Curbside Classic Question of the Day: Are we at Peak ICE (Internal Combustion Engine)?

Over the past few years, there has been some writing on the wall that the internal combustion engine, or ICE, is living on borrowed time. Regulations in Europe and California intend to limit and/or prohibit the sale of fossil fuel powered vehicles, even non-plug-in hybrids, within the decade. Formula 1 race cars, which have used a form of hybrid power plant for some time now, will go to 100% carbon-free fuel for their main ICE engine in 2026 and the power of the electric motor will be tripled to 350 kW.

And despite some ups and downs, not to mention the negative press, existing EV models and new or heavily revised EV models from many manufacturers are selling like hotcakes globally. The Tesla Model Y is on track to be the best-selling car worldwide and in many parts of the US, Tesla’s, Chevy Bolts, electric Kias and Hyundais, VW ID4’s and Audi eTron and Rivian pickups and SUV’s are common sights and no longer attract much attention. In my town, at least three residential construction companies are using Ford Lightning electric pickups and a couple of local small businesses have deployed the Ford eTransit electric van. And of course, EV’s are booming in China.  

But there’s still some exciting stuff going on with gasoline ICE’s. For now, I’ll leave diesels out of the discussion. And, I’ll focus on US market cars. The first that comes to mind is the Toyota Corolla GR. Yes, a Corolla. Its G16 3 cylinder 1600cc engine puts out 300 horsepower, and a peak of 273 lb-ft of torque over a range of 3000 to 5500 rpm. And it’s offered with a manual transmission only, by the way.  EPA combined fuel economy is 24 US mpg.

OK, but that’s a limited production performance engine. Well, how about the new Stellantis Hurricane engine? An all-new straight six in 3.0 and 3.6 liter versions, it is replacing the Hemi V8 and Pentastar V6 in many new Jeep and Ram vehicles … ironically, the Chrysler brand itself is now down to just the Pacifica minivan which, not surprisingly, won’t get this engine, and 2024 (or later) versions of the Charger and Challenger are still TBD. The limited production 392 Wrangler and the heavy duty 2500/3500 pickups still offer the Hemi V8, for now. But the power and efficiency of the all-new Hurricane six are impressive, with configurations at over 500 bhp.

Do these engines suggest that we‘ve about reached peak internal combustion, and these will be the last hurrah before the world goes 100% EV? Or do they indicate that the technology isn’t dead yet, and there is even better still to come, though perhaps it will be applied to range extenders for plug-in hybrids, like Mazda’s new small rotary engine?

Or is there more to “Peak ICE” than just raw power or horsepower/liter? Have we already passed the real-world peak, as these newer engines gain cost and complexity and perhaps lose reliability, with extreme boost, electronic controls, variable valve timing and compression, and more? Perhaps the real-world peak was an older design like the Chevy LS/LT V8, with its pushrods and in some versions, iron block. Not as sexy as the smaller displacement engines, but very refined, and providing durability, horsepower and efficiency that Ed Cole could never have dreamed of in 1955. So what do you think: is peak ICE with us today, yet to come, or already in the past? And what is your nomination of a single engine that best deserves the title? For our global readers, it can be something not sold here in the states but it should be a mainstream motor from a global company.