Power. Sound. And Reliability.
These are three words commonly used to describe the holy grail of the JDM engines, the Toyota 2JZ.
And while the 2JZ is far from the only good inline-six in existence, it’s often touted as the best ever, with the Nissan RB26 right behind it.
But, the truth is that neither of them deserves the title of best inline-six ever, that goes to Ford with their Barra engine, and in this article, I’m going to show you why.
What is the Barra?
If you’re watching this video and you’ve never heard of the Barra, or you’ve heard the name a few times but don’t know much about it, you’re not alone.
Part of the reason a lot of automotive enthusiasts don’t really know about this engine is that it was only available in Australia and New Zealand.
Thanks to big names like Adam LZ using this engine in project cars, however, it’s certainly gained a lot more attention here in the US.
Beginnings its life in 2002, the Barra was developed and built by Ford Australia with help from Tickford, an automotive engineering and testing company.
And in Australia, the Ford Falcon is a pretty popular car, and it lasted from 1960 all the way up until 2016. That production run is nearly equal to the Mustang’s and surpasses the Camaro.
The Falcon was around for a very long time in the land down under.
And that takes us to 1998, when Ford needed to introduce a new engine for the new Falcon they had coming out that same year.
Realistically, this new engine was a development of the single overhead cam straight six engines Ford used in the 1980s and 1990s.
And interestingly, things like the bore centers are the same across all six decades of Ford Australia’s inline six-cylinder engines and although not many parts interchange, the lineage is very clearly there.
The Barra engine is very much rooted all the way back to the North American Ford Falcon Compact from 1959. And its path to development kind of shows that history.
I mean, it took them all the way until the start of the 1980s to adopt an aluminum cylinder head rather than a heavy cast iron head.
They didn’t even add dual overhead camshafts until 2002, which is something that the other “great inline-six engines” had done much earlier on.
And they never adopted a lightweight aluminum block, choosing instead to stick to old-school burly ass iron, but as you’ll see later in the video, that can be used as a major plus for tuning.
Jumping back to 1998, though, we had the launch of the all-new sixth-generation AU Falcon, with a bunch of different models, meaning there was basically a Falcon for everyone.
It was a great car, but the 4.0L Intech inline-six engine under the hood was a little outdated and Ford Australia knew they could do better.
And they delivered better with the Barra engine and the launch of the new BA Falcon, which was the second big re-engineering iteration of the sixth generation Falcon.
The Falcon XR6T
The model which was particularly interesting and immediately became popular is the XR6 Turbo, not to be confused with the XR6 or XR8, which share the same bodywork.
Underneath though, the XR6 Turbo was, rather obviously, quite a bit different, with a big ole Garrett turbocharger attached to it, bumping power from 244hp and 280lb-ft of torque up to 320hp and 330lb-ft of torque.
Hell, the new XR6T Falcon model even won Australia’s best sports car under $57,000 in 2002. It was really that good. But of course, we didn’t get it in the States ????
And with all that newfound power, the XR6T Falcon was able to run 0 to 60 in around six seconds, with a 14.3 second 1/4 mile time.
You might’ve expected it to be a bit faster, but to be fair, the Falcon XR6T is kind of a big sedan. It’s not exactly a Honda Civic in that category.
Plus, in 2002, those performance numbers were pretty impressive, but definitely a touch lacking compared to the sports cars of today.
Okay, enough about the cars that used this engine. Let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Barra, the Barra.
To give you a rundown on some basic information, the Barra is a 4.0L, inline-6 with dual over cams, variable valve timing, a cast iron block, and a cast aluminum cylinder head. As stated earlier, some variants are turbocharged.
Power output ranges from 209hp and 276lb-ft all the way up to 436hp and 425lb-ft, but that higher power is for the later special edition models.
Throughout the years, there were a lot of additions and changes to the Barra, but for the most part, they’re all pretty similar to each other.
Throughout the years, the naturally-aspirated Barra received a handful of upgrades that increased its output figures to 255hp in 2005 and then 261hp in 2011.
Big Torque & Big Size
One thing you might notice from the power figures I mentioned earlier is the torque output, which is strangely high.
Compared to something like the JZ or RB series, the Barra makes quite a bit more torque, which can be partially attributed to a pretty large 4.0L displacement and long 99mm stroke.
For comparison, the 2JZ-GTE is only a 3.0L, and the RB26DETT is a 2.6L, already giving the Barra an upper hand.
You might not like the saying that there is no replacement for displacement, but there is no denying there is lots of truth to it, but with increased displacement comes increased physical size.
And Looking more closely at the cylinder head can reveal just how physically massive this Barra is.
The head is almost six inches longer than a 2JZ head, which really demonstrates how the larger displacement affects the physical size of the engine.
On the bright side, though, the cylinder is at least made from aluminum to keep the weight down.
And as we mentioned earlier, this engine features dual-overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, all of which are driven by a timing chain rather than a timing belt.
One really nice feature you’ll find on the Barra engine is variable camshaft timing, also known as VCT, which is Ford’s system for adjusting camshaft timing on the fly for improved performance.
And I think it’s worth mentioning that variable valve timing and variable camshaft timing are the same things, which is something you can also find on the older Nissan RB26 and Toyota 2JZ.
But, it wasn’t until around 2005, with the introduction of the BF Falcon XR6 Turbo, that we saw VCT added to both camshafts rather than just the intake side.
And the dual cam timing system massively improves efficiency, low-end power, and top-end power.
For the turbocharged Barra engines, the dual cam timing also greatly improves turbo-spool up, ultimately helping the Barra make more low-end power and have great throttle response.
Unfortunately, though, the cylinder of the Barra is where we find two of its weakest points, which are the head bolts and the valve springs, both of which aren’t too problematic in stock form.
But, once you start increasing the boost pressure, the head bolts are prone to stretching from extreme cylinder pressure.
And the increased pressure is also too much for the valve springs to handle, leading to the intake valve not sealing properly which then leads to many other potential issues.
Built Like a Tank
On the bottom end of this engine, the Barra is basically built like a tank. It’s heavy but capable of withstanding some serious abuse.
For one, the block is constructed from cast iron and features a lot of material in all the right places. It might be heavy as hell, but it’s really burly and holds power extremely well.
The pistons, rods, and crank are all very strong and massive overkill for the stock power output.
In terms of the differences between the N/A models and the turbocharged models, the turbo Barra is heavily based on the standard 244hp Barra, but the turbo engine gets stronger pistons with a lower compression ratio, Inconel exhaust valves, and a red valve cover.
Otherwise, the two are nearly identical.
Other notable features on the bottom end are the oil pump bolts, which screw in horizontally to the crank caps.
This is a little odd, but it effectively makes the oil sump a stressed member of the bottom end, further improving rigidity.
And with time, the turbocharged Barra became better and better. With the XR6 Turbo Falcon becoming extremely successful, the Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) division got involved in its development in 2004, creating the FPV Typhoon.
They equipped the Typhoon with an improved air box, a larger intercooler, stronger connecting rods, a new fuel pump, and an improved exhaust system, taking the Barra all the way to 362 hp.
Four years later, they were at it again, this time squeezing out 416 hp with the help of new pistons, larger fuel injectors, turbo, and intercooler.
But what makes the Barra such a special engine isn’t what it can do in stock form. Quite frankly, most people don’t care about that at all.
The real reason the Barra is considered amongst the greatest gas-powered six-cylinders of all time is thanks to what it’s capable of with some heavy modifications.
It didn’t take long after the first XR6T was released for tuners to start messing with them to see what it was capable of, and it was pretty quickly discovered this engine could very easily withstand 500hp.
But it kept getting pushed further and further, and yet it just kept taking it without a missed beat.
Perhaps one of the better examples to demonstrate this is the Tunnel Vision’s fourth-generation Falcon. This particular Barra engine has a stock block, head, and cams, but that doesn’t matter because it can handle around 1000whp.
Of course, there are lots of aftermarket parts involved to get there, but the factory architecture is completely unchanged.
Another good example is Dion Amato’s Dodge Avenger drag car, which uses a destroked Barra engine at 3.9 liters of displacement.
That’s paired with a massive Precision turbo, producing somewhere around 2,000hp and sending this car down the quarter mile in the high five-second range.
That is absurdly fast for anything with an engine that came out of a Sedan. And the fact that it does this somewhat reliably is even crazier.
Granted, this particular car is a Pro Stock car from the US and it’s specifically designed for drag racing, but the point still stands.
Unfortunately, the Barra will probably never reach the level of popularity of other inline-six engines like the RB or JZ, mostly because it was only available in Australia and New Zealand.
While this makes the Barra readily available and somewhat cheap to buy in Australia, you’re unlikely to find one in the States unless you specifically import one yourself.
We probably really won’t see the Barra explode in popularity in the States until the Falcon XR6T is old enough to be easily imported to the US.
And because of its lack of use in the states, there isn’t nearly as much aftermarket support for the Barra compared to engines that are readily available in the states.
That’s not to say there are zero aftermarket parts for this engine, simply that it’s just smaller than the two engines it’s compared to most.
On top of that, it’s a very large engine and can’t easily fit into as many applications as other inline-six engines or even V8s like the LS. It’s a pretty tall and long engine, and it’s not particularly lightweight, either.
How it Stacks up VS the Competition
And if you ask me, the BMW N54 might be a fairer comparison to the Barra, rather than the 2JZ or RB26.
Hell, even BMW’s older naturally aspirated inline-six engines are amazing, although they’re quite underpowered as compared to BMW’s later turbocharged engine, the best of which is arguably the S58.
The S58 is known for being capable of producing over 1,000hp on a completely stock bottom end with zero changes, although bolt-ons on the top end are required.
You could honestly even make a case that BMW has the best inline-six engines ever in terms of performance, but that’s a topic for another time.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I am not saying that the Toyota JZ or Nissan RB series of engines are bad. Both of them are fantastic at making power and many other things.
However, I am saying that with all things considered, the Ford Barra is arguably better than both of them.
And the Barra is also arguably better than BMW’s best inline-six engines too.
It’s just flat-out a fantastic engine in many different ways. And it’s arguably the best gas-powered inline-six engine of all time.
Unfortunately, though, Ford Australia killed the Barra engine in 2016.
It died alongside the Falcon and Territory because of high labor costs and unprofitability with the engine and cars being constructed locally in Australia.
AKA, they couldn’t abuse cheap foreign labor to deliver a more affordable car and then put lots of Australians out of jobs.