It's true that the V8 has lost its luster and moved from daily drivers and family sedans to high performance sports cars and pickups, but that doesn't mean it's going away anytime soon. In spite of hybrid and electric car advances, the internal combustion engine will continue to power Americans for years to come and nothing can yet replace the V8 power needed to do heavy lifting and provide high speed performance.
Earlier this month, General Motors Co. unveiled its fifth-generation Small Block V8 that will debut next year in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. For nearly 50 years, the Small Block powered all of GM's brands.
But this 450-horsepower V8 is not anything like those brute machines from days gone by. Its high-tech features create a modern engine that is greener, cleaner and more powerful than ever before.
The LT-1, as the engine is known at GM, is a 6.2-liter direct injection V8 that is finely tuned with a multitude of features. Some of the technology is new and some is simply more refined. It can turn off four-cylinders while cruising down the highway, run cooler through advanced thermal dynamic engineering and explode nearly every droplet of fuel it injects by a specially designed piston head--that means even cleaner emissions.
From the sports car standpoint, this engine will create enough power to propel a Corvette from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds and get an estimated 26 mpg on the highway. That alone is a feat 20 years ago would never have been thought possible. More importantly, this engine shows all of the incremental improvements engineers have developed to create an efficient ICE.
Converting fuel into energy in the most efficient way possible is the basic premise of any green strategy. Creating 450 pound-feet of torque, well, that's just a great perk. Through countless hours of computerized mapping and studying, engineers figured out how to disperse fuel completely inside the cylinder by injectors and a specially designed cylinder head. This allows the fuel to burn faster and more efficiently, creating all of that power.
Then there were changes throughout the engine to make it run cooler. Typically, a lot of energy is lost through heat, and keeping an engine running cooler means more energy is saved. This new Small Block includes advanced oiling systems, better air flow and a long list of improvements to keep this engine cooler than James Dean. Each individual feature may not seem like a big improvement, but they add up quickly.
There are other enhancements included with the LT-1 that appear more obvious. The block is all aluminum, making it lighter. GM points out that the LT-1 with its 6.2-liter displacement weighs 40 pounds less than BMW's 4.4-liter twin turbo engine, showing that bigger can sometimes be lighter. The new engine is 4-inches shorter than comparative DOHC engines, demonstrating that bigger engines can also be smaller.
With so much power and debuting in the legendary Corvette, the LT-1 may not appear to have much green credibility. But that assumption is a mistake. This engine will likely make its way into General Motors pickups, the second best selling set of vehicles in America.
A 20 percent improvement in mileage in this segment could save millions of gallons of gasoline a year. Furthermore, pickups will remain one of the most important tools many businesses will ever own. For someone who tows heavy loads, needs the loading and hauling capabilities of a pickup, there is not a car in the world that will do the same job as efficiently.
Perhaps that's why the Small Block has played such an important role for the past 50 years. Since then, GM has sold more than 100 million small block engines. And, it's why this engine's evolution remains as so important today. Scott Burgess is a senior editor at AOL Autos. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.