Forget the past and don't worry about the future; the present belongs to the V6. Today there are V6s in large cars, V6s in small cars and V6s in trucks, crossovers and vans. The V8 may be 1st in the hearts of American gearheads and fours are more frugal, but the V6 is what we drive today. So here now, Inside Line definitively and absolutely lists the 25 greatest cars or trucks ever powered by a V6 engine.
Greatness for the purposes of this list is defined as superiority in the context of the car's production era, standard setting for future vehicles, advancing automotive technology and being plain wicked bitchin'. By those standards, every vehicle listed here slots in perfectly.
This list is not limited to regular production vehicles, but only two racecars made the cut and everything else was produced in quantity. 5 Americans made the list, 3 French machines (go figure), 3 Italian-made, 3 Germans, 3 Brits, 1 Korean, 1 Irish and fully 5 Japanese. And if you want to get picky, 1 of the Americans and 2 of the Brits have Japanese-made engines, and the Irish car's power plant was built in France. Mix and match the nationalities anyway you like.
But no matter how weirdly multinational it is, this list is perfect.
25. 1981 DeLorean DMC-12: With only 130 horsepower available from its French-made 2.8-liter, "Douvrin" V6, the Irish-assembled, midengine DeLorean was never a very good sports car. But it gets big points for audacity; it's a car built through the sheer will of one man. With this car John DeLorean proved to the world he could build a real, albeit flawed, car from scratch. But he couldn't build a business to support it.
24. 2005 Alfa Romeo Brera: Look beyond the Brera's phenomenal, Pininfarina-drawn good looks, and what's underneath is one of the most technologically daring cars of its time. Way back in 2005, this brilliant machine was available with all-wheel drive, Magnetti Marelli's "Selespeed" automated 6-speed manual transaxle and the glorious Jet Thrust Stoichiometric (JTS) direct-injection, 256-hp 3.2-liter V6. The Brera was a stunner in every way. Too bad it was never sold here.
23. 1977 Renault Alpine A310: When it was introduced in 1971 this angular brute was supposed to replace the legendary A110. But there was still life in the 4-cylinder A110 and it went on to win the first World Rally Championship in 1973. So the A310 didn't come into its own until the same mid-mounted Douvrin V6 and 5-speed manual transaxle as the DeLorean DMC-12 was bolted in. The result was a French car sophisticated enough to take on Porsche's 911. At least it did for a while.
22. 2010 Chevrolet Camaro: While the brawling V8-powered Camaro SS gets most of the press, the latest V6-powered Camaro is a fantastic package in its own right. Using GM's latest direct injection DOHC, 24-valve V6, the base 2010 Camaro had 304 hp aboard when it was introduced, and that was bumped to 312 hp in time for the 2011 model year. For perspective, that's 2 more horses than what was offered in the 5.7-liter, LS1 V8-powered 2002 Camaro Z28.
Incidentally, the first Camaro V6 was available in the 1980 model year. That 3.8-liter OHV unit, breathing through a 2-barrel carburetor was rated at only 115 hp.
21. 2010 Lotus Evora: This 2+2 is, by far, the most comfortable and everyday usable car Lotus has ever built. Much of the credit for that goes to the 276-hp, 3.5-liter Toyota-built V6 that sits in the middle of it. Yes it's the same engine that powers the Avalon, Camry and Sienna minivan. It works great in this Lotus.
20. 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe: Hyundai's rear-drive Genesis Coupe is the company's first high-performance, rear-drive two-door GT and it's better than anyone expected. While a turbocharged four is available, Hyundai's muscular 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 is the engine that seems to go best with this chassis. Rated at 306 hp, it has a boundless torque curve and sounds like it just rumbled through all of Seoul's biker bars kicking all available asses.
19. 1998 Audi S4: When it seemed that BMW's M3 would rule the small sedan world forever, along came the brilliant S4 channeling all the power from its twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 through Audi's legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system. While this S4 is technically the second 1, it was the first based on the outstanding "B5" platform that recast expectations for the entire Audi brand.
The modest 250-hp output of this engine is deceptive. Its torque spread was awesome, with the 258 pound-feet peak way down at 1,850 rpm, staying there through 3,600 rpm and barely dropping off by the time the 6,800-rpm redline was hit. Audi claimed a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds and many owners did much better than that.
18. 2009 Nissan 370Z: Nissan has been building its "VQ" series of DOHC 24-valve V6 engines since 1994 and installing them in everything except Carlos Ghosn's liver. But it's in the current 370Z that this legendary V6 has found its most spectacular showcase. To be specific, the VQ in the 370Z is the 3.7-liter 332-hp "VQ37VHR" featuring Nissan's VVEL variable valve timing and lift system, a robust 11.0:1 compression ratio and an intoxicating 7,500-rpm redline. It's an engine that makes this Z-car the most satisfying to drive in the 42-year history of Z-cars.
17. 2011 Audi R18 TDI: With its 3.7-liter, single-turbo diesel V6, the R18 seems almost tame compared with the V10 turbodiesel R15 TDI it succeeds in international endurance racing. But the closed-cockpit R18 TDI is built not only to be fast, but efficient. And in its debut at Le Mans in 2011, it took the overall win by just under 14 seconds, beating Peugeot's 908 turbodiesel V8 prototype.
16. 2003 Infiniti G35: Though Nissan's Infiniti division was launched alongside Toyota's Lexus in 1990, the two luxury brands had very different childhoods. Lexus thrived immediately, while Infiniti never seemed to find its groove. By the early 21st century Infiniti was near irrelevance, and then along came the new G-Series for 2003 and suddenly Infiniti mattered.
The new G35 was the powerful, rear-drive, entry-level luxury machine Infiniti had always needed. Its VQ-Series 3.5-liter V6 delivered 260 hp which, when combined with a supple front-midengine chassis, made the car competitive with the BMW 3 Series unlike any previous Japanese sedan. The gorgeous G35 coupe soon followed.
15. 2002 Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG: AMG traded in the C43's 4.3-liter V8 for a supercharged version of Mercedes' 3.2-liter 18-valve V6 and produced a faster, more nimble version of the C-Class four-door. With 349 hp and a chunky 332 lb-ft feeding through a 5-speed automatic transmission, the C32 could stay with its contemporary BMW M3 while delivering superior comfort. Yes today's C63 is faster still, but the C32 may be better balanced. And zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds is still mighty quick.
14. 2011 Ford Mustang: By now the 2011 Mustang V6's power and EPA numbers have taken on mystic significance — 305 ponies and 31 mpg on the highway. Those are numbers that convince sensible wives to let their impulsive husbands buy Mustangs. They're numbers that have you looking forward to renting a Mustang convertible from Hertz the next time you go to Miami. They're numbers that take the base Mustang out of the realm of "secretary's car" and propel it into the world of serious performance cars.
Of course, the 3.7-liter DOHC 24-valve all-aluminum V6 in the current base Mustang still isn't a good substitute for a V8. It simply doesn't have the low-end torque production necessary for that. But when even the slowest manual-transmission Mustang will rip to 60 in just 5.6 seconds (5.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout), there's at least 1 thing right with the world.
13. 1992 Volkswagen Corrado VR6: Now that it's been out of production for 16 years, the Corrado may be more beloved now than when it was new. A wedge-shaped hatchback that succeeded that Scirocco, it was available with either normally aspirated or supercharged versions of VW's familiar four-cylinder engines when introduced as a 1989 model. But it was when VW installed the clever, narrow-angle "VR6" V6 engine in 1992 that the Corrado reached full flower.
The VR6 used an ultra-narrow 15-degree separation between cylinder banks that allowed the engine to be shorter than many four-cylinder engines, not much wider and contain its 12-valve valvetrain in a single head over both cylinder banks. Displacing 2.8 liters in the North American version, the VR6 produced 179 hp, a deep well of torque and a sound that could have come from a hundred baritone saxophones.
12. 1989 Ford Taurus SHO: In the late 1980s there was no car more ordinary than the Ford Taurus. And that's why the Taurus SHO (for super high output) was so extraordinary. To boil it down, it was the regular Taurus sedan crammed full of a gorgeous Yamaha-made 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve iron-block, aluminum-head V6 rated at 220 hp. This was heady stuff for a time when the 3.8-liter V6 available in normal Tauruses could only lump out 140 horses.
Using its Mazda-made five-speed transmission to full effect, the Taurus SHO would traipse to 60 in about 6.6 seconds and top out at more than 140 mph. Consider this engine the prototype for all the V6s that were to come in the 1990s and 21st century.
11. 2001 Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport: This car is both the spiritual and literal successor to the legendary midengine, rear-drive R5 Turbo that Renault built between 1980 and 1984. But instead of the old car's turbocharged 158-hp 1.4-liter 4, the Clio's midsection was stuffed full of a 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 rated at 227 hp. And in 2003 that output was further bumped up to 255 hp.
In fact, the Clio V6 was about the least French Renault ever built. It was in great part engineered by Britain's Tom Walkinshaw Racing and essentially hand-assembled at that company's facility in Uddevalla, Sweden. It ceased production in 2005.
Always a handful to drive, the Clio V6's natural attitude was power-induced oversteer. Renault claimed a 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds and a 147-mph top speed. And you'll likely never see one in America.
10. 1988 McLaren MP4/4: McLaren had a thoroughly frustrating 1987 in Formula 1. So it did a few things to change its luck. 1st it got Honda to supply the astonishingly powerful RA168-E 1.5-liter turbo V6. 2nd, the team hired legendary British designer Gordon Murray and underrated American engineer Steve Nichols and gave them carte blanche to build the lowest and most advanced chassis possible. And 3rd, McLaren hired Ayrton Senna to drive alongside Alain Prost.
To review: Straight out of Japan comes the best F1 engine with something like 1,000 hp, in the best racing chassis ever, that happened to be designed by a Brit and Yank, driven by the best drivers of the era, who were French and Brazilian. And, oh yeah, the British McLaren team itself was founded by a New Zealander.
All that international cooperation resulted in Prost and Senna winning 15 of the 16 Grand Prix races between them that year. With Senna winning his 1st championship.
9. 1992 Jaguar XJ220: For a brief moment in time, the fastest production car on Earth was the Jaguar XJ220. With its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 tuned to produce 542 hp, this sleek midengine wonder managed to hit speeds in excess of 200 mph. And with the catalytic converters removed, F1 driver Martin Brundle jockeyed one to 217 mph on the Nardo Ring in 1992.
Carrying a list price of about $650,000, the XJ220 is the most expensive road-going production car powered by a V6 ever built. And that's likely why only 281 were ever built.
8. 1971 Citroen SM: In many ways the SM is flat ridiculous. Its styling is bizarre and the interior funky in every way possible. It was a front-drive luxury car with a complex hydro-pneumatic suspension system that could bankrupt an owner if it needed fixing. There were green rubber balls throughout the engine compartment that were part of the suspension system. And the 2.7-liter, 170-hp V6 engine was swiped from Maserati, which at the time was owned by Citroen.
But despite its weirdness, the SM also pioneered technologies that are taken for granted today. Things like self-leveling suspension, variable assist power steering, self-adjusting brakes and self-leveling headlights. The SM wasn't the car of the future, but there was a lot of the future in the SM.
7. 1991 GMC Syclone and Typhoon: In 1991 GMC went nuts and produced the Syclone: a dumpy Sonoma compact regular cab pickup with a turbo heaving into its pushrod iron-block 4.3-liter V6 that in turn fed a 4-speed automatic transmission and a full-time all-wheel-drive system. It was gloriously quick. The 280 hp on tap rocketed the truck to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in about 13 seconds flat.
The Syclone featured a hodgepodge of GM parts. The instrumentation was ripped out of the 1990 Pontiac Sunbird Turbo, the center console and shifter came from the Corvette and the all-wheel-drive system itself was plucked out of the Safari minivan. But it all somehow worked.
While there were three Syclones built for the 1992 model year, the other 2,992 were all constructed as 1991 models. For 1992 all the Syclone's mechanical bits were installed into Jimmy SUV body shells to create the Typhoon. A total of 4,697 Typhoons would be built through 1993. After that, GMC regained its hold on rationality.
6. 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo: The 1990 "Z32" 300ZX was a visual stunner: an aerodynamic gun turret on wheels. After almost a decade and a half of soft Z-cars, this one was tough: wide, squat and gorgeous. But, best of all, the twin-turbo version was fast.
Look into the engine bay of a 300ZX Twin Turbo and it's so densely packed that you can't see down to the pavement below. All the turbo and intercooler hardware force-feeding the 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 filled every nook and cranny. But the result was 300 hp. And that was enough to push the 3,474-pound Z-car to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.4 seconds at 102.5 mph. For 1990, that was humping.
5. 1969 Ferrari Dino 246 GT and GTS: Technically speaking, the Dino isn't a Ferrari. It's a Dino. In the late 1960s the idea was for Ferrari to build these midengine, 6-cylinder cars named for Enzo Ferrari's late son as a separate line. Ferrari would go on building V12-powered, front-engine road cars under the Ferrari name. But owners quickly insisted that their Dinos were Ferraris and rebadged them as such — whether Ferrari liked it or not.
The first road-going Dino was the 206GT with a 160-hp, 2.0-liter V6. The V6 itself was based on the Dino racing engine and built on a Fiat assembly line (many of the engines wound up in Fiat's own front-engine Dino Coupe). But it wasn't until the next year, when the engine was opened up to 2.4 liters, output spiked up to 175 hp and the car was renamed the 246GT that greatness was achieved.
With its utterly seductive Pininfarina body, the Dino is an undeniably great car. But its greatest legacy is actually the cars that have replaced it. The V8-powered 308 series that succeeded the Dino began a string of great midengine Ferraris leading directly to today's 458 Italia.
4. 2009 Nissan GT-R: The current GT-R is indisputably the most capable performance car ever equipped with a V6 engine. The 2009 model's 3.8-liter V6, thanks to twin-turbocharging, was rated at a massive 480 hp and a thick 430 lb-ft of peak torque. Using a rear-mounted 6-speed automated manual transmission and all-wheel drive, it blew to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and obliterated the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 116.8 mph.
Since 2009, however, the GT-R has only grown quicker. The 2012 GT-R now sports 530 hp and will slam to 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds and devastate the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds at a spooky 124.1 mph. On top of that, it handles brilliantly, has so much traction you could almost drive it on your ceiling, and will trawl like a Maxima through any daily commute.
3. 1972 Lancia Stratos: The Stratos is only incidentally a production road car. It was built to rally and win rally championships. It was only the rules that said 500 had to be made that put it into production.
Incredibly tiny (its wheelbase is only 85.8 inches), the Stratos used the same Ferrari-designed 2.4-liter V6 as the Ferrari Dino 246GT. But in this application it was rated at 192 hp and the Stratos only weighed in at a bit more than a ton. It's not an easy car to drive well, but it's a car that deserves to be driven perfectly.
As a racecar the Stratos was absolutely successful, winning the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
2. 1987 Buick Grand National and GNX: At a time when American automotive performance seemed dead, it was Buick's black turbocharged Grand National and its limited-production brother the GNX that kept the flame alive. Combining a single turbocharger and an intercooler with Buick's ordinary iron-block 3.8-liter V6 and sequential fuel injection resulted in 245 hp. An even bigger turbo with ceramic blades on the GNX (only 547 were built) ripped that up to 276 hp and maybe even more. A solid GNX could reach 60 mph in about 4.7 seconds.
Basically these cars ruled the streets of America in the late 1980s, beating 5.0 Mustangs and even Corvettes with ease. In fact, turbo Buick guys all bought the same license plate frame back in the day. It read, "I brake for Corvettes."
Then some idiot at GM decided Buick should only make luxury cars and the party was over.
1. 1991 Acura NSX: It was the first car Honda sold in America with the VTEC variable valve timing system. Today it's hard to find any car that doesn't have variable valve timing. It was the first production car sold in America using an all-aluminum structure. Today, that's still cutting-edge. It was a sports car so delicate in its response and so quick in its reflexes that Ferrari went back to the drawing board and started building better cars. And yet it was a sports car that could be driven and used every day like an Integra.
The midengine NSX reset the standards for every production car. Not just sports cars, every car. Not to mention that the great Ayrton Senna had a hand in its development.
Power came from an all-aluminum DOHC 3.0-liter V6 making 270 hp and an F1 soundtrack. And it revved to 8,000 rpm. Big numbers in 1991.
From two decades out, the NSX looks even better than it did back then. It was the car of the future then, and in many ways it still is.