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The better engines deserved by the Toyota RAV4, Ford Ranger Raptor, Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Tucson and other popular cars, trucks and SUVs in Australia

From the Toyota RAV4 and Honda HR-V to the Ranger Raptor, better engine options are possible for Australian new car buyers.

With the long-awaited Subaru Outback turbo imminent in Australia, it had us thinking what models could really do with a decent engine transplant.

While not necessarily bad, the existing range of engines fitted to the list of models below could definitely be finessed.

Some might lack the performance, efficiency and/or refinement of the suggested alternatives; maybe a hole exists for something spicier in the existing line-up, especially if that already exists elsewhere in the world; or perhaps the vehicle has not kept up with shifting public sentiment. Diesels are a great example of this.

Whichever may apply, we’ve tried to keep this engine swap fantasy rooted in realism by only suggesting feasibly affordable engine upgrades within the model’s existing brand – or otherwise all would have been upgraded to the Nissan GT-R’s VR38DETT or BMW’s B58 belter.

You never know, though, it might just prompt some frustrated product planner honcho deep within the dungeons of a multi-national car company to make the change happen.

Toyota RAV4 GR Sport 2.4 Turbo

Australia’s darling medium SUV doesn’t actually do too badly on its four-cylinder-only engine front as it stands.

The hyper-popular 160kW FWD/163kW AWD 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid combines decent refinement and performance with amazing fuel economy, while the underrated 127kW/203Nm 2.0L naturally-aspirated (NA) petrol is pleasingly sweet and powerful right up to the red line. And that’s a rarity for a base model in this class.

However, the (slightly) off-road focused Edge is stuck with a relatively loud and lazy 152kW/243Nm 2.5L NA unit that lacks the crispness and sparkle of the others, letting the team down as a result.

Solution? Now that the very-closely related Lexus NX 350 AWD includes a terrific, 205kW/430Nm 2.4-litre turbo, the RAV4 flagship ought to be next, since it behaves like a range-topping engine should. Problem solved.

Ford Ranger Raptor V6 Turbo Diesel

The 2023 Ranger Raptor’s headline change – besides a redesigned body, all-new interior, wider tracks, longer wheelbase and completely overhauled multimedia and safety technologies – is the addition of a 292kW/583Nm 3.0L V6 twin-turbo petrol engine.

Now, while that’s no bad thing as it replaces the somewhat undersized 157kW/500Nm 2.0L four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, it’s as if Ford might not be reading the room in 2022.

You know, the one with petrol prices surging towards three dollars per litre if your ride is having to drink from the 98 RON premium unleaded bowser.

The answer, of course, can be found in the equally-fresh Wildtrak’s 184kW/600Nm 3.0L V6 turbo-diesel. While diesels have been on the nose since the VW Dieselgate scandal broke in 2015, at least this big unit promises to be a whole lot more parsimonious at the pump. It shouldn’t be a slouch, either.

Further down the track, a cleaner alternative would have to be something akin to the circa-350kW/850Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost PHEV; as found in some US Ford models, this is a plug-in hybrid employing an electric motor and a lithium ion battery pack. Now we’re talking.

Honda HR-V 1.5 Turbo

One of motoring’s more elusive minor mysteries is why the HR-V has never been offered with the 136kW/220Nm 1.5L four-pot turbo petrol ‘Earth Dreams’ engine in Australia, unlike many other markets like Europe and America. After all, it’s been a mainstay of the local Civic range for years.

Since the previous-generation RU version launched locally in 2015, we’ve been limited to the adequate but hardly exciting 105kW/172Nm 1.8L NA unit, driving only the front wheels via a mandatory CVT continuous variable transmission. Insert snoozy emoji here.

Now we’ve learned that the all-new HR-V due here soon will also sidestep the turbo, for a new 1.5L NA engine that makes under 90kW of power as well as less torque than before. This sounds like it might be a retrograde step. A turbo upgrade is offered in some other parts of the world, but – again – Australia will miss out.

The silver lining here is that a new-gen hybrid powertrain will also debut in the HR-V, mating a 1.5L engine with dual electric motors. Not exciting nor sporty, but at least it should be smooth, quiet and very, very economical.

Hyundai Tucson 2.5 GDI/Kia Sportage 2.5 GDI

Whether we’re talking about the NX4 Tucson or its fraternal-twin NQ5 Sportage from Kia, the fact remains that both of these strikingly modern medium SUVs seem a little short changed in the engine department – for Australian buyers on a budget at least.

The 132kW/265Nm 1.6L turbo petrol is pretty sprightly, as is the 137kW/416Nm 2.0L turbo-diesel, found in the AWD versions of both models.

But if you’re not wanting to spend upwards of $50,000, you’ll be stuck with 115kW/192Nm 2.0L NA engine in the FWD models. And while this is a smooth engine, it just does not have the performance or response that the daringly designed SUVs deserve.

Optimists might hope for one of the hybrid or plug-in hybrid options from overseas might do the trick, but these would not come cheap, given that even the base Tucson 2WD or Sportage S 2WD are hurtling towards $40K nowadays.

However, salvation might be at hand in the form of a new 138kW/241Nm 2.5L NA unit, that shaves a full two seconds off the 2.0L engine in the 0-100km/h sprint (and is also 16km/h faster flat out at 197km/h), meaning it would be considerably more powerful and easier on fuel to boot.

Fingers crossed it comes to Australian bound versions in the not-too-distant future.

Mazda 3 Turbo and CX-30 Turbo

You’ve probably heard us whine about this before.

Mazda does not offer any bad engines in either the ‘3’ or CX-30, and some like the 2.5L NA are quite invigorating to drive hard and fast.

But when you know there’s something better out there, well, given Australian consumers’ love affair with the brand, we believe we at least deserve the best that the Hiroshima firm can offer.

Unveiled in North America in 2020, the Mazda3 Turbo uses a version of the 2.5L four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine found in the CX-9, CX-5 and Mazda6, delivering some 186kW of power and 434Nm of torque.

This engine also found its way into the closely-related CX-30 a year later in US and Canadian models, but there’s been nothing since then about either Mazda following suit for Australia.

The official reason is that right-hand-drive volumes aren’t high enough to justify the investment costs needed.

But a company with ‘zoom-zoom’ as its advertising catch cry ought to make an exception here, at least for the CX-30 and its larger potential customer base moving forward, and especially as Mazda has a history of big turbo performance in classics like the Mazda3 MPS.

For the record, the US Mazda3 Turbo matches the previous Honda Civic Type R in the race to 100km/h, managing it in just 5.7s flat.

So, c'mon, Mazda, make it happen.