Top Ten: Great Sounding Engines

One topic that automotive enthusiasts can never seem to agree on is: what is the best-sounding car? While it's a HIGHLY subjective field, here is CT's Top 10 list
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10) Subaru EJ20ET

Subaru EJ20ET

Displacement: 2.0L
Mechanical Layout: 180° Horizontally-opposed Flat Four
Valvetrain: Dual overhead cam, 4v/cyl
Aspiration: Turbocharged
Applications: Subaru WRX

The EJ20 is one of the most unique sounding powerplants out there.  It’s got this off-beat staccato burble to it that’s just ummistakable – you can always tell when a souped-up Scooby is coming down the road.  The truth is, it’s science – it’s the unequal length headers and single-scroll turbocharger that give it that odd resonance.  STi “fixed” this “problem” in later GD-generation Imprezas, and they’ve never quite sounded the same.  For your aural amusement:

9) Volkswagen 24v VR6

vr61

Displacement: 2.8L/3.2L
Mechanical Layout: 15° V6 with shared head
Valvetrain: DOHC, 24v
Aspiration: atmospheric
Application: VW Jetta VR6/GLI, GTI VR6, R32, etc.

The VR6 has an absolutely delicious sound to it when it’s been uncorked.  It’s mostly due to the 15º angle of the V as well as the shared head – making it more like a “staggered” inline 6 than a real V6, but whatever.  It sounds like a mixture of BMW straight six and Porsche air-cooled flat six, both of which sound amazing to my ears.  And it’s always coming out of such innocuous looking hatchbacks and stuff…  lovely sound.

8) Nissan VQ35DE

Nissan VQ35DE

Nissan VQ’s seems to have two voices: one high-pitched, metallic and full of valvetrain noise like an old high-strung race engine.  The other voice is a little darker, a little deeper and more melliflous, a big dog’s bark.  It’s an instantly recogizable sound, and it’s s ound that comes out of a myriad of different tailpipes – the VQ is under the hood of a large majority of Nissan/Infiniti Products.  And with good reason – it’s been on Ward’s 10 Best engines every year since the award’s inception in 1995.  Bask in the glory.

Displacement: 3.0L/ 3.5L/ 3.7L
Mechanical Layout: V6
Valvetrain: DOHC, 24v
Aspiration: atmospheric
Application: Everything from the 350Z to the Maxima to the Quest minivan to the Pathfinder…

7) BMW S54B32

Displacement: 3.2L
Mechanical Layout: Inline 6
Valvetrain: VANOS, DOHC, 24v, ITB
Aspiration: Atmospheric, Baby!
Application: BMW M3/Convertible, Z4 M Roadster/Coupe

BMW S54B32 (M3 E46) Engine

Race bred, knife-edge honed to perfection, and meaner than a bobcat in your basement.  That about describes the sounds that emanate from the rear end of E46 M3′s.  It’s that raw, metallic rasp that is so distinctive – sure, it’s muffled up nice and quietly in most other BMW’s, but the M3 has the full vocal range it deserves.  And oh what a range – 8,000+ rpm of screaming BMW is always nice.

6) Audi RS4 4.2L FSI V8

Displacement: 4.2L
Valvetrain: DOHC, 32v, Direct Injection
Aspiration: Natural
Application: Audi (B7) RS4 Quattro, Audi R8 4.2 Quattro, Audi RS5 Quattro, Spyker C8, Gumpbert Apollo

rs4v8

It’s hard to put your finger on quite why the RS4′s V8 sounds so damn amazing.  But you can’t argue it doesn’t.  Maybe it’s the basso profundo undertone and the high-rev wail of 8,250 rpm.  Maybe it’s the throttle growl with open exhaust.  Who knows?  But the RS4 V8, used in the RS4 super-sedan as well as the R8 supercar, sounds magnificent.  My goodness.

5) GM Gen II/III Small Block V8

Displacement: 5.7L/6.0L/6.2L/7.0L
Mechanical Layout: V8
Valvetrain: cam-in-block, 16 valves
Aspiration: natural
Application: Chevrolet Camaro Z28/SS, Corvette, Z06, ZR1, Cadillac CTS-V, Pontiac GTO, many others.

ls1

You just can’t have a list of “best sounding engines” without a gold old-fashioned American pushrod V8, and as far as sounding nasty and V8-ey, the LSx is where it’s at.   It’s a simplistic sound, a huge amount of induction roar as 348 cubic inches (LS1 guys, you know it’s true) haul your F-body down the road faster than the other next F-body next to you.  Redneck noise?  Perhaps.  But LS is GM for POWER,  and the LSx has it everywhere – in a lightweight package.  That’s why there’s so many of the blasted things everywhere, blaring out that so well-known V8 rumble.  You gotta love it.

4) Audi 10v/ 20v Inline-5

Displacement: 2.1L/2.2L
Mechanical Layout: Inline 5 cylinder
Valvetrain: (dual)overhead cam, 10 valve (single cam) 20 valve (twin cam)
Aspiration: turbocharged
Application: Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro, Audi quattro, Audi 200 20v, Audi (ur)S4 and S6, etc.

audii5

Audi’s 5-banger has an absolutely distinctive howl to it that you just won’t mistake for anything else.  It’s knife-edged sharp, but has a touch of a warble to it – that extra cylinder makes for some interesti ng harmonies.  A glorious sound in WRC trim.

3) Honda C32B

Displacement: 3.2L
Mechanical Layout: V6
Valvetrain: Dual overhead camshafts, 24 valve
Aspiration: Natural
Application: Acura/Honda NSX

nsxengine

The crown jewel of Honda’s engine stable – and considering Honda is a brand that’s always been about the engine – that says a lot.  The C32B was the second iteration on the NSX supercar engine, evolving from the 3.0L C30A  into 3.2L 290bhp spec.  It has a wonderfully mechanical, raw sound to it – and it just revs forever and ever.  Lovely.

2) Lamborghini Twin-Cam V12

Displacement: 5.2L
Mechanical Layout: V10
Valvetrain: Dual Overhead Camshafts, 48 valves
Aspiration: Natural
Application: Lamborghini Countach

countachengine

Do words really need to be said?  Just listen to the clips.

1) Porsche Carrera GT V10

Displacement: 5.7L
Mechanical Layout: V10
Valvetrain: Dual Overhead Camshafts, 40 valves
Aspiration: natural
Application: Porsche Carrera GT

cgtv10

Race-bred lightweight V10, the cream of the crop of Porsche’s road-going cars, an astronomic redline, a flywheel so light it sounds like there isn’t one – the Carrera GT’s engine is aurul venom, headed straight for the center of your brain via your eardrums.  You’ll shiver.  It wins.

Well, that’s my top ten.  Feel free to leave what you think should be honerable mentions in the comments.  I personally am heartbroken that I can’t fit in the E92 M3′s V8, the BMW M1 engine, the Maserati 4.3L V8 in the Alfa 8C, the Aston Martin V8, air-cooled 911′s, the Nissan RB26DETT, Ford Modular supercharged V8′s, the Honda F20C (From the S2000) with individual throttle bodies…  oh, and ditto on the Toyota 4AGE… well, you know how these lists can go on.  Let’s hear your take on it!

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  • JOE

    THE 4.6 MUSTANG ENGINE SOUND IS THE GREATEST EVER!!!!!

    • James

      dude, yeah, the Ford Modulars sound nasty. But when you say 4.6 mustang engine, you gotta be more specific. 2v? 3v? 4v? SOHC? DOHC? Iron Block? Alum Block? Supercharged? N/A?

      • steven Goggans

        the best 4.6 is the eaton blown 4.6 DOHC with off road x pipe and borla stinger sends chills up you spine. The 2vs are kind a weak the 3vs are nice but need headers and hi flow cat to sound nasty

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

          Oh god yes, Terminator Cobras are amazing
          my BMW mechanic has a REALLY built one, whipple blower built longblock converted to solid axle, makes 640whp and 600wtq!

    • dillon

      the pony and its engine are the biggest pieces of shit in the world of cars and motors end of discussion

  • Mario

    Best sounding engines: 1996 to 2004, 2v or 4v 4.6 modular engines. Mustang roars like a lion!!!

  • Danny

    Aston Martin V8 Vantage

  • Zack

    by the way the engine picture you posted for the v6 24v is a Mark 3 Jetta with a 12v V6 not a 24v

  • Jeff

    Nice list, I agree with you on your choice(maybe not on the nissan Vq35).

    I own a 1993 Corrado with the 12v Vr6, it sound glorious.

    The best on your list is the bmw M3 V6 n/a engine…

    The video of the audi 5 cylinder is just plain crazy hahaha man this car is friggin fast on the highway!! All this on an old Metallica songs, amazing.

    • That Guy

      S54 is an I6

  • Ally

    Lose the shitty Nissan/Renault engine and stick a bridge ported turbocharged rotary in its place.

    • http://www.saabsnaab.com James

      VQ (originally in VQ30DE form in the Maxima) was around long before Nissan/Renault merged

      although a turbo dorito spinner does sound particularly awesome!

  • Kevin Gort

    I thought the 24v VR6 sounded the best!!

    • http://www.saabsnaab.com James

      24v VR6 sounds amazing. In fact they all do – i guess except the 3.6 VR6 in the Touareg, because it doesn’t sound like anything!

      MKIV R32 had an AMAZING exhaust note. 3.2 24v. It had those exhaust flaps that opened up when you floored it; you could tweak the ECU through VAG-COM to have ‘em open all the time!

      -James

  • andrew

    Updated, i think the LF-A’s engine noise deserves top spot now! (and i think the RB26DETT should have been in place of the VQ35DE)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      Andrew – hell yeah. the 1GR-GUE is one of the craziest sounding engines ever. I do agree, the RB’s sound amazing – different from the VQ though. Maybe I shoulda made this a top 20 post?

      -James

  • Rodrigo Lloreda

    Man, I’m really glad the Mustang comments showed up QUICK! Honestly, I commend this list it seems well thought out and you covered all the major bases. But having raced for years, and having owned an m3, an e36 not e36 but even still the obd I’s sounded free-er, but still SICK IMO, and chevy’s, and a vw, and a honda, and a few others I’d say that the one you’re really missing is that modular Mustang v8, I had an 02 gt with some work, headers and o/r x pipe and super 40′s just to start, and having driven super cars and the whole lot, me and my buddies still agree, that those modular mustangs are just the bees knees. Love the soubie, love’em all, but nothing sounds quite as savage, animalistic, and dangerous as a modular Mustang with some pipes, I actually even prefer the 2v sound over the 4v but obviously not in terms of performance. I would have taken the nsx out and replaced it with the stang, and maybe the vw for a ferrari v8, don’t know how they didn’t make the list or honorable mention. Good List mate!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      I only had ten spots man! I would’ve included the Modular 32v Supercharged Ford V8 (03-04 Cobra) for sure. I like the cammy sophisticated 4v sound better, but the 2v’s sound good with just a cat-back! even in an Explorer or Crown Vic

  • Justin Holliday

    This was a great little blog thing you did. I loved the Lambo and NSX the most out of your postings. I think that a Rotory should have been in that list Powerful 2.6L 4 Rotors from Mazda sound awesome!

  • Mike

    Cool list. Personally, I love the sound of the Porsche 997 GT3 RSR. Paired with the straight gear whine, it’s the ultimate sound of racing to me.

  • http://www.carthrottle.com karl

    The Lambo is awesome in sound.
    A worked Pontiac 400 Engine,now that is one awesome Sound
    The rest on this list are lame,,the Nissan is pathetic……..

  • Simon

    Alfa Romeo gtv6 anyone?

  • Stewie

    The best engine I’ve herd (on tickover) has to be the Mazda 787B with its Engine: Mazda R26B 2616 cc 4-rotor naturally aspirated

  • carlo

    Holy crap dude, excellent list! I will have to agree with the mustang though, could have done with a little more American muscle in here. The lambo brought tears to my eyes, I don’t think I’d leave my garage if I had a car that made that sound.

  • Ciaran

    How can you not mention any motorbike engines?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      honorable mention goes to the Triumph Speed Triple motor for sounding like Beelzebub fisting a cougar. But this was a list of car engines. There are some EPIC sounding bikes though!

  • sackgrinder

    you don’t have an early sixties Saab 96, the sweetest sound ever. Yet two Audi’s… This is clearly a high school freshman’s computer science project.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      I mean, let’s not get all personal on the internet. I’m a huge Saab fanboy (just look at the stuff I write, and the 900 SPG I owned…) but for the most part they don’t sound all that great. The 3-cylinder two stroke (DKW engine) sounds like a mixture of lawn motor and Yamaha triple. The (Ford Germany) sourced V4 sounds like an angry iron lung patient. Now, the (Triumph/Ricardo sourced) B and H series could sound great in turbo form… largely for the same reason as the Subaru EJ20ET – unequal length exhaust manifold creating pulses, backpressure from turbo, gargle gargle.

      On the other hand, I DON’T love Audi’s and VW’s – the I5 is an Audi design, and the VR6 is a VW design, by the way, they have separate powertrain engineers – but both of those engines sound ridiculous.

      YMMV. It’s impossible to pick out the best-sounding cars in just 10 slots.

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  • Bilge_Rat

    Keychain ornaments all. Try an EMD 645 or 710 @ full chat. No comparison…

  • Mike
  • Mike
  • Marc

    These all sound great, but I love the ones that burble and pop…

    My 05 SRT4 (neon), has that quality, a 2.4L that burbles and pops really nicely in stock form, but add a larger exhaust or do some other tuning like a larger turbo and it gets even louder. The SRT4 has a very disticnt sound to it, even for being “just a neon”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      I think the SRT-4′s distinct sound comes from two things.

      1) No mufflers stock. Like, none. Resonators yes.
      2) The ratio of impeller to compressor housing: it’s got a large impeller and small compressor, which effectively means you can make boost right off idle. One of the few cars you hear turbo occuring below 2,000rpm – it spools so easily.

      I love the way they sound when done right.

  • Ryley
  • Matthew

    LFA
    LFA
    LFA

  • Matt

    Has anyone ever heard the GT by Citroen? Looks it up on YouTube. It’s the craziest sounding car ever created.

  • Aaron

    RB26DETT – Skyline GTR

  • Petrolister

    such a weak list…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2734772 James

      how would you improve it? There were only ten spots!

      Plus, opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone’s got one, and yours may be different.

  • John

    Have to say I’m a big fan of the AMG 6.2l V8. What a sound! The C63 seems to make the best noise with it. Driven one and it’s a hell of a car.

  • Dale

    The legendary Ford 351 boss with a bigger cam is the best sounding engine ever made it has that sound of a 429scj and between a high reviing 289 true American muscle! it most certainly gives chills down your spine just hearing it rev from 4000rpms to 7200rpms.

  • pat

    I think you mean Gen III/IV, not Gen 2 and 3? Anyway. Great list.

  • Andrew

    Ford 5.0l or 4.6L should top the list for sure, they make everything else sound girly.

  • http://humblemechanic.com Charles~Humble Mechanic

    Great list! I am sure that other have said it, but the VW pic is a 12v. ;) Nice work

  • Sina

    SLS amg, one of the bests

  • EJ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxKazrvHgzA

    Why is this not in the list?

  • Auke

    I am really a big fan of the alfa gta engines (3.2 v6, 24v, guiseppe busso). I really feel you missed that one, as the gorgeous sound is one of the reasons it has stayed in business for more than 20 years

  • Javier Taboada

    Toyota twin cam 4ag!!

  • Gian

    u forgot the ford modular 5.4L s/c dohc 32v from the ford gt and shelby gt500 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Yd88whKZ28 best sound outta them all hands down

  • Rich

    So many cars, so little time

  • Mike

    I’m sorry but that Porsche sounds like it is sneezing. I just cannot get enough of that deep, heart poundung rumble from classic American muscle cars. Orgasmic stuff right there

  • jade

    im no 4 lol i got a 90 series with a 20 i 5

  • EwokEight

    I agree Mike, V8 is my favourite sound hands down.

  • UnskinnyBob

    No Busso V6? Outrageous!

  • true story

    no ferrari or maserati or opposed-flat’s alfa romeo?
    sooo, all of above are junk…

  • Stevie

    The ford 2 valve 4.6 modular motor is one of the best sounding motors to me, with aftermarket exhaust.

  • G-Dank

    Just the fact that there are engines on here that have less than 8 cylinders is a travesty and shows the lack of care and true investigative research. Some people don’t understand real Muscle!

    • D. Long

      There are multiple > 8 cylinder engines in this man’s list. Quit your crying. There’s nothing like expecting car enthusiasts to be objective. The worst part is how so many like yourself are crying about street tuned engines that idle at 1500rpm. Regardless of the number of cylinders or manufacturer, that is plain irritating. All of the engines mentioned aren’t particularly obnoxious unless the driver elects to go at WOT.

    • Novac Darius-Fabian

      4/5/6 Cylinder Engines sounded epic before it was cool ! #HipsterEngines

  • mark

    Wheres the RB26DETT, its sad the porsche v10 is in and the motor isnt.

  • XYZ

    That’s no V12, that’s a V10, you can hear that…

  • Auto worker

    The Countach has a 5,2 liter V12 and not V10 . Also i think Volvos 5 cylinder engine should be in , but the Audi 5 pot is music to my ears as well so , and so is the Alfa Romeo Busso V6 , probably one of the best sounding V6s ever , together with the Ford / Mazda 2,5 V6 engine , a great sounding engine as well , especially in race 2 litre form .

  • ohse

    nissans L28ET always sounded better than the VQ35

  • Guest

    nissans L28ET awlways sounded better than the VQ35

  • leite_kaka

    and why not the mercedes c63 amg listen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihxIf9wB4QM

  • Amartya Sengupta

    BMW E60 M5 with straight pipes (Eisenmanns are good) deserves it. Almost as good as the Porsche Carrera GT but comes form a 4 door BMW sedan!

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