V8's luxury rumble grows fainter
Newer luxury cars are shifting toward smaller, more sophisticated engines for power.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- When Ford's new flagship Lincoln sedan, the MKS, goes on sale later this year it will be available with all-wheel-drive, a six-speed transmission and plenty of rear-seat legroom. But one feature usually found on full-size luxury cars will not be available on the MKS at any price: a V8 engine.
That might seem a risky step for a brand that's supposed to be undergoing a renaissance, getting back into fighting trim as a true luxury brand. For a certain segment of the market, a big luxury car just isn't a big luxury car without V8 power.
But V8 engines just aren't needed in many of these cars anymore, according to Ford and General Motors. New, more sophisticated V6s offer nearly the same performance with better fuel economy.
"End-game performance when you step on the gas is what it's all about" said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman.
The top-end engine in the new MKS sedan, to be offered within a year of the car's launch, will be a twin-turbocharged V6 with direct gasoline injection. Turbochargers push air into the engine's cylinders for higher compression and greater power. Direct injection pushes fuel directly into the cylinder at high pressure.
Combining the technologies creates more compression that allows the engine, Ford says, to put out as much power as a V8 while using only slightly more fuel than a non-turbocharged V6.
GM is already seeing lesser V8 demand in its luxury cars. Last year, they were under the hood of about 26% of Cadillac STS sedans sold. This year, V8s accounted for just 17% of STS sales, according to data from Power Information Network.
That shift coincides with the introduction of GM's new V6 engine with direct fuel injection that can produce a maximum of 302 horsepower compared to 320 from the V8.
Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell cites consumer interest in the technology rather than just fuel economy difference as the main reason for the shift. The V6 gets about one mile per gallon more than the V8, according to EPA estimates.
"I think these are consumers that are more technology-savvy than they used to be and they understand that this is a really premium V6," he said.
Other car brands having been seeing similar shifts, according to Power Information Networks data. Buyers of the Chrysler 300, Mercedes-Benz E-class and the Cadillac SRX crossover SUV, which all offer V6 and V8 versions, are shifting away from V8s toward V6s.
Luxury cars present an interesting case because their engine power is entirely discretionary. They won't be used to tow trailers, and their buyers aren't deeply affected by rising gas prices. They can afford V8s - it's all about whether or not they want them.
The broad shift indicates that an interest in saving gas is partly a consideration, said Michael Omotos, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates. Improved V6 performance clears the way for customers to make that choice without sacrifice, he said. "If you can get 300 horsepower out of a V6, what's the point of going for 340 out of the V8?"
Meanwhile, the growing environmental movement provides an added push for buyers to move to smaller engines, he said, even if they can easily afford the higher cost and fuel consumption of a V8.
V8 will stay
Like Ford, GM is also considering a smaller turbocharged V6 engine in some Cadillacs. That would improve performance further and widen the fuel economy gap compared with similarly-powered V8s.
But V8 engines aren't about to go away altogether, industry sources say. "While we have seen the demand for V8 engines softening, we haven't seen it go down to zero, either," said Winegarden.
There will still be certain vehicle types in which V8s will be a must-have. Big pickups and SUVs will need them for their low-speed towing and hauling power.
The shift in luxury cars toward smaller engines is good news for an auto industry facing stricter fuel economy standards. It shows that even customers who can have it all are willing to embrace smaller engines and somewhat less horsepower as long they don't have to sacrifice too much.