The V8 is a must-have feature on any muscle car, or is it? Thanks to advancements from companies like Ford, the V6 and inline-four have managed to keep up with, if not beat, their V8 counterparts. Would you be shocked to learn iconic engines like the Ford 5.0-liter V8 and Chevrolet 350 V8 were beaten by inline-fours and V6s? Engine tuning, more efficient combustion, and forced induction make it possible for small engines to take on gas guzzling, large displacement V8s.
So if you’re looking for your next budget-friendly muscle car or want to bring something a little different to your next cars and coffee meet, you’re in the right place. We have used the Automobile Catalog as a reference for the figures we have used in this article. Here are 10 muscle cars that are better off without V8 engines.
10 2000 Pontiac Bonneville SSEI
The Pontiac Bonneville SSEI housed the venerable 3.8-liter supercharged V6, good for 240 horsepower and a 7.9 second 0-60 mph time. The 3800 Series V6 is an engine every gearhead should know because of its durability and ease of repair.
The V8 counterpart was the infamous 4.6-liter Northstar V8. Though the Northstar powered Bonneville could hit 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, the head gaskets and cylinder heads are extremely faulty, and are known to fail well before 100,000 miles.
9 1993 Chevrolet Lumina Z34
The Chevrolet Lumina is the epitome of ’90s car design, with a punchy 3.4-liter 210 horsepower V6 that delivers a 6.9 second 0-60 mph time.
The Lumina was never sold with a V8, but if it were, it would have likely been fitted with the Northstar V8, again a powerful V8 that suffered from too many reliability issues to ever justify the power gains. The V6 is just fine by us.
8 1987 Shelby Charger GLHS
Dodge never offered a V8-powered muscle car in the 1980s, and that might have been for the best. The Carroll Shelby tuned Charger GLHS makes 175 horsepower from its small but powerful 2.2-liter turbocharged inline-four.
The Diplomat was the only V8 car sold by Dodge in 1987, and only made 140 horsepower from it’s 318 cubic-inch V8, which would have been the only V8 that Dodge could have put in the Charger. Thankfully, they stuck with the straight four.
7 2022 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Ford has made massive strides in perfecting the straight-four. The 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder dubbed the EcoBoost is a little powerhouse, capable of 310 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of just 5.1 seconds (faster than a Challenger R/T).
There’s nothing wrong with the 5.0-liter Coyote used in the Ford Mustang GT – if anything, we love it. With the record high gas prices in 2022 though, it’s hard to justify the gas thirsty 5.0-liter V8 option.
6 1986 Ford Mustang SVO
The Fox-Body Mustang is an icon and defined the 1980s. Our favorite is the limited edition SVO, making use of a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four good for 200 horsepower and 0-60 mph sprint of just 6.6 seconds.
The same year Mustang GT with the 5.0-liter V8 does 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and the same amount of horsepower, despite being twice the displacement and having twice the amount of cylinders.
5 1963 Pontiac Tempest
The Pontiac Tempest is the basis for the legendary GTO. The 1963 Tempest with the top of the line Trophy 4 makes 166 horsepower and can sprint to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds.
While the V8 is substantially quicker, the Trophy 4 has garnered a cult-following thanks to its reliability and reasonable fuel economy. A four-cylinder Tempest would make the perfect daily driver classic.
4 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
The Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe is a NASCAR icon, thanks to its legendary performance at Daytona and rowdy street manners. A turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four brings 190 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of just 7.6 seconds.
The 5.0-liter V8 equipped Thunderbird only made 155 horsepower and struggled to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds. It’s also worth noting the V8 version sported smaller wheels, a softer ride, and less aggressive styling. Yikes.
3 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo 20th Anniversary Edition
Pontiac celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Trans Am nameplate in style, using a de-tuned version of a supercharged 3.8-liter V6 found in the Buick GNX, making 245 horsepower. This propelled the Pontiac from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds.
The 5.7-liter V8 edition made 10 fewer horsepower and took 6.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. The 5.7-liter V8 edition was also the most expensive option package, giving buyers less performance despite paying more.
2 1991 GMC Syclone
The GMC Syclone is a muscle truck legend thanks to its 280 horsepower turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 that sends power to all four wheels. And its 0-60 mph time is quick even by modern standards at just 4.3 seconds.
The S10/S15 line of trucks that serves as the underpinning for the Syclone never had a V8 engine, and GMC may have had a good reason for that. The 350 V8 found in Chevrolet trucks at the time only made 210 horsepower!
1 1987 Buick GNX
Another turbocharged legend built by GM, this time the Regal based GNX from Buick. A 280 horsepower turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 good for a 0-60 mph run of just 5.7 seconds and a quarter-mile of 14.3 seconds makes the GNX an ’80s supercar slayer.
The 5.0-liter V8 equipped Buick Regal only made 140 horsepower and struggled to finish the quarter-mile, running a 17.9 second pass. A far cry from the 3.8-liter V6 that can still keep up with many modern sports cars.