GM’s Northstar V8 to End Production in July
By Chris Haak
GM’s Northstar V8 – once a crown jewel of the automaker’s powertrain organization and a point of pride for the Cadillac division – is scheduled to end production at the end of July 2010, according to GM sources cited by InsideLine. The Northstar first hit the market in 1992 in the unloved Cadillac Allante roadster, then gradually made its way throughout the Cadillac lineup
Most of the Northstars produced displaced 4.6 liters, but there were a few other variants. The supercharged Northstar V8 installed in the Cadillac STS-V displaced 4.4 liters and produced 469 horsepower and 439 lb-ft of torque, and produced 443 horsepower and 414 lb-ft of torque in the slow-selling XLR-V. The 4.6 liter Northstars never topped 320 horsepower, and only did that in in the re-engineered longitudinal versions installed in the XLR, STS, and SRX with the addition of variable valve timing.
Transversely-mounted Northstar V8s, found in the Deville/DTS, Seville, Eldorado, and Allante, produced between 275 and 300 horsepower, depending upon the engine’s tuning (there were two primary variants, a torque-optimized one and a horsepower-optimized one).
For the first decade of its existence, the Northstar 4.6 liter engine was exclusive to Cadillac, but in 2004, the Pontiac Bonneville GXP got a 275-horsepower version under its hood. The 2006 Buick Lucerne also received the Northstar as an optional engine; of course, the Bonneville has been out of production for several years, but the Lucerne soldiers on and still offers the Northstar V8.
The Northstar story would not be complete without mention of the related Aurora V8, installed in the Oldsmobile Aurora from 1995 to 2003. The Aurora V8 displaced 4.0 liters and shared most of the Northstar’s technology (and refinement), but the reduced bore increased weight significantly enough that engineers had to use a thermoplastic intake manifold, aluminum oil pan, and simplified sequential fuel injection system.
Oldsmobile’s 3.5 liter “Shortstar” V6 was also a derivative of the Northstar V8. This oddball 90-degree V6 (the 90 degree cylinder bank angle is optimal for a V8, but a 60 degree angle is best for V6s) had a unique block design from the Aurora/Northstar V8. The Shortstar also had an even-firing design with a split-pin crankshaft similar to the GM 3800 engines, and produced 215 horsepower. It was only in production between 1999 and 2002.
GM had prepared a successor to the Northstar V8, called the Ultra V8, that was derived technologically from the company’s well-regarded high feature V6 family. GM’s financial troubles, consumer disinterest in V8s, and increasing CAFE standards conspired to doom the so-called UV8, which GM’s current product-development boss at the time said was “as refined as anything in the history of internal-combustion engines. It was the quietest engine we’ve ever tested.” Development of the UV8 is actually complete, and the company could pull it off the shelf at any time, but smart money says that it will stay on the shelf, unfortunately.
GM has been very successful in getting power and efficiency from its ubiquitous small-block V8, which – although it has been re-engineered many times – has architecture dating back to 1955. It remains to be seen whether the V8 is, in fact, dying, or if it just needs more updates. And will luxury buyer accept a marque that sells only V6s and below, as Cadillac seems heading toward (excepting the excellent CTS-V, of course)? The Northstar was fast becoming uncompetitive against V8s from Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, where the competition offers outstanding refinement plus an additional 50-plus horsepower on top of what the highest-output naturally-aspirated Northstars could muster.