Throughout automotive history, the V6 engine has often gotten the short end of the stick.
Up until the 1970s or so, V6s were generally overshadowed by bigger, brawnier cousins like V8 engines. The original V6 engines, even relative to their own time, had trouble putting out enough horsepower and torque to really catch anyone’s eye. In the old days of classic cars, 6 cylinders didn’t quite cut it.
But today? The V6 is experiencing something of a renaissance.
Figure 1: The 3.5L EcoBoost V6 from Ford is an excellent example of a modern V6 engine. Source: Truck Trend.
With tighter and tighter emissions standards clamping down on automotive makers, the V6 was dug out of the garage and given another chance to shine. That plus some modern technological advancements and additional space- and cost-saving measures has allowed modern V6 engines to far outstrip their older, rather lackluster ancestors.
These days, there are tons of awesome V6 engines to choose from. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of some of the best V6s on the market. They’ll power your racecar or heavy-duty truck, all while saving on fuel and taking up very little space in your engine bay. It’s the perfect modern balance.
The Best V6 Engines
Ford 3.5L EcoBoost V6 (second generation)
Figure 2: The second-generation 3.5L EcoBoost V6 is the beating heart of many different Ford vehicles. Source: Green Car Congress.
First made available in 2017 for the Ford GT, the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 is without a doubt Ford’s best V6 engine. Testifying to its power and versatility, this engine has been used to power the GT on racetracks and the Ford F-150 pickup truck. In fact, this V6 replaced the supercharged V8 engine that had been used in the previous generation of the Ford GT. That’s quite a testament to how far V6s have come in recent years.
This little powerhouse can produce 647 HP when placed in the GT and comes with a 7-speed semiautomatic transmission system. In the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, the engine can get 450 HP—still quite an impressive figure. In the F-150 the 3.5L EcoBoost is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. In fact, this 10-speed system is exclusive to F-150s equipped with the 3.5L.
Figure 3: The Ford GT was outfitted with a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 starting in 2017. Source: Car and Driver.
What’s so great about the second generation 3.5L EcoBoost, you ask? Well, this new engine comes with port fuel injection that prevents buildup on the intake valves while keeping them clean. However, the direct fuel injection system from the first generation has been maintained for added utility. Moreover, the turbocharger comes with electronically actuated wastegart4s, turbine wheels, and narrow vane angles to enhance the effectiveness of the turbocharger.
The camshaft has also been upgraded. It is now hollow for added weight savings and includes two primary chain systems with a different chain for each cylinder bank. All this adds up to a new compression ratio of 10.5:1 (compared to the original 10.0:1) on an engine that is a full 4 lbs. lighter than the previous 3.5L EcoBoost V6.
Figure 4: The 3.5L EcoBoost with blue labels. Hey, the aesthetics of an engine matter too! Source: Blue Oval Trucks.
According to experts from Richmond Ford in Richmond, VA, the second generation of the 3.5L EcoBoost “is paired with the 10-speed automatic, which solved some of the original issues of the 1st generation.” The original generation engine “had moisture buildup, which this engine solved with a bigger and better intercooler.”
Additionally, the designers “played with the upper end camshaft timing to help the EcoBoost better cope with the 10-speed rather than the original 6-speed.” All in all, this engine offers “very smooth, buttery smooth power delivery and can go up multiple gears at one time if need be.” They added that “you can go up and down [the gears] and it’ll never make you wait.” Finally, “I can get 24 MPG on the highway if I behave myself … it’s power on demand.”
Powering the legendary Nissan GT-R since the 2007 model year, this engine with a less-than-catchy name comes with 24 valves and dual overhead camshafts with variable timing on the intake (that’s CVTCS for short). It’s a 3.8L V6 with 480 HP, a figure that is pushed further with each successive modification of the engine. As a racing engine, people are always finding new ways to shave off fractions of seconds and push the engine’s performance just a little bit further.
With a cast aluminum block and plasma-sprayed (less, plasma) cylinder liner bores, this engine has a nice tough coating for its pistons. This ensures that the pistons won’t be damaged even during high-intensity driving.
The VR38DETT is well-known among engine nerds for its classic-car crimson engine top.
Figure 6: That’s the color of a 1950s jukebox, or a Fender Stratocaster, or James Dean’s jacket from “Rebel Without A Cause.” In other words, it’s classic-car crimson. Source: YouTube.
If that weren’t cool enough, the exhaust manifold has the two IHI turbochargers integrated directly inside. This means that the Nissan GT-R is able to save on weight while enhancing balance. The whole engine clocks in at 608 lbs. Finally, a feedback control system alters air-to-fuel ratios based on the engine load. This does wonders for fuel efficiency.
All in all, this engine has been setting records ever since its creation back in 2007. It’s been upgraded several times and has only gotten more impressive. Incredibly, many of the adjustments are done in the Nissan factory by hand. All new measurements, tightening, or recalibrations are done by the team of master craftsmen at Nissan.
Figure 7: Did you know that the VR38DETT was available in the Juke-R? These cars are spoken of in legend. Some claim to have driven them, but no one believes. Source: MotorTrend.
This engine was available, ever so briefly, in the Nissan Juke-R as well. But friend, if you can find one of those, please do let us know! Apparently, only 23 such Juke-R models were ever produced.
Alfa Romeo JTS 3.2L V6
Figure 8: Much like the previous entry on our list, the JTS 3.2L V6 sports a classic-car crimson exterior. After all, why shouldn’t the inside of a car look cool too? Source: FavCars.
That’s the “Jet-Thrust Stochiometric” engine to you. Made by the Italian automaker Alfa Romeo (wow, now that’s an Italian-sounding name!), the Alfa Romeo JTS engine is a gasoline direct injection engine that was originally based on the 2.0 Twin Spark from the same company.
To design the 3.2L V6 JTS, Alfa Romeo took the best of both worlds: they took their previous V6 engine and combined it with the Twin Spark to produce a delicate balance of power, performance, and fuel economy.
The first Alfa Romeo JTS debuted on the market in 2002. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that the 3.2L V6 version was first produced. Known as the “cuore sportive,” this engine has a bore and stroke of 89 x 85.6 mm and comes with chain-driven camshafts. Alfa specially modified this design (first used by GM in their popular High Feature engine) and applied it to reinvent their previous V6 engine for the modern era. It injects a stoichiometric mixture that is specially optimized to boost performance while allowing for low fuel consumption.
The JTS V6 is well known for its fuel economy and overall masterful performance and characteristics. It includes “TwinPhaser” variables timing for the valves (made possible by phasing the camshafts on both inlet and exhaust cams) and gasoline direct injection. All this allows for an impressive 11.25:1 compression ratio. Best of all, it can put out 256 HP (260 according to some tests) at 6,200 RPM, along with 237 lb-ft of torque. This easily matches the power of larger engines.
The engine is well-known for requiring minimal maintenance thanks to its hydraulic tappets and timing gear with a chain drive. Another neat perk is its relatively low weight, due largely to aluminum cylinder head and crankcase. It does all this while easily meeting Euro4 exhaust limits. The Alfa 159 with this guy installed can hit 149 mph and go from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds.
The JTS V6 has been used in Alfa Romeo Visconti, the 159, the Brera, and the Spider from 2005 to 2010. Though the maker stopped using the JTS V6 in 2010, it remains to this day one of our personal favorite V6 engines. If you come across a car with one of these installed, snap it up fast.