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Barnstormin’: Starting To Appreciate Less Than Eight

Barnstormin’: Starting To Appreciate Less Than Eight

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.


ford V6


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16 thoughts on “Barnstormin’: Starting To Appreciate Less Than Eight

  1. Tom Slater

    I’m right there with you.
    My truck project would have gotten the new 4.3 direct injected V6 if I could have gotten my hands on one.
    The technology we’re putting in cars is pure awesome and turbos from the factory mean it’s a heckuva lot easier to build big power than it is with a pushrod 8. I suppose many on here would disagree, having replaced a lot of heads and camshafts. To me, if a new wastegate or external bolt-on compressor (super or turbo) + a little tuning on the fuel end can be done in an afternoon and make a lot of tiresmoke… the golden age of hotrodding might be now.
    I still miss my old man’s Le Mans w/ 455, though.

    1. Top_Fuel1771

      Couldn’t agree more! The V8 may still be #1 in my heart, but the reality of it is we’re going to start seeing a lot less of them. And I personally think its awesome that you can get turbo 4 cylinders that make north of 300HP & get decent fuel economy.

      Not to mention the advances in performance hybrids (GASP!) I know, but if you could have a hybrid that adds another 100-150HP to your standard gas powered car, and decrease the amount of fuel you use, why wouldn’t you? I’m excited to see the trickle down from cars like the Porsche 918, LaFerrari, & McLaren P1.

  2. 38P

    This is just wrong.

    I’d rather have a 1-liter turbo V8 than a three, four or six.

    Certainly CO2 hysteria regulations are going to force-feed engine downsizing. But there’s simply no reason (except extreme cheapness) that the OEMs can’t build smaller V8s instead of jamming us into tiny, awful nut cups with too-few cylinders.

    With variable multi-valve timing, cylinder deactivation, direct injection, ethanol boosting, turbocharging (or “twin-charging”) and mild hybrid “start-stop,” future V8s could yield spectacular fuel economy when necessary.

    On the other hand, I really won’t miss archaic, inefficient throwbacks to 1949 like the obsolete two-valve Kettering OHV “LESS” . . . the sooner it’s buried, the better.

    But, a cramped hot rodding “future” of FWD and tiny inlines is no future. LONG LIVE V8s! LONG LIVE RWD!

  3. andy

    Totally agree! Power is power! My wifes NA 3.7 V6 Mustang is pretty quick for a V6 car.
    With just a tune and lower control arms, it will hold its own with high 13 second cars. (which was a FAST daily driver just a few years ago)

    But it sounds like poop and makes minimal low end torque…. A turbo/supercharger fixes the low end, but man I wish there was a way to make these small displacement engines sound like a V8! Talk about a WIN/WIN!

  4. GuitarSlinger

    1) Lexus IS Toyota . Several Lexus are available with V8’s . Therefore Toyota has several models with available V8s … including their own Land Cruiser etc

    2) I drive a Mercedes V6 . All bets are it would blow by that stupidcharged Nova featured yesterday between stop lights … 1/4 mile as well as on the road and track . Mighty fine motor ! Doesn’t mean its a substitute for some V8 power though . Fact is I’d have it with a V8 is it was available in the US

    3) The problem with those high powered turbo I4’s is the stress and strain the engine is put under in order to attain those large hp and torque numbers … severely decreasing the lifespan of the engine in the long run

    4) Same ( #3 ) goes for those Turbo and Supercharged V6’s and V8’s

    5) The V8 will always be smoother than V6’s or I4’s . Just like V10s – V12s are smoother than V8’s

    1. 38P

      “3) The problem with those high powered turbo I4′s is the stress and strain the engine is put under in order to attain those large hp and torque numbers … severely decreasing the lifespan of the engine in the long run.”

      Theoretically true, but a couple of my archaic Thunderbird Turbo Coupes have well in excess of 150,000 street miles without engine issues. And high-boost turbo diesels routinely run hundreds of thousands of miles between rebuilds.

      Longevity under boost depends on a number of factors (lubrication, heat management, octane, and quality of materials topping the list). Too much “common knowledge” about the durability of boosted engines on the street is from early, under-engineered, built-to-a-price ’80s turbos (i.e. Chrysler SOHC 2.2) and poorly-developed aftermarket conversions of engines not designed for boost.

      On the other hand, trying to run an undersized three or a four like an ’80s F1 mill will certainly yield a short engine lifespan . . . just as trying to run an “all motor” OHV like a NASCAR lump does.

    2. Brian Lohnes Post author

      I would only call your #3 argument into question because it supposes that V8 engines have developed and small displacement engines have not, which is BACKWARDS.

      The “stress and strain” argument is 100% accurate on old stuff as would be an argument that V8s from the same era would detonate themselves to death and beat their bearings to death long before the engine should have lived.

      The “stress and strain” deal is a specious argument in the days of guys making more than 1,000hp out of stock block EcoTec motors and guys tweaking EcoBoost motors to run incredible elapsed times on stock stuff. See the many 6,000lb Explorers running in the low 13s/high 12s on stock parts with tunes. 2.0L engines in Evos and equally small engines in Subaru models are cranking HUGE horsepower reliably.

      This isn’t 1985, it isn’t 1992, it is 2015. These engines have come a LONG way and I feel that burdening them with the baggage of the past is not fair. My opinion.

      1. Dave Nutting

        “This isn’t 1985, it isn’t 1992, it’s 2015….”

        Stopping posting from the future, will ya? Either that or get me those lottery numbers I have been asking for!

  5. authorized user

    Dear Brian;

    On behalf of all the regular BS viewers, we enjoy your test drives of the luxo/euro sedans.

    These are cars that most of us will never be able to afford or even allowed to test drive.

    Sadly, you have been remiss in one important evaluation.

    Where are the smoky burnouts?

    It is well know than rental cars never escape the wrath of BS drivers.

    Why $top on the big boys?

    1. Brian Lohnes Post author

      Good point, but my only rebuttal is the fact that virtually every high-po furrin’ sedan we have gotten and reviewed has been AWD. That poses a burnout problem…and maybe points to the intelligence of the people giving the loans. LOL

  6. Turbo Regal

    The 84-87 Buick Turbo Regals and 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans AM opened my mind to fast cars that weren’t V8’s.

    Fast is fast, whether it is 4, 6 or 8 cylinders. It’s just cheaper in most cases to do it with 8 cylinders.

  7. TheSilverBuick

    Definitely can’t complain when 400HP is 400HP, especially when not using the HP getting the extra MPG.

    But it’s the sound of a naturally aspirated V8 that will never be replaced by anything other than a V8. There is just something right with the sound that everything bigger or smaller just sounds off. Social conditioning maybe? But everyone likes the sight of ’68 Charger when the sound of an aggressive V8 is screaming. Infact, even if it were a Geo metro with an aggressive V8 at WOT, would put a smile on most faces. A ’68 Charger or Geo metro with a turbo’d 4 or 6 cylinder making the same 400-500HP as the NA V8, just isn’t going to be as good sounding, aka cool.

    1. 38P

      400 h.p. isn’t always 400 h.p, as some advocates of the big-cube versions of the “LESS” often point out. The shape of the torque curve and area under it makes a difference in how responsive an engine feels on the street.

      The real advantage to turbocharging is that you can cram a whole lot more area under the curve on a “400 h.p.” engine with minimal off-boost fuel economy penalty, when compared to making 400 h.p. with a smallish engine through elevated r.p.m.

      The advantages of adding “area under the curve” with displacement are that it’s cheap, and tends to be easier to manage heat, octane and lubrication “loads” . . . but comes with a fairly steep “pumping loss” fuel economy penalty.

      However, one “knock” on the turbo panacea is that current OEM turbos have a much more narrow range of operation than current engines. Thus, the mythical 500 h.p. Metro would tend to run such a large turbo than it would have no “boost” below 4-5,000 r.p.m. (and not feel very responsive at less than “10/10ths” on the street) . . . And the tiny street-responsive EcoBoost turbos tend to be “all in, all done” by 5,500. Thus, the future challenge will be to provide usable “boost” over a wider range of engine operation (say 1,500 to 8,500 r.p.m.) . . .

  8. jerry z

    Non-V8 cars can have a 500HP and still sounds like garbage.

    Granted there some 4 and 6 cyl high performance car that sound OK but will never replace the sound of a V8, ANY V8!

    I’d rather drive a 300HP V8 than a 500HP V6.

  9. Rich Hinsley

    I never realized the downsizing of the V-8’s either. I owned one of the first WRX’s to hit Colorado showroom and thought it was a fun, tough little car but I bought a 09′ Challenger R/T w a 6 speed last year and it is the best car I’ve owned.

  10. Doc

    I own a 2000 Suburban and 2003 Cadillac DTS. Both have thirsty V8 and the state charges and extra for engines over 3.6L, the bigger the engine, the higher the price.
    So I’m considering changing both for either older vehicules (there’s a 1996 cutoff year) or smaller displacement engines… oh and gas prices are also higher here. It’s at 1.50 a liter, so around 5,67 a gallon if I’m not mistaken.

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