Last week we brought you a list of the best V12 engines ever made, this week it’s time to explore the best V10 engines ever made. Because the V12 might be the most exotic and the V8 the most popular, but there’s a magic to the V10 that cannot be ignored. From a Formula 1 reject to a big, brutal workhorse, let’s get into it…
The eight best V10 engines ever made
Porsche Carrera GT
A year-and-a-half ago, in our list of the best sounding V10s of all time, we wrote that “a list of fabulous V10s wouldn’t be complete without the Porsche Carrera GT”. So it seems, because here’s another list and here’s another deep-dive into what makes the GT’s engine so frightfully good.
Before the sun had even risen over Paris on Thursday 28th September 2000, Walter Röhrl drove the Porsche Carrera GT concept car through the streets of Paris with a police escort, on his way to the car’s reveal at that year’s Paris Motor Show. Quite an entrance but it was quite some car.
It emerged from the ashes of a Le Mans sportscar project that failed to fruit: the LMP2000 prototype, or the 9R3 as it was known internally, built in 1998 but never driven in anger. The Carrera GT concept, and eventual production car, became the first Porsche road car to feature a carbon-fibre chassis, as that is what the racer was due to use, but it also inherited the engine, a high-revving, 68-degree V10, which itself can be traced back to Formula 1 in the 1990s, when Porsche supplied engines to the Footwork team and was looking to replace its unreliable ’3512’ 80-degree V10.
It took two-and-a-half years for Porsche to take the concept to production reality, the final car going on display at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show. Changes included a new carbon-fibre floor, an active rear wing, but crucially that engine, labelled within Porsche as ‘980/01’, remained. Displacement had gone up from 5.5- to 5.7-litres, meaning power stood at 612PS (450kW) at 8,000rpm, plus 590Nm (437lb ft) at 5,750rpm. Power went to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual ‘box, too.
All in all 1,270 were built, selling for 452,690 euros new. What an engine, and what a car.
The Lexus LFA was first mentioned publicly in October 2005. In concept form, Lexus said a “two-seater supercar powered by a high-output B10 engine” would be shown at that year’s Tokyo Motor Show. Look at the pictures though and you’ll see it was quite a different beast back then, but even as the concept evolved over subsequent years, spawning a convertible version in 2008 and racing at the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2008 and ’09 in prototype guise, the front-mid-mounted V10 engine remained. In fact, Lexus spent four years promising the world that the V10 was definitely still there and it was a 5.0-litre unit, or just under.
In October 2010 the production LFA was revealed, and sure enough it had a V10. A 4.8-litre, 72-degree engine, known as ‘1LR-GUE’, it produced 560PS (412kW) and 480Nm (lb ft), and revved all the way out to 9,000rpm. Power went to the back wheels via a six-speed single-clutch automatic gearbox mounted at the rear, and where the concept had been based on an aluminium chassis the production car had a carbon-fibre backbone, saving 100kg and improving structural rigidity.
Lexus said the bank angle of 72 degrees was chosen to as it was the “ideal for achieving balance in the engine for exceptionally smooth running”. It also said that, thanks to its packaging and design, it was the size of a Lexus V8 and the weight of a V6.
Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity for creating one of the best sounding cars on the road, Honda engineers took inspiration from Formula 1 to tune various elements of the engine, intake system and exhaust to maximise volume while refining the aural quality. The result, as I’m sure you’ll agree, was nothing short of spectacular. Only 500 cars were made, each sold with a starting price of at least 368,000 euros.
Selling big V12 supercars was a strategy that had worked well for Lamborghini for decades. But when Audi bought the company in 1998 for $110m, it was decided Lamborghini needed to build something else to be truly financially stable. What it needed was a car that was smaller and less expensive, and crucially one that could be built and sold in greater numbers. Enter the Lamborghini Gallardo.
The Murcielago’s junior sibling was unveiled in 2003, and like the Italdesign-penned Calà concept commissioned by Lamborghini’s previous owners and shown in Geneva in 1995, it used a V10 engine. Where the Calà’s engine displaced only 4.0-litres, however, the Gallardo used a 5.0-litre, 90-degree, dry-sumped unit. At first, some believed this ‘new’ engine was in fact just a lower capacity version of Audi’s 5.2-litre FSI engine, as used in the S6 and S8 (and eventually heavily revised to be used in the Gallardo from 2008 onwards). Others suggested it could be related to the 4.2-litre V8 used in the B6 and B7 S4s. But Lamborghini was quick to point out the Gallardo’s engine had a cylinder bore spacing of 88mm, whereas the Audi motors had a spacing of 90mm. Furthermore, the Gallardo’s V10 was even-firing, the Audi odd-firing. If it sounds complicated, it was, but it was all part of Lamborghini’s strategy to show that the Gallardo was not just an Audi in an Italian suit but a true Lamborghini.
With 500PS (368kW) at 7,500rpm and 510Nm (376lb ft) of torque at 4,500rpm, with a six-speed manual and all-wheel-drive the early Gallardos would hit 62mph in 4.2 seconds on their way to a top speed of 192mph. And when the engine was updated in 2006 there was an extra 20PS (14kW) there was even more performance to go with a truly glorious noise. The introduction of the Gallardo Spyder that year made the line-up all the more sweeter.
Bob Lutz, Chrysler’s President in 1988, is a big fish in the American car world. He held senior positions at Ford, Chrysler and GM, and even today, at the grand old age of 90, he’s still working. One of his greatest achievements in a long career, however, has to be the Dodge Viper. In 1988 he spoke to designer Tom Gale about creating a modern-day Cobra, and sure enough, one year later, a concept car was shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The concept was a big success, and in part that was down to the monstrous engine: an 8.0-litre V10 named after the car in which it sat, ‘Viper’. Conceived using the example set by Chrysler’s 5.9-litre Magnum V8 but with two extra cylinders (the Magnum V8 was eventually scaled up to an 8.0-litre V10 for the Dodge Ram), the Viper V10 wasn’t exactly sophisticated. A 90-degree engine it had just two valves per cylinder. It also weighed around 290kg dry, and by comparison, the LFA’s engine weighs less than 166kg with fluids… But what it did have was a chonky 406PS (298kW). Perhaps more importantly given the Viper was conceived with the Cobra in mind, it had a whopping 630Nm (465lb ft). That was enough not just to shred tyres away from every red light, and to make the Viper something of a tricky swine to drive, but to hit 60mph in 4.7 seconds, smash the quarter-mile in 9.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of 165mph.
The Viper engine’s lack of sophistication gave it room to grow, too. Admittedly it was never a truly clever engine, but capacity gradually expanded to 8.3- and then 8.4-litres, and variable valve timing was introduced. Come the SRT Viper’s end in 2017, with Chrysler choosing to brand it as an SRT model rather than a Dodge, that brutal V10 lump was pushing 654PS (481kW) and a ridiculous 813Nm (600lb ft) of torque. It might have been a bit of a blunt instrument, but we’ve got a huge soft spot for this engine and every generation of Viper.
Now this was a tricky one. Of all of the glorious V10 F1 cars that ever lined up on the grid (a full grid of which you’ll be able to see at this year’s 79th Members’ Meeting, which I highly recommend you do not miss), it’s a relatively easy case to make that the Ferrari F2002 and Ferrari F2004 were the best. But which comes out on top? Is it the F2002, which gave Michael Schumacher 10 wins that season and the drivers’ championship, Rubens Barrichello four victories and Ferrari the constructors’ crown, with just one race in 2002 won by a driver in another car? Or is it the F2004, which also bagged Ferrari the constructors’ title, Schumacher the drivers’ and 13 wins, Barrichello two wins, but there were three races overall where one of the cars didn’t win rather than one? Personally, it’s the F2004. It might not have won as many races in percentage terms as its grandfather, but to win 15 out of 19 races with a podium in every race at least and only two DNFs, neither of which were mechanical failures, is truly remarkable.
Ferrari’s V10 F1 story began with the Tipo 04X engine in 1996, which developed season by season until 2001 when Ferrari introduced the second generation of V10 known as the 05X, designed by French engineer Gilles Simon. The 050 powered the 2001 Ferrari F2001 (back when Ferrari’s F1 car naming strategy made sense), and evolved into the 051 for 2002, the 052 for 2003 and the 053 for 2004. The project was led by Ferrari F1 engine chief Paolo Martinelli, and his main struggle was figuring out how to make an engine last an entire ace weekend, a new regulation for 2004. Somehow he and his seemingly genius team made it, because not only was the engine reliable but it was extraordinarily powerful. A 3.0-litre, 90-degree V10, the 053 weighed a scarcely believable 92kg, and in qualifying trim revved to 19,100rpm and produced 920PS (690kW). And if you’ve ever been to the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard and heard an F2004 running, or were lucky enough to see one racing in period, you’ll know it produces an unforgettable sound.
Welcome, everyone, to one of the coolest saloons and wagons ever created. Why? Quite simply because they had V10s. Yes, we are of course talking about the E60 saloon and E61 estate BMW M5s.
When it came to launching the next generation of M5 in 2004, BMW knew it had to move the game on from the V8 E39 M5. It was easy enough to do from E34 to E39, upping the cylinder count by two from a straight-six in the E34 to a V8 in the E39, but surely building a V10 for just one car would be a development step too far? Nope, not for BMW. It created the S85B50, an all-aluminium, 5.0-litre, 90-degree V10 that was unrelated to every other BMW engine in production. It weighed 240kg, had an uneven firing order (1-6-5-10-2-7-3-8-4-9, if you’re interested), and churned out 510PS (375kW) at 7,500rpm and 520Nm (384lb ft) at 6,100rpm. An engine that liked to be revved then? Absolutely, and all the better for the driver, because if you’ve got a 200mph V10 saloon car or wagon, surely you’re all about waking the neighbours?
The S85B50 really did only make it to one BMW model, the M5, although thankfully German car company Weismann leapt at the engine for its GTMF5 in 2009, upgrading from straight-six and V8 engines in its previous models. And the engine did live on, at least spiritually, for a little longer, being the basis for the excellent 4.0-litre S65 V8 engine used in the E92 M3 from 2007 to 2013. Thank you BMW for doing something so completely barmy, and thank you to anyone who’s got one today and is willing to spend the GDP of several small island nations to keep the engine running.
Audi R15 TDI
If there’s one thing that pulls all of the engines on this list together so far, aside from that they’re all V10s, it’s the fuel that powered them: petrol. It is at this point, then, we take a left turn into the world of diesel. And what better powerplant to examine than one of the most advanced diesel engines ever created? Welcome to the V10 diesel-powered Audi R15 TDI.
Sitting pretty as the second most successful constructor at Le Mans, with 13 overall wins compared to Porsche’s 19, Audi was a sportscar powerhouse in the 2000s and early 2010s. Its first Le Mans racer, the R8, was petrol-powered, while Audi moved to diesel power in its successor, the R10 TDI; from 3.6-litre, twin-turbo V8 petrol to a 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V12 diesel. Those two cars managed eight wins at Le Sarthe out of nine races from 2000 to 2008, so come 2009 and the introduction of the R15 TDI there was a lot riding on this new V10 diesel.
It was a 5.5-litre, 90-degree engine, like the V12 in the R10 TDI, and developed by Ullrich Baretsky, Audi Sport’s Head of Engine Technology. It had a different bore and stroke, however, and by knocking off two cylinders the overall length of the engine game down by 100mm, a requirement at the time of the chassis team who wanted tighter packaging, less weight and a more central weight distribution for greater agility. Much to Audi’s delight, the smaller engine brought with it improvements in economy without compromising performance or reliability. Audi quoted 600PS (441kW) and “in excess of 1,050Nm” (777lb ft) of torque, and improvements to the turbochargers and injection system meant a better throttle response than the R15 TDI’s V12 predecessor. All that seems unconventional about the R15 TDI’s technical package today is that it used a five-speed sequential gearbox from Xtrac.
Audi had hoped to make it nine wins out of 10 races at Le Mans, but in 2009 it was Peugeot’s year, winning with the V12 diesel-powered 908 HDi FAP. But in 2010, with the upgraded R15 Plus, Audi was back on top, celebrating a 1-2-3 finish. The winning R15 TDI of Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller had been so trouble-free and efficient that Audi smashed the overall distance record set by Porsche 39 years earlier by 75.4km (46.9m), a whopping 5,410.713km (3,362.1m). If ever you needed it, proof that diesel isn’t boring.
Our detour to the diesel universe was brief; we return to the world of petrol. And if the V10 BMW M5 was mad, then this next engine and vehicle combination is similarly bonkers. We are of course talking about the delightful C6 4F Audi RS6 and its utterly ridiculous twin-turbo V10.
Launched at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show and available in both saloon and wagon formats, the RS6 made use of a new all-aluminium, even-firing, 90-degree, twin-turbo 5.0-litre V10. Power stood at 580PS (427kW) from 6,250-6,700rpm and torque at 650Nm (479lb ft) from 1,500-6,250rpm, making it Audi’s most powerful road car at the time. Power went to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, with 0-62mph done and dusted in 4.6 seconds. The top speed was restricted to 155mph, or 170mph if you were willing to pay a little extra to have the limiter raised.
The engine weighed 278kg, a not insignificant lump, but when you consider it was only 38kg more than that of the BMW but incorporated the extra complication of two turbochargers, it really wasn’t that bad at all.
Ultimately it marks an estate car high-point. It was the last sensible car to be caught up in the capacity-mad automotive world of one-upmanship, and it was a bit of a unicorn, too, as Audi chose to develop a new engine instead of installing a tuned version of the S6’s 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10. It’s safe to say, even more than a decade after it was launched, we absolutely love it.
F2004 image courtesy of Motorsport Images, Viper image courtesy of Bonhams.
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