The V8 is becoming an endangered species.
The forced induction six-cylinder engine, whether it's turbocharged or supercharged, is becoming the performance engine of choice for most cars. V8 blowhards have always told us the "there's no replacement for displacement," but it's never really been true. Mercedes was using Roots superchargers in 1921 for production cars, and most race cars were already using a form of forced induction. Nowadays, America's fastest muscle cars use superchargers.
While factory supercharged and turbocharged V8 engines are becoming more commonplace in the hunt for affordable speed, the turbo six-cylinder engine offers a more compact and lighter package. For cars that need to combine agility with gut-churning straight-line performance, a cranked-up V6 has become the way forward. The straight-six engine, although more awkward to package, is also seeing a resurgence in popularity. These are the best examples of those turbocharged or supercharged six-cylinder engines on the market right now.
Maserati's Ferrari derived 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 is available in cars other than the Ghibli, but this is the last one your writer drove. It's a special engine even though in its higher-spec form, the 424 hp and 428 lb-ft performance figures aren't powerful enough to trump competitors. The power is raw, though, and it's a joyous experience to exploit, and the engine note is delicious. That soundtrack appeals to the driver's soul, and mixed with relentless surges in power makes it one of the current greats.
The Jaguar F-Type was designed and built as a tribute to the iconic Jaguar E-Type. Jaguar nailed it both as a tribute and as a modern sports car benchmark. At the F-Type's heart is either a meaty four-cylinder, a roaring V8, or a hellacious wildcat of a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 375 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. If you define an engine by numbers, those are a red herring. Jaguar's V6 is a pure athlete that snorts and crackles with excitement. Mixed with a ZF transmission, it's a prime example of matching an engine to a car and is one of the best sounding V6 engines ever.
Even in the hefty Q50 sedan, Nissan's VR series twin-turbo V6 is no slouch with its 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. In Red Sport 400 trim for either model, the 400 hp and 350 lb-ft available is explosive. It's why you buy a Q50 or Q60, as the cars themselves don't quite live up to the top trim engine. That VR based twin-turbo V6 is a big deal, though, and its performance is par with German rivals that sport M or RS badges. It's looking more and more like it will also end up in Nissan's upcoming all-new 400Z sports car. We can only hope like hell it does.
The Nissan GT-R is a shoo-in for this list with its frenetic twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 that Nissan claims can launch it to 60 mph in a staggering 2.7 seconds. In Premium trim, this particular VR series engine churns out 565 horsepower and 467 lb-ft of torque, while the Track Edition is tuned to make 600 horsepower. In any other car, the hyper-aggressive engine would be terrifying, but Nissan's unique approach to the all-wheel-drive drivetrain makes it just scary when abused. Just expect the same fuel bill as a naturally aspirated V8.
Toyota powers the most potent and fastest street-legal car Lotus has yet sold in the US. For the Evora GT, Lotus takes the 3.5-liter V6 and superchargers to create a total of 416 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque with the six-speed manual optioned. Adding the optional automatic transmission with paddle shifters brings the torque up to 332 lb-ft. When placed in the 3,104-pound Lotus car, it's an energetic engine that creates something amazing for experienced drivers to get their teeth into.
BMW has stuck with the straight-six for decades, and with good reason. While a V6 is easier to package in an engine bay, it comes with the downside of needing extra engineering to make sure the cylinders are counterbalanced closely when they fire. An inline-six is a naturally well-balanced engine and tends to be more refined and smoother to drive. Spend decades developing smooth and torquey straight-sixes like BMW has, then add two turbochargers, and you get something special. The 454 horsepower with 442 lb-ft of torque is smooth, yet somehow savagely delivered at the same time. Like Jaguar's F-Type, the numbers don't tell the whole story, though. BMW's straight-six in its M4 CS tune will hit 60 mph in under four seconds, and help it navigate the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in just seven minutes and 38 seconds.
Mercedes is coming back around to the inline-six, and the AMG tuned 3.0-liter turbocharged unit with EQ Boost, and an electric auxiliary compressor, is an elegant beast. At its peak, Mercedes-AMG GT 53 unleashes 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. That propels the sedan to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, and a shade quicker than a far, far, more expensive Porsche Panamera 4S - even when equipped with the Sport Chrono package. What the numbers don't tell you is how this engine is one of the smoothest applications of mild hybrid assistance and staged turbocharging the world has yet seen.
There are certain things you can guarantee with each generation of the Porsche 911. Mainly, it will look like a Porsche 911 always has, the engine will be at the rear, and that engine will have six cylinders arranged in a boxer format. For the new 992 generation, the 3.8-liter twin-turbo power plant generates 640 horsepower and 590 lb-ft in the 911 Turbo. Porche's engine and transmission wizardry catapult the sports car to 60 mph in a crunching 2.6 seconds. And it does it with no lag from the turbos. If that's not mouth-watering enough, we're still waiting for the 992 generation to spawn some hardcore versions like a 911 GT3 and an even crazier 911 GT2 RS.
Audi became famous for its five-cylinder engines nearly four decades ago, but, for modern performance models, the German automaker is happy to add cylinders. The RS5 gets its power from a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6, shared with the Porsche Panamera 4S, generating a total of 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. Its smoothness is comparable to a straight-six but packs a velvety punch to the gut when the throttle pedal is liberally applied. The RS5 will hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds with a tidal wave of torque pushing it off the line.
For the longest time, the benchmark for compact luxury performance sedans has been the BMW M3. In our experience, the car that comes closest to the outgoing generation of M3 for performance is the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. It's a feisty car with a fearsome 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 under the hood producing one hell of a soundtrack with its 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. The engine is a little laggy under 3,000 rpm, but once the turbos find their mark, it generated an awe-inspiring cacophony to accompany the power. Derived from Ferrari's latest turbo V8 engines, it sings, too, meaning it's one of the best sounding six-pots to make this list and a fitting way to finish off.