Hooninverse Asks- What’s the Best Car with a Bad Engine?


Have you ever had a blind date that seemed to be going so well – they appeared attractive, were reasonably articulate, and seemed to practice personal hygiene – only to have your hopes of a long term relationship dashed the first time they laughed? Or perhaps expressed their deep-seated hatred of other races and/or puppies? It was soooo close, right? And then they demonstrate this one flaw that make this otherwise acceptable person someone you would now douse yourself with gasoline and order the baked Alaska just to be rid of their company.

That’s the same thing that happens when you get an otherwise great car with a crappy engine. It may have great handling, or the build quality of a bank vault. Or maybe it’s simply the best looking car you’ve ever seen, so amazing a design that you secretly press your lips to its fenders and whisper odes to its mere existence. And all that can go right out the window due to a coarse or underpowered mill.

There are a number of cars that I have driven that have suffered this fatal flaw. The Smart FourTwo is not among them though, as while it does have a terrible two cylinder rock tumbler under its hatch, the rest of the car is equally unredeemable so it all pretty much balances out. Other cars are not so well balanced, some could even be tickling the toes of greatness if it weren’t for their terrible motors. Today I want your opinion of which ones those are.

Image source: TheDecaturMinute


    1. I drove one for a week and didn't feel it needed more power, sometimes I even thought it could do with less. If I had driven it on a track then I'm pretty sure I would have wanted more power and sticky tires, but for the street it's pretty much ideal as is.
      I have yet to drive a modern car that puts a smile on my face in straight-line acceleration, even 400hp is kind of meh in a modern car, no matter if it's a 5-series or something less isolated like a camaro. And it's not because my own cars are some kind of 900hp monsters, they do 0-62 in about 12 and 23 seconds respectively.

  1. Dodge Nitro
    Under powered. It sounds terrible and labored. Constant maintenance. Parts are expensive. Gas milage is horrid (I may as well be driving a full size pickup with 4wd and pulling a boat. i had a suburban that got better gas milage.)
    For being the most XJ-feeling vehicle since the beloved XJ and the power numbers being extremely similar to the bullet-proof 4.0 inline-6, the 3.7 is really a disappointing downfall of this vehicle… they may have been able to save it with a refresh/pentastar/7-speed like they are doing to everything else.
    <img src="http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2007/03/30/15/41/2008_dodge_nitro-pic-61221.jpeg"&gt;

    1. The 1st gen diesel Jeep Liberty is worse.
      Shoving a fork in a sink disposal makes a better sound.

    1. Winner.
      When the manufacturer is giving away little RX8 branded paper funnels with brand new cars to help owners with frequent oil top ups, you know that LSx/SR20DET/2JZ-GTE swap threads are coming.

      1. My buddy always asks where the smell of burnt oil is coming from when he's riding in my RX-8. Shaky hands and no free funnels…

  2. Not really bad, just outdated, the 4.3L V-6 in the 2013 Chevy Silverado. This engine dates from the early 1980s, or 1955 if you count the V-8 version, and doesn't even make 200HP in a full size truck. The gas mileage is the SAME as the V-8s, probably less in the real world, since you are more prone to have a heavy foot to get moving. About the only good thing I can say about this engine is that it is simple and in current form reliable. It FINALLY goes away in 2014 for a LS-X based V-6.

    1. Holy crap, I didn't realize you could still get the 4.3, I thought the base engine had been the 4.8 V8 for years. I have absolutely no idea why anyone with a mind would opt for the V6. it's not a horrible engine, but it was outdated 15 years ago, it costs about the same as the 4.8, and the 4.8 gets the same or better mileage while making 80 more hp and 50 more lb-ft. And the 5.3 costs a negligible amount more while getting about the same mileage and making a bit more power yet. This has to be a fleet sales thing, where companies have massive stockpiles of parts from having 4.3s for decades.

      1. I bought a 2011 Silverado new with a 4.3L V-6. It all came down to price, the 4.8L was $900 more, and availability. 95% of the 2WD Work Trucks out there have the V-6 and to get the substantial rebates you "must take delivery from dealer stock" or at least what the dealer can find and get transferred in. I had a baby on the way and was looking for the cheapest new GM vehicle I could stand. My wife's grandfather retired from GM, so we get his employee pricing. I got a RWD 6-passenger vehicle with a 10 year/100k mile warranty for less than $20k. Also, I had just been burned badly by repairs to a warped aluminum head on a BMW so the all iron 4.3 was comforting from a durability standpoint. I grew up with 160HP 350 V-8 trucks so I didn't think the 195HP V-6 would be that bad. In retrospect I would have probably looked harder for a 4.8L V-8, but the 4.3L is fine most of the time, just the 0-20 time is abysmal.

        1. My rat rod has a 4.3 It is impossible to get nice heads for it. They all suck.

        2. I hadn't considered the availability aspect. Just seems that the VAST majority in my area had the 5.3, so I never really considered it.

          1. All the ones above work truck level come with a V-8 and there isn't much price difference between the 4.8 and the 5.3. You can ONLY get the V-6 with the cheap ass WT package, which usually means manual locks and windows and rubber floormats.

    2. Although they've fixed that for the 2014. Still a 4.3 V6, but it's a Gen 5-based engine, direct injection and all, instead of the 1955 Gen 1-based engine they had in 2013 and before.

  3. <img src=" Ihttp://www.autotraderclassics.com/images/a/2013/01/04/67855909/0_DSC00282.JPG" width="600"> One from the WABAC machine: Triumph Spitfire. Utterly lovely design, Lotus-grade handling (after they sorted the rear end, at least), gutless lump of an engine throughout its run, going from either tiny (will that be the merely inadequate 1300cc motor or the totally inadequate 1100cc motor for you, sir?) or merely small (1500) but hopelessly choked by primitive smog controls towards the end. Flip side: one of these with a Hayabusa motor would be an all-time nasty street fighter.

    1. Nein Zis is not true… anymore.
      The aftermarket has finally fixed most of the flaws with the stag V8, mostly to do with the cooling system. The engine itself is actually quite nice and well behaved and they can sound amazing as well.
      [youtube 41egoJCTe4c http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41egoJCTe4c youtube]
      My vote would be for the Prowler, interesting idea, nothing wrong with the v6 itself, it just was just two cylinders short of what the car needed.

    1. And don't forget the 7M and its improperly torqued cylinder head, otherwise a quite nice engine, incredibly smooth.

  4. 2010 Ford Mustang. Anyone else remember how the first year of the current generation of 'stangs was 100 hp behind the Camaro. That 200 hp V6 was so very sad.

    1. I felt so bad for the early 2010 buyers who bought their cars before the new engines were announced. It had to be a huge punch in the gut that if you had waited 6 months to buy your new GT that you would have gotten 100 more hp, a 6 speed, and Brembos for like an extra $1000. Even worse for the V6 buyers, where you went from having a 200 hp, 26 mpg, 5 speed car to having a 300 hp, 30 mpg, 6 speed car. Ford kind of pulled a dick move by releasing the new body style before they annonced the new engines were coming.

    2. Ford kinda does that with refreshes. I was in the market for a Mustang when the 5.0 came out and climbed all over the 'net looking for 2010 4.6 GTs thinking I could get a deal on one.
      The 2010 sold at a pace just like they had the year before. The reason- many Mustang GT buyers wanted a fresh face and could not care much about the engine enough to wait for one.
      When the 2011's came out, I read on the window sticker that the transmission was "Made In China" which instantly turned me off all new Mustangs. That 6 speed is garbage.
      But yea- I'd be all sorts of pissed if I'd bought a 2010 and 1 week later the 5.0s were rolling into the dealers.

      1. From personal experience, sadly yes. Totally agree with CABEZAGRANDE below, should have had the 2zz, it wouldn't have just made it more reliable but outgunned the NB MX5/Miata to boot.

      2. The Z engines are known for ring issues, and burning tons of oil.
        I hear that if you hone and re-ring them, they're actually fine, the problem is, it's rarely worth doing that.

    1. This. The 1ZZ is a piece of crap. And the 2ZZ fits in the car with basically no effort, while being in every way a better engine. Toyota missed an easy to catch boat there.

    1. Edit: Yes, the FourTwo ForTwo is powered by a 1.0l three, whose main problem is requiring 91-octane premium, yet still returning lackluster fuel economy numbers. Though the real problem with the Smart is the awful 5-speed semi-automatic gearbox.

      1. The engine isn't especially horrible, it just doesn't do anything well, and it wasn't well optimized for the US market having crap fuel.
        (Our premium can be as bad as everywhere else's regular.)
        The fuel economy problems are simply due to the ForTwo having SUV-like frontal area. Nothing with that frontal area will be efficient. Well, OK, the diesel is, but not compared to conventional city cars with much bigger diesels, and the diesel only has 54 hp, so acceleration can be measured with a calendar.
        (The diesels that Canada got, with 40 hp and a 6-speed, acceleration to 60 takes a full 20 seconds. Yes. That bad. The transmission didn't help, but still.)

    2. Yep.
      The Smart coupe had the crap engine and crap CVT. I'd love to have this car with a real manual trans and a 1.0 ecoboost.
      At one point, a group wanted the tooling to continue building the car as an MG. Failed. 🙁

  5. I was going to go with the Volvo 480 as my Fran Drescher, but this image of a '57 TP21 came-up when I GISed "volvo 480 interior." Thank you for messing-up google.
    Edit: R.H.H.N.E.! Here is the full size http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_b8LtCs27Pb4/S6nxENUJg9I… Also, I'm not suggesting any Sugga for the answer today, just I stopped caring about finding a 2.0 480 interior when I saw that beautiful photo.
    Edit2: Right Honourable Hoon Nibbles Esquire you are not being a good sport today…
    <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_b8LtCs27Pb4/S6nxENUJg9I/AAAAAAAABkM/97ggQ38u8fk/s600/1957+Volvo+TP21.jpg"&gt;

        1. Extra points to you for getting the umlaut over the correct letter in "Spinal"… 😀

      1. Well there you go, I had no clue! Also Fran Drescher has enough charisma to outweigh the voice, I crushed on her too, just like the 480.

    1. Yeah…I'll easily go deaf whenever she laughs if I could get her in the sack.

      1. Pretty enough, but I'd ditch any K-G without a second thought the moment an SP2 showed up.

      1. Maybe for the out of warranty repairs. But I have NEVER heard of a new one with a 350. Lots of easy aftermarket conversions, but no new ones.

        1. Thanks, I couldn't remember that the foundations of the Earth had been shaken by that cause in the most glorious decade. The defeat of swapping a British V12 with an American farmer's engine V8 right after a Jag's birth would probably have led to mass heart attacks all over the Isles and to a serious rupture of transatlantic ties.

  6. Can't say, I've never driven a car with a rubbish engine. Out of the several dozen cars I've driven in the last few years the worst I can say is that the vast majority of them had boring engines, even if they were perfectly adequate. Two or three engines have been really really good, but that's for another thread.
    But I have to say the most disappointing engine must have been the L99 in the convertible Camaro 45th anniversary edition, not because it's rubbish but because it sounded awful. Loud, but awful.

  7. Dodge D50. Way ahead of its time with regard to comfort and drivability for a small truck. Also, had a ton of nice options. Unfortunately, the G54B/Carburetor/jet valve head/pluggy catalytic converter combo was good for only about 120k.
    Now, there are all gone….almost.

    1. Really, the only problematic OM603s (the rest of the car is another story for all of them, though, but especially the W140 is ultra-bad) are the early-production (especially mid 1980s or so) 3.0s, and the 3.5s (but even the 3.5s got better towards the end of production).
      Early 3.0s crack heads, most 3.5s bend rods (and trash the block in the process).
      I believe the heads are interchangeable.
      Solution, if you get a mid-80s W126 with a cracked head, find someone with a 3.5 W126 or W140 with bent rods. Buy their head. Problem solved, you now have a completely reliable engine.

  8. I have frequently shouted my indifference towards Nissan's VQ V6 from whatever rooftops I can get access to. It's good, it's effective, whatever, but it's just so obnoxiously shouty, all BUUWAHHH!!! Even when you're just poking around town. Of course, the cars using it are occasionally of questionable goodness (*cough*MURANO!*cough*).

    1. A guy at work has spend thousands on his 370z…he put an exhaust in it…i told him it sounded good, but damn, It sounds like ass…whiny, nasaly ass.

      1. Thirded. The G37 is one of the saddest-sounding vehicles on the planet. It always reminds me of doing those asthma tests where you huff into a cardboard tube.

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