What engines have left a lasting impression on you? Here's my top 5

Bumbling through the mists of a short road-testing career on cars and bikes

2w ago

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Can you have a great car without a great engine? You guys don't seem to think so – a few months back we listed some of the best engines of all time and you all seemed to suggest that the engines formed a cornerstone of the cars they were in.

Now the lovely people at Liqui Moly have told me it's my turn to share my personal favourite engines.

I've driven plenty of very good cars with so-so engines, but very rarely does a car linger in my mind for months on end if its engine didn't play a leading role.

And if it's true for cars, then motorcycles take this to the next level. The engine in a bike makes up about 90% of the experience. After all, you practically wear a bike's engine as underwear, and the rest of the machine simply hangs off it. You may think a Caterham provides a raw experience, but that's nothing compared to the howl of a Triumph's airbox six inches under your chin with your wrist pinning the throttle tube to its stop.

Over the past decade or so I've driven and ridden some incredible cars and bikes in the course of my job, and they tend to stick out in my memory all the more if they had incredible engines. So without further ado, here are the five car and bike engines that have stuck out the most.

It's worth noting I'm not saying these are the best engines in the world – simply the ones that made a mark on me. And remember I'm relatively new to this game – I've only been writing about cars and bikes for eight or so years, so you'll hopefully forgive the omission of a BRM W16.

BMW M3 CSL – the one I've not actually driven

Photo courtesy of @cslmanual on Instagram

Photo courtesy of @cslmanual on Instagram

Oops. That's a bad start, isn't it? Journalist talks about his favourite engines and immediately lists one he's not driven. Mind you, I've spent a lot of time in my mate's M3 CSL (since converted to a manual gearshift), and even though it's been a few years since my buttocks last clenched its Alcantara seats in blind panic, I can hear the intake noise and feel the sheer pull of the 3.2-litre S54 engine whenever I want to. I just close my eyes, and I'm there. It sounds like a Pterodactyl howling after stubbing its toe on a Brontosaurus' coffee table.

It sounds like pure motorsport, and it feels like it too.

Ducati 1198 – the one that scared me so much I bought it

We all like a challenge…

We all like a challenge…

Ducati made a name for itself off the back of its long-stroke L-Twin engines, featuring two giant pistons thudding up and down emitting a baleful drone through their Desmodromically opened and closed valves. Twins don't make as much horsepower as their four-cylinder rivals, but they deliver thumping walls of torque like a lazy V8. The long-stroke engine design was binned for an oversquare, high-revving design in the 1199, 1299 and V4 Panigales as Ducati chased horsepower figures. But despite these new bikes feeling scary-fast at the top end of the revs, they don't work as well on the road as the 1198.

Some say the 1198 took things too far, and it'll genuinely wheelie off the torque from a pretty mild throttle opening in third gear. It's a bit much, and it's quite a handful on the road – especially given its electronics are as rudimental as my grasp of Urdu. But it's a stark reminder of what makes Ducatis great.

Ferrari V12… any of them

The first couple of Ferraris I drove in my career left me excited, but strangely underwhelmed in the engine department. Sadly I'm just young enough that I never drove a naturally aspirated V8 Fezza, so first trips in a California T (meh) and a 488 (stomach-churningly fast but oddly soulless) left me a bit cold. That all changed when I spent a few days with a gorgeous blue GTC4 Lusso – the four-seater, V12-powered one.

The first time I fired the 6.3-litre engine up outside Ferrari UK's Slough HQ I giggled like a schoolboy who's just managed to stick a 'kick me' sign on his teacher's back. It fires up with a roar loud enough to perk up Enzo's ears in his Italian grave. It sings a gorgeous, soulful song no matter where you are in the rev range, though once you've been to the 8,250rpm redline you'll swear you've heard the voice of angels and will never want to drive another engine. Sigh. It's a cliche, but it really is that good.

Triumph Daytona 675

This one's stuck in my mind because it's a bike I owned in my early 20s just as I was getting into motorcycling. The Triumph 675 engine was a lightweight, modern three-cylinder engine with about 125hp, and it dragged the British bike brand up the sales charts thanks to its success in the Street Triple and Daytona 675.

I had a Street Triple as my first bike in 2009, but when I chopped it for a Daytona 675 in 2010 I realised what I'd been missing all along – an extra 2,000 or so revs. At low revs a Triumph triple has a divisive whistling tone and a chesty growl, but pinned to 13,900rpm my Daytona howled like an absolute banshee through the carbon-tipped Arrow exhaust that poked out under the rear light.

That shark-nosed exhaust made a lot of beautiful noise at high revs

That shark-nosed exhaust made a lot of beautiful noise at high revs

It roasted my bum when I took it on a roadtrip to Monaco, but it made such a beautiful racket through the famous harbourside tunnel that I didn't care. At full chat these high-revving triples sound more like a 60s Formula One car than anything else.

I once overtook a mate in his Mazda MX-5, running my Daytona's 1st gear out to about 70mph. My friend's ears were ringing all the way to the DVLA website to book his bike test. Fast forward to 2020 and we're both thinking of buying cheap second-hand Daytona 675s for track days.

Porsche 911 Speedster

Did you really think I'd make it through this without sneaking a Porsche in? How foolish of you.

I've driven plenty of vanilla 911s, but the more motorsporty ones have so far eluded my clumsy grasp. The closest I've come was a rainy roof-down drive across Yorkshire in the 991-gen 911 Speedster. It was at the end of 2019 and Porsche decided to stick their upcoming GT3 engine in this gorgeous and expensive run-out model. I knew I was about to be served an aural and visceral delight, but nothing prepared me for just how hard you have to try to rev this thing out.

The red line sits at 9,000 rpm, but your brain tells you to engage the clutch and use your hand to slip the six-speed manual gearbox into the next ratio at about 7,000rpm. That's because the 4.0-litre lump is already dispensing with an orchestral bawl and hammering you at the scenery rather quickly – but the last 2,000rpm is worth girding yourself for. The noise over your shoulder maintains its impossible crescendo as the tacho reaches 8,000rpm, and you become aware that the long gears mean you're doing very silly speeds now, even in second gear.

You have to dare yourself not to touch this until 8,500rpm at the very least

You have to dare yourself not to touch this until 8,500rpm at the very least

But you hold on and keep your foot on the accelerator, almost praying for the redline to arrive. Eventually it does – but only after you've smashed the speed limit, ruptured an eardrum and have seriously sweaty palms. I had to pull over and take a moment to compose myself after doing this a couple of times. It's a fantastic engine, but my god does it make you work for your fun.

Runners-up

I could've waffled on for many, many paragraphs about various engines that also have a place in my heart for various reasons. These would fill places 6-11, in no real order.

The Aprilia Tuono's 1,100cc V4. You won't find a better sounding engine in a road vehicle.

The 2015 Audi R8 V10. Ruined in the 2018-on car by emissions controls. It used to sound rude.

The six-cylinder in the 987-gen Porsche Boxster S. My brother had one with an aftermarket exhaust and it yelped like a GT3. New ones don't quite have the same noise.

The W16 in the Bugatti Chiron. Because it made me feel sick.

The air-cooled boxer twin in the BMW R Nine T. Old-school, loads of torque and a lovely noise.

The 4.0-litre V8 in the current G63. Sounds completely different to the same engine in any other AMG Merc. Dirty thing.

Which engines will you remember when you're in a retirement home? Tell us below.

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Comments (64)

  • I can only comment the low-end ones - I've driven a lot of cars, but not many exotic or special, so here it goes:

    1. Alfa Twin Spark 16v - Mine was a 1.6 105 PS, really the basic one - but that engine is so willing and so good on power delivery - of course, nothing can happen bellow 3k rpm considering the figures, but it would so happily and calmly cruise at 50 km/h in 5th gear and yet if you shift it downwards, it will spank every single italian horse in it to the max. And the noise above 4k rpm - nothing 1.6 out of mainstream cars can match that. Thirsty and fragile, though.

    2. FIAT FIRE 1.2 16v - I had this in my Brava - only 82 PS, but that must be the happiest, most responsive little engine ever - like a small happy dog, always ready, always barking, but nothing really happens :) you just feather your foot near the throtle and it already sits at 2k rpm, touch the pedal, you at 4k...unleash it and it's all show - no go... but so much fun. Drove it for 5-6 years, few sparks and cables changed for 20-30 EUR and it just kept running.

      19 days ago
  • My R33 GTR 2.6 sure traight 6. Bored to 2.8 and lots of exotic internals and tuning. I stopped at 650hp, it was enough and still an easy to drive daily if you wanted to.

    The torque was surprising, it pulled from the moment you touched the throttle and kept pulling until the redline. I never did it it 6th, couldn’t find anywhere to max it.

    It frightened me and thrilled me in equal measure.

    Astonishing engine from Nissan.

    Suzuki GSX-R1100: the original!

    1052cc 4 cylinder restricted to 125hp on entry to the U.K..

    Removing the exhaust and replacing with a lightweight race system was good for another 15-20hp. Replacing the rotor arm to take timing back to tdc gave another 10hp. Then came the big bore to 1260cc, exotic lightweight internals, change of carbs and playing with a different air box design and forced air induction gave another 100hp ish.

    Strong, durable engine. Loads of grunt. Huge amounts of torque. Delivered power in a savage rush if you were a little too keen on the throttle.

    It wanted to wheelie and wheel-spin at the same time, making racing starts interesting lol

    It was the best of the new generation of superbikes, the bikes that created that class. The engine was THE bike, everything centred around it. Even after big bores and tuning they were mega reliable and tough.

    M3 2002 plate. Excellent! Great engine in a great package.

    Shame mine only lasted 6 weeks.

    Honda CBX1100 6 cylinder.

    It dominated the bike, it was THE focal point.

    Fantastically smooth, the torque was a whoooooooosh of smooth power.

    As the revs rose the noise from the engine was phenomenal! It sounded like a jet fighter at higher revs.

    The only issue was the engine was so wide it affected ground clearance.

    But this wasn’t really a sports bike, more a sports tourer. Get on, relax and kick back, let the bike take the strain.

    One of the best bike engines of all time.

    Audi RS6 4.2ltr V8 twin turbo.

    What can you say, it was just a stonking good engine.

    Loads of power at your foot, loads of grunt, went like a stabbed rat. Slow by today’s standards, but a lovely engine all the same. It felt quite relaxed and I’d be surprised to see I was doing 110 on the motorway!

    The only issue was the suspension was a bit too stiff, driving it harder made it handle better and feel right. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

    Nothing particularly new there, the GSX-R was 1985, the Skyline was 1995, the RS was 2003 and the CBX was 1980.

    Overall I’d say the R33 was the best engine, but in standard trim the M3 was.

    The GSX-R was on another planet though and would have slaughtered all those cars in a race.

      18 days ago
  • S38 - 1987 M6

    Busso V6

    396 built

    440 built

    Any Ferrari V12 but especially carb’d units(512bbi)

    Volvo inline 5

    Lambo/Audi V10 (sounds really loud and raunchy in the V10 Plus. 😁

    F1 tens and twelves

    **flat plane cranks RULE

      19 days ago
  • BMWs straight six earns a place in terms of modern engines. This is an engine that switched from a petrolly growl to a smooth torque wave depending on the mode, accelerated smoothly way past 130, and yet achieves 40mpg!

      18 days ago
  • So here are my favourites:

    The 2.5 litre flat 6 in the 1st generation Porsche Boxster. It may be the entry level Porsche but the engine had plenty of power and a subtle yet peppy engine note. I love it every time we go for a ride in it.

    Call me boring but the 2.0 litre diesel engine produces by VW Group might not be the most exciting engine in the world bit it will run forever. I can also be surprisingly quick in, for example, the Skoda Octavia vRS or the VW Golf GTD.

    Finally, The 289 V8 in the Shelby Cobra 427. My friend's dad has one of these rare beauties and there is just to words to describe the engine. Loud and powerful.

      18 days ago
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