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Automakers still making a date with the powerful V-8 engine

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Automakers still making a date with the powerful V-8 engine

By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Just when its future looked to be in doubt, automakers are putting some new life in the old V-8.

Despite pressure from federal gas mileage rules ratcheting up, makers are selectively peppering their lineups with the iconic engine — known for smooth, high-torque power — that many thought was an endangered species. These days, however, it likely is reserved for luxury or performance models.

Last week, Ford Motor said a hulking 6.2-liter V-8 will power its off-road performance pickup, the super-size Ford F-150 SVT Raptor SuperCrew cab. And Chrysler Group said its new 2011 Dodge Durango "performance SUV," a three-row crossover due later this year, will have an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, as well as a standard V-6.

General Motors' luxury Cadillac Escalade SUVs and CTS-V performance sedans, both with V-8s, continue to sell well. High-end German makers long have scored with V-8s, and South Korea's Hyundai put its 4.6-liter Tau V-8 engine in the Equus full-size luxury sedan just going on sale.

"This love affair with larger vehicles, larger engines, isn't over yet," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of TrueCar.com, an online auto pricing service. Still, the new V-8 models will be "rather limited" in number. "It's not a mass market phenomenon."

That's in part because they've become a lot harder to fit into an automaker's lineup. New federal rules mandate an average 35.5 miles per gallon across automakers' fleets by 2016. Already, they're downsizing engines and introducing more hybrids and electric cars to try to comply.

New V-8s buck an overall downward trend. The percentage of vehicles sold with V-8s is down from 25.6% in 2005 to an estimated 16.6% this year, though up 0.2% since last year, Power Information Network reports. Even six-cylinder engines are in decline, while vehicles sold with four-cylinder engines are up from 29.9% in 2005 to 47.1% this year.

Automakers say their V-8s are more fuel-efficient these days. Durango and the Escalade V-8s, for instance, shut off unneeded cylinders when power demand is low. And today's V-8s pack more power for their size.

That gas prices generally have stayed below $3 a gallon hasn't hurt V-8 sales. The price of a gallon of regular averaged $2.680 on Wednesday, down about 9 cents from a month ago and up a dime from a year ago, AAA reports.

Automakers say that among fans, there is no replacement for V-8 power:

•Chrysler. The new Durango with the V-8 option will be able to tow up to 7,400 pounds. The 2011 model's Hemi is the same size as the one in the old model that was discontinued in 2008. In that truck-based SUV it got 14 miles per gallon in city driving, 20 mpg on the highway. But the new model is lighter, so it will have a better gas mileage rating, says Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa.

•Ford. The automaker won't predict what the mileage will be for the 411-horsepower V-8 in the SuperCrew Raptor. It's so big that it's classified as a medium-duty truck and as such, is exempt from federal reporting requirements for light-duty vehicles (the typical consumer car or truck).

But spokesman Henry Platts says buyers are "performance-driven enthusiasts" and fuel mileage "is not high on their list."

•Hyundai. With luxury sedan makers still trying to outdo each other on performance, Hyundai boasts that its 385-horspower Tau engine will propel Equus from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds — faster than key rival sedans from Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.



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