By on June 10, 2020

A very minor occurrence nudged my brain in this direction. One the way home from nowhere last night, a cop lit himself up like a Christmas tree in order to blow a light, his 3.7-liter V6 screaming as it strained to move the Police Interceptor Utility’s bulk with something approaching alacrity.

Which got me to thinking about the previous-generation Explorer and its platform mate, the defunct Lincoln MKT — both of which offered a 2.0-liter four-cylinder for a time. And from that, a question formed. What specific vehicles would you call under-engined?

In some cases, this will apply only to certain configurations of certain models. Like the examples mentioned above. The 2.0L Ecoboost experiment in the Explorer was over after 2015; the 240-horse mill disappeared in favor of a more potent 2.3-liter Ecoboost for those who shunned standard six-cylinder power. In the whale-like MKT, the 235-horse 2.0L was only available to fleet buyers of the livery special MKT Town Car, which came only in front-drive guise with that powerplant under hood.

Seems like an awful lot of car to pull along with an engine that’s good enough (but nothing special) in an MKC, but that’s just one way of looking at it. While the loaded, AWD MKT with 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 tipped the scales at a hair under 5,000 pounds, the front-drive 3.7-liter model came in at a slightly more svelte 4,700 lbs. Ditch the V6 and the 2.0L MKT Town Car may have come in a not insignificant amount below that (I can’t seem to find a specific curb weight for this rare configuration).

In contrast, a loaded AWD MKC 2.0L weighed 4,000 lbs. Suddenly the MKT doesn’t seem like such a gross mismatch for this engine. Drop that engine’s output by half and sling it into a 2,300 lb economy car and you’d have, say, 118 hp and 130 lb-ft on tap to move that modest bulk. Seems adequate, doesn’t it? At least by 1990s (or even 2000s) standards, anyway.

Other examples of arguably under-engined cars include the likes of the hugely expensive and tech-laden BMW i8, with its 1.5-liter three-banger and limited recharging abilities under a heavy throttle, and such dissimilar rides as the Chrysler R-bodies of the Carter-Reagan handover era. An asphyxiated 85 hp Slant Six moving a full-size Newport or St. Regis? Ooof. Young street hockey players would have plenty of time to scatter — and maybe even prepare a snack at home — if they heard that thing winding up at the end of the block. In that case, it isn’t so much the displacement that’s the problem, it’s just the dismal output borne of EPA meddling.

Anyone old enough to recall old, non-sporting British imports is probably raising their hand at the back of class right now, squeaking out “Oh! Oh! Oh!”, so we’ll allow it, so long as they were once sold on North American soil. The same goes for any other vehicle that came from abroad.

There’s years and decades from which to choose, so get cracking. Which make and model was a total mismatch for at least one of its available engines?

[Image: Lincoln]

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74 Comments on “QOTD: Feeling Underwhelmed?...”


  • avatar
    RangerM

    ~2018-2019 Chevy Traverse with a 4 cylinder?

    80s Chevy Camaro with Iron Duke? (Hell, ANYTHING with the Iron Duke)

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Pretty much any 2.0T equipped vehicle larger than a compact would be better off with a V6.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    1980 Corvette 305 @ a whopping 180hp it was a joke :(

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Wasn’t that the output of 500 cubic inch Cadillacs as well? That may be the winner.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        In 1980 the largest engine that Cadillac offered was a 368ci 6.0L V8 rated at…

        Wait for it…

        150 H.P 4 bbl/140 H.P DFI (6.0L) :(

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I can’t speak for the Cadillac, but 180 HP and 255 lbs/ft of torque was plenty for the 1980 Corvette. The real problem was its 3.07 axle ratio. 3.50 should’ve been the absolute minimum.

          Thank CAFE or CARB, but I’m sure most made the swap to better gears. Or should have.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Really? 180HP to move a 3500lb car? A Corolla beater for sure

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I’m surprised the ’80 Corvette weighs that much. It depends on the source for some reason, so I’ve seen some list as low as 3282 lbs.

            Even that’s really high for a fiberglass body. The V8 Mustang (3-door hatch) of the same year is 2811 lbs. That sounds really low to me, some sources say slightly lower, some slightly higher, maybe depending on trans (which none specify).

            The difference in (economy vs. performance) gears is astounding, and doesn’t translate well to paper. I feels like you unloaded a pickup bed full of sand, and the engine sounds more alive, instead of grunting.

            You can also hear the improved speed/velocity of the air sucking in.

            But the significance of (era) much higher torque than HP can’t be overlooked, and it really matters that it starts coming ON right off idle, vs today’s high revving V8s.

            My manual V8 ’89 Mustang could be shifted a 2,000 RPM (with original 2.73 gears), and still start to pin you into the seat, while briskly pulling away from traffic.

            thevettenet.com/corvette_specs.php?year=1980

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Don’t forget the wonderful 1975 Corvette. 165 hp and 3544 lbs.

            https://corvettestory.com/specs/1975-Corvette-specs-options.php

          • 0 avatar
            nrd515

            Plenty? Have you driven one? It took about 200+ HP and 325 LB/ft to be even “adequate”, IMHO.
            These are approximate, in a 4000 pound vehile.

            200 HP- Tolerable
            300 HP -Nice driver.
            400 HP -That’s more like it.
            500 HP – Now that’s what I like! And that’s what I own.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            We didn’t have 500 HP to work with. Or oh what joy.

            Or even 400 HP. Except it wasn’t about HP. That meant little, and it’s an irrelevant/misleading term, since (era) nearly immediate (peak) torque caused deceptively low HP figures, similar to diesels.

            But trust me, a 4000 lbs vehicle with 300 lbs/ft and correctly geared is a kick in the pants. Any day.

          • 0 avatar
            SilverCoupe

            My 2000 Audi TT was 180 horsepower, and I did consider it underpowered. I wish I had purchased the 225 hp version, but at the time that would have meant buying a new car instead of a used one. I should have spent the extra money on the new one, I would have been happier in the end.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I don’t blame you. 180 turbo-4 HP probably means around 180 lbs/ft of torque or less. That’s a different scenario than 180 HP V8s of the Malaise era, with unfortunate factory gearing which can be fixed.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      but, those old 305s were a carb swap away from 240hp- which wasn’t too shabby for the time and that was easy to reverse. I don’t think any engine demonstrates being choked more than that one did.

  • avatar
    WalthamDan

    Pretty much any Subaru that does not have the 6 cyl Boxer or turbo engine.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Mercedes A220 – 40 large for a car that performs almost exactly like a $28,000 Mazda3. Nope.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    “Anyone old enough to recall old, non-sporting British imports . . .”
    Immediately thought of MG Midgets, MGBs, TR7s of the malaise era – and those were the sporting ones.
    1970’s Mustang IIs with the Lima four pot plus slush box. I’m sure there’s plenty more but I haven’t had my morning caffeine yet, so . . .

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Miata. Every last one I have owned. A sports car needn’t be fast, bit it shouldn’t be slow nor get dragged by minivans. Even my MX5 Mazdaspeed had the power implemented in such a boneheaded manner (poorly matched gear ratios, bad tuning) that I throw it in this mix. Aftermarket turbo cars I’ve driven were better in pretty much every way.

    But yeah, Miata’s have needed more engine since 1990. Feel free to flame, but search your feelings…you know it to be true.

    • 0 avatar
      RangerM

      I disagree, simply because the Miata isn’t about straight line acceleration.

      My ’92 could probably keep up with most cars 4x the price, once the road gets curvy.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I don’t need it to be a Hellcat in a straight line, but it doesn’t have to be slow either. My Fiesta ST pulls so much harder out of corners than any of my Miatas and that is a car that isn’t built for straight line acceleration either. It is a sports car so again, don’t need 12 second 1/4 miles, but it shouldn’t be slow either. Yet it is slow.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          Have you owned an ND, or at least driven one? I’m seeing sub-6 0-60 times, and mid-14 1/4 miles even for the earlier 155hp models (which I believe is quicker than your FiST, although I don’t doubt for a second it takes far more thrashing).

          You could buy a Miata with a slightly torquier turbo engine (and Fiat badges), but not many people did.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I just drove both of them in preparation for my lease ending. They are better and I don’t doubt it is probably a little quicker in a zero to 60 sprint than the First, however the Fiesta has waaaaay more midrange and pulls much harder out of turns.

            The FiST just didn’t leave me wanting more power. It feels fast. The FIAT and Miata always had me wanting more. I don’t mind thrashing a car,. But it just feels like they left a lot on the table with respect to what that Chassis could handle. Deals were crazy on the 124 though. I was very close but ended up going a completely different direction.

            They are fun, but I feel like they still are underpowered for what the chassis can do.

        • 0 avatar
          Ol Shel

          You’re not a purist. Every car doesn’t need to stroke the driver’s ego.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Save it Shel, I have owned 6. The only generation I haven’t owned was the ND but I have driven it and the 124. It isn’t about ego or “purists”. Browse any Miata forum. Plenty of owners both love it and wish it had more power. It has been the one criticism leveled at the car for its entire existence. Save the “You don’t get it” nonsense. Many actual owners in my camp.

  • avatar
    ajla

    0. Jeep Gladiator
    1. Any current nonturbo Subaru
    2. VW Arteon
    3. Current Cadillac 2.0t
    4. nearly anything made from 1974 to 1985.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Also the FRS/BRZ and anything that used GM’s short-lived 3.0L V6 in ’10-’11 (anyone remember that one?).
      And the Prowler.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        I know the Prowler has always gotten beaten on for not having a V8, but that was always for appearances. The Prowler was not slow or under powered.
        A 2002 Prowler had 253hp whereas the contemporary Mustang GT had 260.
        Plus, a 5.6 second 0-60 was nothing to sneeze at in 2002. Even less so in 1999 when it debuted.
        For reference the Mustang did it in 5.5 seconds.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “The Prowler was not slow or under powered.”

          I disagree. The ’02 Prowler was a $45K 2-seat “hot rod”. The ’02 Mustang GT was a $24K pony car.

          There wasn’t an ’02 Cobra but the ’01 version cost $30K and had 320hp. The ’03 model made 390hp and was $34K. Also anything from GM with an LS1 was easily faster than the Mopar. A $50K Z06 would be in a different performance galaxy.

          The Prowler was a modern day DeLorean. A very interesting styling exercise that didn’t have the performance to back up its price or segment.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          The Prowler had the right Classic ’30s “Hot Rod” looks, but was all Intrepid under the hood. It was just a letdown for everything else that it was.

          It was fast, but by default, not unlike the original Fiero, which was straight Citation powered. The Prowler weighs around 500 lbs less than the Mustang GT of its day.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        GM’s short-lived 3.0L V6 in 2010-11 was the 3.0L LF1. It was used in the Cadillac CTS and SRX.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      I tested a gladiator and didn’t think it was horrible- I remember thinking it accelerated like a truck from 2000. The one I tested had the maxtow package with the low gears though.

  • avatar
    dwford

    My mom’s old mercury Topaz. I believe it had a 2.3L and a 3 speed auto. God it had no power anywhere. More recently both my 2012 Hyundai Accent and Hyundai Elantra GT, both rated at decent power with a 6 speed manual, but neither car ever felt powerful. I could completely floor the gas pedal and feel no real forward urge. Just gutless.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Current Buicks with the 3-cylinder.
    Really? A 3 in a Buick? A marque that used to be known for low-end torque? Not anymore!

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The Ford 3.7L is a gem of an engine – in a Mustang and a 6-speed manual (and aftermarket rear gears). It actually likes to rev!

    Underpowered vehicles I’ve owned:

    99hp? 1987 Nissan Stanza. The little brother of the Maxima was a slow poke. 5-speed manual helped over the automatic. Just about any cars I drove from the 80s was in the same boat. Like an ’86 Monte Carlo SS that came with 180hp – stock. 3.73 gears out back helped but not as much as an engine swap did.

    1998 Toyota T100. Trying to pass someone on the highway was a matter of great patience. With the steep gears it was great taking off but quickly ran out of steam. 3.4L V6 hauling a mid-sized truck.

    1991 Caprice with a 170hp 305. All that weight and one of my least favorite V8s. All in one package!

    A non-turbo Volvo 850. I almost got myself killed trying to pass on a country road. I overestimated the available power given my other car – a Volvo 850 GLT – was turbocharged.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    XJ Cherokee with the AMC “angry squirrel” 2.5, especially with the 3 speed auto.

    If it wasn’t enough power for the Wrangler, no way was it enough for the Cherokee.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      A few years ago I saw a very clean 2 door 4×2 XJ Cherokee in red with the AMC “angry squirrel” 2.5L-4 and a 5 speed at an auction. It was tempting but the lack of 4WD made me shy away.

      I see plenty of YJ and some TJ Wrangler for sale with the 2.5 L-4. It was later replaced mid cycle with the Mopar 2.4L.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    All current midsize pickups, biggest engine option, and their related SUVs.

    Any power improvements haven’t kept up with their weight, and their fuel economy suffers because of it too.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I agree. The Colorado V6 with 8 speed gear hunts like mad. The Colorado diesel with 6 speed doesn’t gear hunt but is underwhelming. The Tacoma has issues too. I haven’t heard any power issues with the Ford.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Since the 2021 Sienna is going to be all hybrid, I think the Highlander 4cyl drivetrain isn’t going to be enough for a van. I Like the power in my v6 2016 model, but fully loaded with gear and people even if it is on the border of struggling. Can’t imagine what it would be like with 50-60 less horsepower. Guess we will see.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Those weights go way up one you get 6 or 7 people and luggage in them also.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “What specific vehicles”

    Back in the 70s I was visiting a kaolin mine down in south Georgia and Billy Joe Franklin the equip manager told me he had a dozer that “couldn’t pull a noodle out of a duck’s ass” so that’s always been my benchmark.

  • avatar
    slap

    Taurus MT-5 wagon. 88 horsepower, manual transmission.

    Drove one once. Scary trying to merge into traffic.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    89 Subaru Loyal Wagon..gowd it was slow. My xwife nearly killed herself in it..took it back the dealer a week after I bought it and traded it in. Without asking me. I got a call saying they (the dealer) would be by with the paper work for me to sign. I was like WTF are you talking about. It as used and flea bitten but I love wagons.

    For me it was 89 Volvo 760 turbo..suppose to have 160 horses….it darn sure didnt feel like it.

  • avatar
    millerluke

    2013 Nissan Sentra – 130hp 4-cyl, with a CVT. I almost got rear ended by a BMW (going about 100km/h) when he was a kilometre away and I turned onto a country road. I floored it, but the stupid combo of weak engine and dumb transmission kept me from getting above 80km/h by the time the BMW was right behind me… So, it took the BMW about 30 seconds to cover the distance between us… 0-40mph in 30 seconds……

    The other car that was underpowered I’ve driven was a 2016 Nissan Versa (I have a hatred of Nissans now) It was just a bad car. Thankfully, it was a loaner that I got while the above Sentra was in for service, and just driving it made me mad. It was crappy and terrible. I can’t imagine how angry people who actually paid for it might be. And it was slooooow. Nissan should just cancel all their vehicles, and just make the GT-R and maybe the Z-cars and/or Frontier. Everything else sucks.

  • avatar
    AVT

    Lexus CT200h. I kinda thought of it as a luxury version of a VW Golf, maybe a sorta grown up version of a GTI with less performance. Boy, was I wrong. It truly is under powered, especially for a luxury branded lexus. City driving was okay, but getting up to highway speed or passing was absolutely terrible. No correlation between forward motion and whatever the tachometer indicated. Later, upon further research, I discovered in a funny twist of fate the prius (which it shares its drivetrain with mostly) was actually faster in both 0-60 and passing. If there was ever a car that needed toyota’s 2.0 turbo, it was this.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Isuzu Troopers with the 2.6 4 banger, especially when driven in the Mountain West. They were slow but made up for it with poor fuel economy. Fortunately they had a 4L option when fully loaded and climbing at altitude.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Two I can think of:

    1) 1988 Chevy Caviler, 90HP, girl friends car back in high school. I had an 1985 Civic S1500 with the same HP but it felt like a F1 car in comparison. The 3 speed auto in the Chevy didn’t help the situation. Just for kicks I attempted a top speed run, wow so much disappointment there. It only managed like 80MPH and took what felt like hours to reach that speed. I had my foot pinned to the floor and it just continued along without any increase in speed. To date I swear its the slowest thing I’ve driven short of a go-cart.

    2) 1st gen Toyota RAV4 – slow, rattletrap of a thing. My aunt had one and everything about it was pathetic.

  • avatar
    canam23

    Wait, Isn’t the MKT based on the Flex / Volvo 90 platform?

  • avatar
    CammerLens

    Not sure if it meets the rules, which don’t seem to me to be very well defined, but the 1982-83 Volkswagen Vanagon with the 49-hp diesel (and an automatic, natch) comes to mind.

  • avatar
    B-BodyBuick84

    Lest we forget (actually no, better we forget) the full-sized 1976 Buick LeSabre with it’s base 110 HP 3.8 V6. I’ve only seen one in real life, and that was more than enough. On the plus side, the lady who owned it was planning on swapping it out for a 5.3 LS engine built up with towing spec parts. Seeing as how a mid 2000’s Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and that Buick weigh roughly the same, the driving experience should go from godawful to nicely adequate.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “I’ve only seen one in real life”
      “the lady who owned it was planning on swapping it out for a 5.3 LS engine built up with towing spec parts.”

      You know the story behind it? A ’76 LeSabre V6 was a fairly rare car even in ’76. If you saw a running example during the LS-engine era then that’s quite a unicorn. I kind of hope she changed her mind and kept it stock.

      • 0 avatar
        B-BodyBuick84

        Engine was toast. ‘Long history of neglect’ was how the owner put it. It ran, but it sounded like rocks as she pulled out of the parking lot. You wanna talk really rare? It was a base no-post hardtop LeSabre (not a Custom or Brougham or anything)but it had driver and passenger side front airbags. I didn’t fully believe it even as I saw it, I had to look it up at home. No idea if they still worked, but the lady said they freaked her out something fierce- nobody, and I mean NOBODY, knows a thing about their operation. If there’s ever a fender-bender and they go off, who knows how to replace or repair them, and the entire dash and steering column will most likely have to be ripped apart and either replaced or converted to a standard, non-airbag setup. Cool to look at, but I understand how it could be a massive pain in the rear.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’ve found the combination of a rental Malibu four cylinder and about 4000lbs worth of “small” SUV weren’t a great match in the prior gen Chevy Equinox (and Terrain). Not dangerously slow, but overworked enough that if you want to maintain 75MPH in traffic, fuel economy would be… underwhelming.

  • avatar
    993cc

    Mid ’80s VW Vanagon Westphalia (for the extra weight) with the 52 h.p., 1588cc diesel engine.

  • avatar
    Dan

    You expect horrid in the old, crapbox, and old crapbox segments, but I’ll call out the 4Runner yet again here for being gutless right now at 40 grand before taxes. 4800 lbs on 32″ tires is a half ton in all of the ways that count but that dead pedal V6 would have been the worst retail trim half ton powertrain in 1995 let alone today.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    We had a Chevy s10 4wd with the 2.8L v6.That thing was in no hurry. It may have been slower than our ’81 3.8L Grand Prix, if that’s even possible.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I’ve owned a few over the years.

    First one was my ’77 Dodge Power Wagon, with a 360 CI engine with a 2 barrel carb. Supposedly 165 HP. One trip to Los Angeles from Vegas was enough for me to start putting parts together to upgrade it. With any sort of headwind, 65MPH was it. First was an intake manifold and 4 barrel carb. Headers and dual exhaust with a dyno tune. A cam came later, with even less restrictive exhaust. By the time I had enough of it’s endless problems, it was actually pretty good running, able to run high 14 second 1/4 miles.

    Second one was an ’82 K5 Blazer, with a 140HP 305. Seemed actually faster than the Power Wagon was stock, but it wasn’t. Other than the lack of power, easily the most trouble free vehicle I’ve ever owned, one headlight and a battery in just about 5 years.

    And the last one, an ’85 Caravan. Just too slow. Freeway on ramps were dangerous. Trying to make a pass on any kind of grade had to be planned out like the Normandy invasion. FWD weirdness thrown in, and it made an otherwise decent vehicle one I couldn’t wait to get rid of.

    Last thing I drove that I thought was underpowered(and WAY overpriced) was a Jeep Gladiator. Even with the stiffest gearing available, it needed more power. For the sticker price, there should have been a 5.7 Hemi under the hood.

  • avatar
    Schurkey

    Every vehicle ever made with an Olds Diesel.

    Every air-cooled VW ever made.

    Every vehicle ever cursed with an Iron Duke.

    Every vehicle ever made that came with a Dynaflow

    Almost every vehicle with a Powerglide.

    Honda Civic CVCC 1300

    Anything French except the SM and R5 Turbo.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    The current Audi A6 with the base 2.0T engine. No bueno.

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