The 12 best V6 engines ever fitted to road cars

26th April 2023
Ethan Jupp

Is the V6 the most versatile engine layout? Two banks of three cylinders mated to the same crank, powering everything from Formula 1 cars to family SUVs. As such, the pool from which we can reel off great V6 engines, even in road cars alone, is enormous. We’ve counted down twelve, so let’s get into them.


1. 2GR-FE – Lotus Emira 

One of the greatest V6 engines of the modern era is a long-serving one from Toyota. The 2GR-FE V6 engine has seen action in everything from the Lexus RX450H and LC500H, to a slew of Lotus sports cars. It’s the latest of the latter that we’re going to feature here. Packing 406PS (299kW) thanks to a supercharged version of the Toyota unit, the Lotus Emira finally wraps a genuinely modern, expensive-feeling and well-built Lotus sports car around what is a fantastic V6 engine. 


2. Dino V6 – Lancia Stratos

This is an engine that has seen action both in single-seater racing cars and two-seat soft-top cruisers. The Ferrari Dino V6, a 65-degree engine displacing 1.5-litres on the track, took a podium on its debut in the 156 F2. In road cars such as the Fiat Dino Spider, it displaced 2.0-litres and latterly 2.4-litres. The Dino V6 in its larger form eventually found its way into the incredible Lancia Stratos. 


3. PU106B – Mercedes-AMG ONE

Think race engines making their way into road cars is an old-fashioned notion? Think again. Meet the Mercedes-AMG PU106B V6, a bonafide modern F1 engine repurposed for use in the AMG One hypercar. To be clear, while demonstrably possible, doing this was a terrible idea, as the Merc-AMG bods have admitted. Getting it to idle properly and pass emissions was a nightmare for engineers. In fact, it didn’t in some American states, meaning it can’t be homologated for sale over there. Merc-AMG bosses have admitted they ‘must have been drunk’ when deciding to make the ONE’. Still, a championship-winning F1 engine in a supercar is really rather cool. 


4. Busso – Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

One of the most evocative V6 engines ever made was designed at the hand of Guiseppe Busso and most famously used in Alfa Romeo cars. It went through a number of iterations, featuring in numerous iconic cars, but we want to celebrate its last, most flamboyant outing. In 3.2-litre guise, it bejewelled the engine bay and smoked the front tyres of the 147 hatchback in hot GTA form. We say bejewelled the engine bay, because the Busso is probably the most beautiful V6 of all time, with its polished inlet pipes and red Alfa Romeo script. It sounded as good as it looked too giving a technical, effervescent rasp while producing 250PS. All that power to the front wheels without a limited-slip diff didn’t make for a great handling car, but it was for sure one of those cars you adored for the engine alone. 


5. Ecoboost V6 – Ford GT

Quite the opposite to the Busso is the Ecoboost V6 from Ford. In the supercars and trucks it powers, it by and large took the place of charismatic, gargling V8s. In the GT supercar of 2017, it felt like blasphemy. Then it proved to be an absolutely outstanding machine, with the V6 key to the packaging and therefore the dramatic aerodynamics and looks. It’s also a class-winner in endurance racing, having powered the GT to its Le Mans victory. 


6. VR6 – Volkswagen Golf R32

The VR6 is another beloved engine, though not exactly for its performance or reliability. No, like the Alfa Romeo, this was an engine you looked at and listened to, and indeed marvelled at the engineering. Technically two cylinder banks but only split by a tiny sub-15-degree V angle single, the VR6 was so slim it only needed a single cylinder head. It was this design that was blown out into W8, W12 and W16 engines throughout the VW Group, used in Bentleys and Bugattis no less. Yet it all started in the humble Volkswagen Corrado. Arguably the most characterful installation of the VR6? The Golf R32 Mk5, though it featured in over 32 vehicles, from boutique sportscars to – and we’re not joking – forklifts, with various Volkswagens, Seats, Audis and Porsches in between. 


7. VR38DETT – Nissan GT-R

Probably the most famous V6 engine among performance car fans is the VR38 DETT, otherwise known as the heart of the R35 Nissan GT-R. This twin-turbo 3.8-litre monster of tuning potential has served in the R35 for its entire 16-year run to date and is part of what allows the GT-R to still be competitive after all this time. Launched in 2007 with a humble 480PS (358kW), it got bumped as high as 710PS (529kW) for the GT-R50 by ItalDesign. Outside the factory gates? The sky is virtually the limit, with VR38-based builds reaching upwards of 2,000PS. It’ll soon see service in the Praga Bohema hypercar and has been seen in everything from a Ligier DPi prototype, to the Renault RS.01 one-make racer. Surely one of the all-time greats.


8. Tipo F163 Piccolo V12 – Ferrari 296 GTB

History repeats itself these days as carmakers look to the past to secure a downsized future. In 2023, the mid-engined Ferrari supercar is once again V6-powered (albeit with some hybrid assistance). It’s not the power and performance that’s the most impressive about the 296 GTB, however. It’s the sound and premium character. V6 engines can, if we’re being harsh, sound a little cheap compared with eight cylinders. Not so in the 296, with the unit very much earning the nickname its engineers gave it – Piccolo V12. It’s every bit the £250,000 supercar powerplant.


9. 690T – Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

Following the Busso was always going to be hard, yet Alfa Romeo’s 2.9-litre twin-turbo has a brutish character all of its own. Beloved as the heart of the QV-badged Giulia and Stelvio, it’s a 510PS (375kW) powerhouse and a firecracker underfoot. Paired with those cars, especially the Giulia, it remains the heart of one of the best super saloons of all time. A big clue to why this thing feels so special is that it was actually a six-cylinder development of Ferrari’s twin-turbo V8. 


10. Ford-Cosworth Duratec – Ford Mondeo ST200

Really? A Mondeo? Yessir, and you’d better remember it. Why? It was powered by the Cosworth V6 from which the venerable Aston Martin V12 was derived. It also served as the basis for Jaguar’s V6 at the time, which was in turn used in Palmer Sport racing cars. Make no mistake, it may be wrapped in a humble repmobile suit, but the Duratec V6 in the ST200 is a piece of engineering beauty.


11. JRV-6 – Jaguar XJ220

The Ferrari 296 and Mercedes-AMG One are far from the first time weirdly small V6 engines graced some of the most desirable supercars in the world. But in the case of the Jaguar XJ220, there wasn’t just scepticism, there was aggressive objection. Why? Because what was promised to get a howling V12 and all-wheel-drive, actually wound up running a Rover Metro V6 with two turbos and rear-wheel-drive. Massive numbers of orders were cancelled as a result and even now, it’s lagging behind its peers as a beloved vintage supercar and financial asset. Yet it remains a truly beautiful car, with a charismatic monster of a twin-turbo V6 engine with race pedigree – yes, that Metro it was from happened to be the 6R4 Group B monster.


12. C32B – Honda NSX-R

You didn’t think we’d forgotten it, did you? Of course not, because it’s arguably the daddy. Not just a great V6, but one of the all-time great engines. Was it particularly powerful? No, but by god, is it one of the best-sounding engines to hear from behind the wheel. This is, of course, the C32B of the Honda NSX. Featuring VTEC variable valve timing technology, it revved while being reliable and paired with a sweet manual shift, it makes for one of the greatest retro supercar driving experiences money can buy.

So what do you think of our selection of the best V6s? We’ve surely missed some, so let us know your thoughts in the comments…

  • list

  • V6

  • Honda

  • Jaguar

  • Ferrari

  • Alfa Romeo

  • Nissan

  • Volkswagen

  • Ford

  • Mercedes

  • Fiat

  • Lotus

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