Chrysler’s HEMI V8 engine dates back more than fifty years, going back to the first ‘FirePower’ units from the 1950s and culminating with the third-generation design found in the carmaker’s current lineup. While the future of the legendary V8 is in doubt, there’s still plenty of life in the powerplant as it is set to appear in a range of new models including hybrid SUVs, performance muscle cars and workhorse pickups.

Chrysler has extensively updated its 5.7L HEMI V8 range for the 2009 model year, making it more powerful and more fuel-efficient. The new engine debuts in the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 and will eventually appear in other 2009 models including the 300 sedan and Challenger coupe.

Engineers improved engine breathing and added new technologies, including variable valve timing (VVT) to boost power and torque levels throughout the rev range. They also expanded the number of models with Chrysler’s fuel-saving Multi-displacement System (MDS) operation and lowered the idle rev level.

Numerous other hardware upgrades were implemented to build on the quality, reliability and durability reputation of the engine. These include crankshaft structural upgrades, a dual-mass crankshaft damper, floating pin piston design, valve spring design and oil pump capacity increase for VVT.

The end result is output rating of 380hp (283kW) and 404lb-ft (547Nm) of torque – up 10% and 8% respectively over the previous 5.7L unit. At the same time, fuel economy has been improved by roughly 4% in most applications. When mated with the hybrid system in the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen SUVs, power levels rise to 385hp (287kW) but torque slips to 380lb-ft (514Nm).

The new 5.7L HEMI V8 is manufactured at the Saltillo engine plant in Mexico.