Brian Corbett carps that a lot of his picks for this year's 10-Best didn't make the cut, but in fact that's all part of our judging process. Nobody gets all of his or her personal favorites on the list. At least three of mine — proven winners — didn't make it this year: the Toyota/Lexus 4.3L DOHC V-8, the Mercedes-Benz 3.2L SOHC V-6 and the Audi 2.7 twin-turbo V-6.
Remember those people in high school who were just too perfect? They were always polite, never had acne and got straight As, but they didn't stand out in a crowd. This was part of the problem with the just-about-perfect Toyota 4.3L V-8, tested in the Lexus GS430. It is perhaps the smoothest, most vibration-free V-8 ever built, and recent technological improvements have made it a potent, power-dense engine as well.
It won a spot on our list for three years running in 1998, 1999, and 2000, but its refined, inhibited nature causes some critics to complain about a “lack of personality.”
The engine also no doubt is a victim of the anti-displacement Taliban here at Ward's. Led by Senior Mullah Tom Murphy, these forces would like to see us all driving 2L I-4s rather than hedonistic V-8s that “guzzle fuel like frat boys on a weekend bender.”
All I can say to that is: excuse me while I burp.
Then there's the Mercedes 3.2L V-6. It made the 10-Best list for four straight years, and it should have made it again. It always has recorded high marks for its innovative 3-valve, SOHC twin-sparkplug design that makes for a very clean and fuel-efficient package. What most impressed me this year is how Mercedes continues to improve its buttery torque delivery, despite a less-than-ideal 90-degree vee layout.
Breathtaking acceleration in an all-wheel-drive car? You don't hear those words in the same sentence very often, but the Audi 2.7L twin turbo delivers just that. It made our list the past two years. Tested in the smallish Audi S4 this year, the engine pounded out even more astonishing performance. Alas, the low-tech iron block construction and disappointing fuel economy (17/24 mpg in a compact car) conspired to squeeze this otherwise benchmark V-6 off the list.