the hearts of the cars that I and everyone else in the world drives. With that happening, there will inevitably be a shift in hot rodding over the coming decades to work with these smaller engines. Who knows how long it will take but even if I am an old man, at least I’ll be smart enough not to choose off with the kid who has installed a hot rodded EcoBoost turbo six cylinder in his pickup while my big cammed V8 draws smiles and thumbs up from the other lane. Mechanical evolution in the automotive world never stops. The options are to either rail against it, evolve with it, ignore it, or appreciate it for what it is. I think I am closing in rapidly on number three.