As we inch our way closer to electric cars each and every day, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the greatest internal-combustion engines from the last 25 years. Pretty soon all cars will be, effectively, appliances. The switch from internal-combustion engines (ICEs) to electric motors is inevitable. Rather than mourn the death of the ICE, we’ll celebrate its life by showcasing the most powerful, reliable and innovative engines to world has ever seen.
1JZ and 2JZ
Although the JZ engines first appeared on the market in 1990, they remained in production in one way or another until 2007. It is perhaps the most iconic engine name in the world’s history. The JZ-family engines are straight-six units offered in both naturally-aspirated and turbocharged versions, with some minor differences. The 1JZ has a 2.5-liter capacity, while the 2JZ is slightly bigger at 3.0-liters.
Although they’re most commonly found in older four-door limousines like the Toyota Chaser, Cresta and Mark II, the JZ engine made its big debut with the legendary Supra. After the first Fast and Furious movie and Paul Walker’s iconic 10-second Supra, everybody had to have one. Tuners started tweaking the 2JZ and found out Toyota had actually been underestimating power and torque figures. Although the engines were ‘limited’ to just 280 horsepower as per the Japanese gentleman agreement, minor turbo pressure changes resulted in well over 500 horsepower. The bottom ends are so strong that a single-turbo conversion can easily result in 800+ horsepower.
Although Nissan’s RB engines hit the market some five years before Toyota’s JZ counterpart, they never reached the same level of popularity. That being said, the RB engine family is a lot more diverse, ranging from the top of the line 3.0-liter RB30DET to the 2.0-liter RB20. The most common engine you’re bound to find in most of the R32, R33 and indeed R34 Skylines is the RB25DET. It’s a 2.5-liter six-cylinder single-turbo unit producing anywhere between 200 and 280 horsepower, depending on the model year.
The one most people love and want to have however, is the beloved RB26DETT. It’s the beating heart and soul of every GT-R, including Paul Walker’s blue/silver R34 in the later installments of the Fast and the Furious. Performance-wise it’s on par with the 2JZ, with tuners being able to extract practically the same amount of horsepower from both engines. The 2JZ is a lot more common however, so the aftermarket parts on offer are more readily available than they are with the RB.
The 13B is an engine unlike any other. It’s a rotary (Wankel) engine, so it has no cylinders or any traditional pistons and crankshafts. Instead, it uses an oval-shaped combustion chamber in which a triangle-like “piston” rotates. The Wankel engine was invented by Felix Wankel, a German engineer, but it was Mazda who popularized it and brought it to the masses.
Although Mazda experimented with different Wankel designs, none received the praise and recognition the 13B did. The 13 in 13B stands for its capacity, i.e. 1.3-liters. Due to its unique design (and a decently-sized turbocharger) the Wankel engine is able to extract a large amount of horsepower from a relatively small capacity. It may be often criticized for its lack of torque, but the sound a rotary engine makes cannot be replicated with a traditional Otto-cycle engine. The fact that its small means it’s also light, hence why rotary engines used to be really preferred for racing applications. They’re not particularly reliable however, and they do like to drink a lot of fuel and oil. The Mazda RX-7 enjoyed a lot of success with its rotary engine, but eventually it succumbed to emission regulations and reliability issues.
Rather than go through each and every LS engine available, we’ll just list the entire LS-engine family. Introduced in 1996, the LS engine is still in production to this very day. Although it’s been through several different stages (LS1, LS2, LS3, LS6, etc.), the recipe has always remained the same. A compact V8 design with interchangeable components between the different generations.
GM used the LS engine in almost all of its vehicles, with several notable differences. Base LS units used cast iron blocks, while performance editions such as the ones in the Camaro and the Corvette utilized an aluminum design with cast iron cylinder liners. The LS engine is loved the world over for its reliability and ease of modification. A simple supercharger often boosts power levels upwards of 500 horsepower, and let’s be honest, nothing beats the sound of a gnarling, American V8.
A naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine with an 8,000 rpm redline and 343 horsepower. That’s always going to be a recipe for success, isn’t it? When BMW first introduced the S54 back in 2000, some enthusiasts proclaimed that it would earn its place in history as one of the greatest engines of all time. Eighteen years later, the prophecy turned out to be true.
The E46 M3, the car which carried the S54, is still considered by many to be the last great M-car BMW has made. The subsequent BMW had a V8, and the one after that returned back to the straight-six design but it employed the use of a turbocharger. The S54 is a high-performance variant of the M54, but it’s actually a development of the older S50 and S52. The block is made out of cast iron rather than aluminum like the M54. It’s a fairly high-maintenance engine, but that’s a small price to pay for the whaling sound of a straight-six naturally-aspirated unit at 8,000 rpm.
What a better way to wrap up this best engines list than with a HEMI. The Chrysler Hemi engine family consists of both straight-six and V8 gasoline engines built by Chrysler, but most people associate those iconic “HEMI” letters with a V8 layout. Although Chrysler produced several outstanding HEMI engines (such as the 5.7 and the 6.1-liter), nothing compares to the 6.2-liter Hellcat unit. When it first came out it was the most powerful production car in the world, boosting a power output of 707 horsepower.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous, Dodge came out with the 6.2 Demon. Essentially a Hellcat on steroids, the Demon took the Hellcat powerplant and added another 101 horsepower on top, raising the total figure to 808 horsepower. This HEMI engine is only available in the Demon, and for a good reason.