The automotive world is filled with tons of different awards from dozens or hundreds of different companies. Everyone wants their cars to be given awards because they can go and use that for their marketing, saying, “look at us, by our car because this award and that award, so we’re clearly superior to the competition.”
At the end of the day, a lot of these awards are kind of iffy and probably a waste of time, but there is one award I wanted to look at, and that’s the International Engine of the Year award. This award has been going on since 1999, and if it wasn’t for Covid, it would still be going on, but it’s been on hiatus since 2019.
Presumably, because a lot of the judges are fairly old and gathering them in one place might not be a good idea. Anyways, let’s take a look at every engine that has ever won this award and what makes each engine special. Stick around to the end because the most recent winner will definitely surprise you.
Who Make the Award?
Before we get into each engine that has won the award, I think we should quickly cover who organizes the award, who is judging the engines, and what the qualifications are. This award is put together by UKi Media & Events, which is a company founded and run by a gentleman named Tony Robinson.
The award is given to each engine based on the decision of a panel of 70 judges. There are categories for each engine, and they rank them accordingly. In every category, the judges each shortlist engines using their subjective driving impressions and technical knowledge, taking into account characteristics such as fuel economy, smoothness, performance, power delivery, noise, and overall drive-ability.
With that in mind, I want to note that this award is highly subjective and strictly based on new engines in new cars. None of these judges are judging the engines based on how easy they are to work on, how reliable they are over the next ten years, aftermarket performance, or anything like that. They’re basing this entirely on fuel economy, performance, noise, and other things.
That makes this really subjective. For example, who’s to say how much engine noise is too much noise? What about fake noise piped into the cabin or through the speakers? What about drive-ability? A lot of that has to do with the transmission and how it’s tuned? Are they going to rate an engine with a DCT the same as an engine with a manual?
Just keep all that in mind as we go through the list. It’s all highly subjective, and although there’s a nice big panel of 70 judges, with an average of 28 years of experience in the automotive journalism field, it’s still a flawed award, as is pretty much every automotive award.
If we look at this from oldest to newest, we’ll start in 1999 when the first award was given, and it was given to the – drum roll please – Toyota 1SZ-FE 1.0L in the Toyota Yaris.
1999 – Toyota 1SZ-FE 1.0 L Yaris
This engine was actually jointly developed by Toyota and Daihatsu. The SZ engine family as a whole is a family of small four-cylinder engines produced for small cars, including the Yaris, Echo, and Vitz. Other SZ engines, such as the 2SZ and 3SZ, are also used in tons of Daihatsu applications Perodua.
The 1SZ is a 1.0L cast-iron block engine with four valves per cylinder driven by dual overhead cams, a bore and stroke of 69mm by 66.7mm, a compression ratio of 10:1, and a massive power output of 69hp and 70lb-ft of torque. It also features Toyota’s VVT-i system and an offset crankshaft.
Realistically, this engine is really boring. There’s genuinely nothing special about it all. It’s tiny, barely makes any power, has no advanced features, and it just does its job.Okay, moving on to the year 2000, we have yet another 1.0L engine, but this time it’s from Honda.
2000 – Honda 1.0 L IMA Insight
This engine is the ECA1, which is the engine used in the first generation Honda Insight. While the Honda Insight itself is extremely boring, the ECA1 was actually really advanced at the time that it came out.
This engine is a tiny three-cylinder 1.0L engine with a single overhead cam 12 valve head. Paired with that engine is a 10kW electric motor which provides an extra 13hp and 36 lb-ft of torque. It’s rated at a whopping 67hp, which is ironically almost as bad as the Toyota engine that won the award in 1999.
Because Honda’s engineers had such a big focus on keeping this engine and the entire platform lightweight, the engine is constructed from aluminum, magnesium, and plastic.
The electric engine is part of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid technology. It’s a very thing brushless motor that’s mounted on the crank. When combined with the 1.0L gas engine, the output is increased to 73hp and 91lb-ft of torque.
I could be wrong, but I’d have to suspect a lot of why this engine won in 2000 was because of its insane fuel economy rating of 61mpg and the fact that it had a hybrid drivetrain, which wasn’t something you’d normally see back then. Okay, moving on from these boring little engines, let’s look at the 2001 award winner, which is the BMW S54 found in the M3.
2001 – BMW S54 3.2L M3
In 2001, the M3 was on a tear. It produced a ton of power, looked absolutely amazing, and dominated the competition. This is a little off-topic, but I think the E46 M3 is still one of the BMW’s best-looking cars ever, and the design hasn’t dated at all. They could release the E46 M3 this year with a few minor tweaks, and you’d have no idea it was released two decades ago. Anyways, the S54 under the hood is an evolution of the M54.
Unlike the M54, though, the S54 uses a heavy cast-iron block which is actually based on the block from the S50 in the E36. Realistically, the S54 is almost more of an evolution of the S50 rather than the M54, but that’s a topic for another day.
It features a bore and stroke of 87mm by 91 mm, bringing total displacement up to 3.2L, which was up from the S50, which was only a 3.0L. It also features a forged and nitrated crankshaft with twelve counterweights, forged connecting rods, and high compressions forged pistons. All of this was designed to help the rotating assembly handle the stress of high RPM, with a redline around 8,000 RPM.
The aluminum, 24-valve cylinder head got a pretty major redesign as compared to the S50’s head. Not only is the S54 head lighter, but it also includes an improved continuously variable valve timing double-VANOS system, new hollow camshafts, and finger followers instead of the old bucket-style lifters. One of the more notable features is the intake’s individual throttle bodies, which offer a ton of performance.
All that fancy stuff equals an output of 338hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, the variant we had here in the US had a few small changes to help with emissions compliance, so ours produces a little bit less at 333hp and 262lb-ft of torque.
It’s easy to understand why this engine won in 2001. It sounds amazing, has a great power curve, produces a ton of power considering it’s naturally aspirated, and it was packaged into a great car. Of course, the car isn’t supposed to affect the rating of the engine, but I highly doubt all 70 judges were impartial to the fact that the E46 M3 was an amazing car and chassis when it was new.
2002 – BMW N62 4.4L Valvetronic
Moving on to 2002, we have another BMW engine as the winner. This time around, it wasn’t one of BMW’s beloved inline-six engines. It was actually one of their V8 engines. More specifically, it was 4.4L N62. Right off the bat, I have to imagine two things that helped this engine win in 2002: one, it was the first engine in the world to use a continuously variable-length intake manifold, and two, it was BMW’s first V8 engine to feature variable valve lift.
Of all the N62 engines, the specific version we’re looking at is the N62B44, with that 44 at the end of the name for the 4.4L of displacement of the engine. You could find this engine in the 745i, X5, 545i, and 645Ci. It was in production from 2001 up to 2007.
In terms of some basic specs, we’re looking at a bore and stroke of 92mm by 82.7mm, which makes this engine quite undersquare. This isn’t something we see as often anymore in the automotive world since you’ll generally end up with more favorable results by using a fairly even bore and stroke. The block is cast aluminum, as are the cylinder heads. In the heads, you’ll find dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.
Power output is rated at 329hp and 330lb-ft, which is surprisingly even considering the bore and stroke. Okay, moving on to 2003, we have a big change of pace, with the winner having zero pistons at all.
2003 – Mazda 1.3L Renesis RX-8
More specifically, the 2003 winner was actually a rotary, the Mazda 1.3L found in the RX8. More specifically, the 13B-MSP Renesis, which is the multi-side port engine, won. This is an evolution of the 13B rotary, with an emphasis on reducing emissions output and improving fuel economy, both of which were pretty bad on the 13B.
Compared to previous rotary engines, the Renesis had a few major changes. Most notably, the exhaust port sare not peripheral, but instead, they’re located on the side of the housing of the engine. Mazda did for an increase in power since it effectively increases the compressions ratio and eliminates overlap.
They also improved how the rotors are sealed with redesigned and improved seals, most notably a change to the apex seals. Along with that came improved power and engine longevity. I’m sure if you’ve looked around online, you’ll see plenty of people talking about apex seal failure, and while it is a big point of contention, it’s an area Mazda improved or at least tried to improve with the Renesis engine.
2004 – Toyota 1NZ FXE 1.5L Hybrid Synergy Drive Prius
Okay, this takes up to 2004, where we’re unfortunately back to a boring winner for this award, so I’ll try to get through this section quickly. This is the 1NZ-FXE from Toyota, which is the 1.5L Hybrid drivetrain found in the Toyota Prius. It features a bore and stroke of 75mm by 84.7mm, which is actually interesting, but it makes sense in this context because there are fuel efficiency benefits to using a longer stroke, which we’ve covered in another article.
It also features a very high 13:1 compression ratio, but because it uses an Atkinson’s cycle, the effective compression ratio is actually lower at 9.5:1. To put it simply, the Atkinson’s cycle provides a more efficient compression to expansion ratio, which means better efficiency.
Combined with the engine is Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, which bumps the combined power output to 109 horsepower and 104 lb-ft of torque. Other things worth quickly noting is that this is an all-aluminum engine and features forged steel connecting rods. Toyota dropped this engine in 2009 in favor of the 2ZR-FXE. Okay, moving on from the Prius, because it’s disgusting and boring, the next winner is yet another BMW engine.
2005/2006 – BMW S85B50 5.0L V10 M5/M6
From 2005 to 2006, BMW S85B50 was the winner of the award, making it the first engine to win the award in back-to-back years. In my opinion, this is one of the more interesting engines on the list. Especially considering naturally aspirated V10s are on their way out in favor of smaller turbocharged engines. Lamborghini is really the only major automaker left using the V10 design in their Huracan, but that will also end in the near future.
This is the engine that you’d find in the M5/M6. It’s a 5.0L V10 that screams to nearly 8000rpm and produces a whopping 500hp and 384lb-ft of torque. It has a bore and stroke of 92mm by 75.2mm, which makes it insanely oversquare, which is one of the characteristics that give it the ability to rev so high. With a shorter stroke comes less piston acceleration, and then it’s just much easier to rev high without things breaking.
As you’d expect for such an insane modern performance engine, it also features dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, dual VANOS, an all-aluminum construction, individual throttle bodies, and a very high 12:1 compression ratio. This is one of the engines on the list that probably truly deserved this award. The S85 sounds amazing, it’s incredibly smooth, has a ton of power, and it’s not actually as bad on fuel efficiency as you might think.
2007/2008 – BMW 3.0L N54B30
That takes us to 2007, where yet another BMW engine won this award. This time around, it was the N54, which, as you may know, has since gone on to be legendary and dubbed as the “modern 2jz” and all that stuff. We also know now that it’s not exactly a reliable engine, but when it was new, it didn’t experience any of the issues that we now see occurring on these engines 15 years later.
Up until 2006, BMW was focused on naturally aspirated engines. Cars like the M3 were known and loved for their high-revving naturally aspirated engines, which made you work hard for the power. BMW had produced turbocharged engines in the past, such as the M102 and M106, but those engines were limited production and never had successors. The N54 was BMW’s first mass-produced turbocharged engine. They debuted it at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show and launched it in the 335i E9X.
The N54 is part of the NG6 BMW engine family. It was developed alongside the N53. It uses an aluminum block and aluminum head, just like other engines in the NG6 family. The idea behind the N54 was to produce an engine that was super smooth, offered significantly more torque than previous BMW 6-cylinder engines, and virtually no turbo lag. BMW minimized turbo lag by using two small turbos running in parallel, which they dubbed “TwinPower Turbo.”
BMW rated the N54 at 300 horsepower and 300lb-ft. However, it’s widely accepted that power figure is very underrated.
2009/2010 – Volkswagen 1.4L TSI Twincharger
Moving on from the N54, the next engine to win the award comes from Volkswagen, in the form of their 1.4 liter TSI “Twincharger” engine. What makes this engine particularly interesting, and probably the reason it really won the award in 2009 and 2010, is the fact that it uses a turbocharger and a supercharger.
In most road-going applications, you’ll see a turbocharger, and very rarely will you see a supercharger used unless it’s an American car with a V8. So, seeing both types of forced induction packaged nicely onto a tiny 1.4L four-cylinder engine is really cool. It produced a very impressive 178hp and 177lb-ft of torque at just 1,500rpm. You heard that right; peak torque is at just 1,500rpm, pretty insane.
“It’s a masterstroke of downsizing technology and a real engineering showcase. I have no doubt that this engine will become the template for a whole new generation of high efficiency, small capacity engines in the years to come,” said Dean Slavnich, co-chairman of the awards during this time.
Unfortunately, the Twincharger idea didn’t last particularly long, as Volkswagen realized it was way too expensive to produce. It was just the third engine to win the award back-to-back at the time. But that takes us to 2011, where a really tiny engine snuck away with the award, and that’s the Fiat TwinAir engine.
2011 – Fiat 875cc TwinAir Fiat 500
This is a tiny little two-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, variable valve lift, and a turbo strapped to it. In terms of bore and stroke, it’s at 80.5mm and 86mm, respectively, which brings total displacement to 875cc. The block is cast-iron, and the head is aluminum. The head features four valves per cylinder and a single overhead cam design. Strangely enough, the compression is fairly high for a turbocharged engine without direct injection at 10:1.
All of this equals out to 103hp and 107lb-ft, which is actually pretty good considering how small the engine is. Of course, with such a small engine comes pretty good fuel economy, with some reports claiming the Fiat 500 TwinAir seeing upwards of 68mpg. Combine that with the fact that some journalists really like this engine, and you can start to see how it snuck away with the award this year.
2012/2014 – Ecoboost 3-Cylinder Turbo
Moving to 2012, yet another small engine took home the award. This time though, it was Ford with their 1.0L EcoBoost 3-cylinder engine. In fact, this engine was the first engine to ever go back-to-back-to-back, winning the award in 2012, 2013, and 2014. This engine was used exclusively to power Ford’s subcompact cars, and really it probably took home the award for its drivability.
Like the TwinCharger engine from Volkswagen, this little engine produces a ton of torque, and it makes it very low in the rev range. More specifically, we’re talking about 125hp and up to 200lb-ft of torque, with the torque peaking out at just 1,400rpm. The basic specs for this engine are as follows: 71.9mm bore, 82mm stroke, 10:1 compression ration, cast-iron block, aluminum cylinder head, dual overhead cams, and variable camshaft timing.
Moving on from the sub one-liter engines, let’s move to 2015, where BMW yet again took home the award. This time though, their winner wasn’t a V8, V10, or one of their beloved inline-six engines. This time it was a small hybrid engine.
2015 – BMW B38 1.5L BMW i8
More specifically, the BMW B38 is how they took home the award. The B38 actually has a few different versions, but the one that specifically won the award is the 1.5L version found in the BMW i8, which is the B38K15T0. This little turbocharged engine three-cylinder engine is paired with a hybrid drivetrain, which bumps the fuel economy numbers up to around 29mpg.
The turbocharger comes from Continental. It’s a single-scroll unit with the world’s first aluminum turbine housing. You might be wondering why it doesn’t use a twin-scroll as you’ll see on other modern performance engines, and that’s because there is effectively no benefit to a twin-scroll when used on an engine with only one bank.
What I mean by that is that this engine only has three-cylinder, which means there’s only one bank. A twin-scroll really only benefits where there are two banks of cylinders, which as with an inline-6, where three cylinders can power each scroll of the turbo.
Other quick things to note are the 82mm bore, 94.6mm stroke, dual overhead cam, dual Vanos, an 11:1 compression ratio, and direct injection.
2016/2019 Ferrari F154 3.9L V8 Ferrari 488
That brings us up to 2016, where the final winner of this award started, and that’s the Ferrari F154 3.9L V8. For those who don’t know, this is the engine that Ferrari uses in their 488. I mentioned at the start of the article that this award stopped running in 2019 due to Covid, so this is the current winner of the award, winning it in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. This makes it the only engine to win the award four years in a row.
The application isn’t supposed to affect the rating of the engine, but there’s no way you can tell me if this engine was in something that wasn’t a supercar. Let’s just take a Kia Stinger, for example, that it would be praised as much. A huge part of the drivability for this engine is with Ferrari’s amazing transmission, but that brings us to my next point, which is that the F154 engine family is in Maserati and Alfa Romeo applications, so why is it that Ferrari application specifically won the award?
This engine uses a 90° V angle, an aluminum block and aluminum heads, dual overhead cams, two twin-scroll turbos, direct injection, and variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust side. The Ferrari version of the engine has a flat-plane crankshaft and dry-sump lubrication, which is a must-have item for engines that will go through hard track use. Bore and stroke measure 86.5mm by 83mm.
All in, the F154 is a great engine and produces 710hp and 568lb-ft of torque in this exact configuration that won the award, but there are less powerful and more powerful versions available that are used in other Ferrari vehicles, as well as Maserati and Alfa vehicles.