Some engine configurations are not just rare; they're only made by a single manufacturer.
Volkswagen revealed a heavily facelifted 2024 VW Atlas last week, bringing with it the news that the VR6 engine configuration was dead in North America. It got us thinking, and we realized that if VW ceases to build the VR6, then no one else is doing so, and the unique verkurzt reihenmotor (the German phrase from which the engine gets its name, translating as shortened inline motor) configuration would be officially extinct for the time being.
So, we spent some time ruminating on what other unique engine configurations exist in the world that are only produced by single manufacturers. We came up with a short but interesting list. And, to clarify, engines on this list must still be in production, and they must be wholly unique configurations. So a twincharged four-cylinder with hybrid assist is not unique enough.
The inline-five was once a relatively common configuration, or at least more common than today, but the manufacturer that has stuck with it the longest is also one that made it famous through rallying. The Audi five-cylinder has a rich heritage and multiple engine awards to its name, and when those five cylinders fire up, it's immediately understandable why. The inline-five has a highly unique sound, akin to that of a V10 engine, but it also develops loads of torque with smooth delivery. Audi currently sells the five-banger in only a few models globally, including the RS3 Sedan, TT RS, and RS Q3. But even this mighty engine is nearing its demise, and with Audi's pledge to go electric in the next decade, it won't be long before we bid the five-pot farewell.
Notable mention must also be given to the Audi V10 from the R8, but it misses out on a spot here because it is technically also produced by Lamborghini for the Huracan.
In the world of ultra-luxury motoring, some discerning buyers might find a V12 too common. For those, Bentley sells you 12 cylinders in another configuration. The Bentley W12 has been a staple for the brand, providing incredibly smooth power delivery and a lovely warbling soundtrack that isn't too obnoxious. It's currently found across a broad array of models, but our favorite uses of this powertrain are in the Bentley Continental GT Speed and the Flying Spur.
Like many other large displacement engines, the W12 is not long for this world, and the Bentley Batur is expected to be the final new vehicle to feature it. Bentley is investing in hybridization and will eventually become an electric brand.
For almost the entire automotive world, 12 cylinders is the limit. But Bugatti isn't like the rest of the automotive world, and Bugatti is a brand that enjoys breaking limits and setting new standards. That's why when the company was revived by Volkswagen, it developed a W16 engine displacing 8.0 liters and equipped with four turbochargers. Throughout the last two decades, it's ranged in power from 987 bhp in the Veyron to nearly 1,850 in the Bugatti Bolide concept.
Serving two core models and countless special variants along the way, the Bugatti W16 is truly incomparable. That's perhaps what makes its imminent demise so much sadder. Revealed last year, the Bugatti W16 Mistral will be the final model to make use of it, before Bugatti introduces a new, but equally unique, hybrid engine configuration for the Chiron's successor. Our money is on Bugatti adopting the W12.
Mazda sneaks onto this list through a loophole. But since it's our list, we'll make the rules. Mazda no longer produces a car where a Wankel rotary engine actually drives the wheels - not since the RX-8 went out of production a decade ago - but last month, it unveiled a variant of the Mazda MX-30 with a rotary range extender, making the electric crossover a plug-in hybrid with 400 miles of range. The rotary engine in question is an entirely new motor called the 8C. It's a single-rotor with direct injection and a displacement of just 0.83 liters producing 74 horses at 4,700 rpm.
Mazda bosses still dream of building a new rotary-powered sports car, and patent filings even suggested one was in the works, but for fans of the spinning Dorito, the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV is as good as it gets for now.
Two-cylinder motors are pretty common in motorcycles, but in cars, they're remarkably rare. So rare, in fact, that only Fiat still builds this configuration. It was once used across multiple brands, including the Alfa Romeo MiTo, but now, you'll only find the tiny twofer in cars like the Fiat 500 and Fiat Panda, and not even on US shores. Fiat calls it the TwinAir engine, and it's available in either 1.0-liter naturally aspirated guise (59 hp/65 lb-ft) or as a 0.9-liter turbocharged engine pumping out 103.5 hp and 107 lb-ft.
As the Fiat 500 becomes electric, and returns to American shores in EV form, this engine will likely die, too, but anyone who's had the opportunity to drive it will remember its off-beat thrum.
I can't believe I missed this one off the list originally, but I was under the impression Subaru still sold such a mill. However, since Subaru ended production of its own flat six in 2019, Porsche is technically the only OEM to still produce this configuration. The argument could be made that RUF and other boutique automakers also manufacture it, nullifying it from the list, but we'll give the benefit of the doubt to Porsche on this one.
The Porsche flat six is iconic, and still finds use in both the 718 and 911 model lines. Whereas most variants are turbocharged, Porsche's most iconic sixers are the naturally aspirated, high-revving variety as found in the 911 GT3 RS. In its most recent iteration, this 4.0-liter flat-six revs past 9,000 rpm and generates 518 glorious horsepower.
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