In its 14th year, the Ward's 10 Best Engines list recognizes not only great powertrains but those who create them.
Powertrain engineers often toil in obscurity, building components that will be cut from chunks of metal and then pieced together on the assembly line.
If all goes according to plan, the finished product achieves internal-combustion harmonic balance — and lures new customers to a particular vehicle or brand.
A mediocre effort leads to middling performance, recalls and disgruntled consumers that can send a company into a tailspin. A truly bad engine can tarnish an auto maker's reputation for a generation.
No auto maker wants such a fate, so the power, quality and reliability of today's engines are constantly improving.
That's what makes selecting the best engines so difficult for Ward's editors.
Yes, some of the least engaging entries easily are bumped from contention.
But every year, we test a superb lot of powertrains that dazzle us. Reaching agreement on the final 10 is a bruising, draining and exasperating process.
This year, we tested 37 engines. That includes the 10 winners from 2007, plus all new or heavily revised engines for '08.
All regular-production test vehicles must be available in U.S. showrooms during the first quarter of 2008 and must have a base price not exceeding $54,000.
There are no segments in our evaluations for cars or trucks or 4-cyl. engines or V-8s. Each stands on its own, and the editors score each engine based on how they perceive that engine competing against others like it. Points are awarded based on several criteria, including technology, power, refinement and fuel economy.
This year's list is broadly indicative of the type of engines U.S. consumers prefer: Six are of the 6-cyl. variety, while two are V-8s and two are I-4s — the same mix as 2007's 10 Best Engines. Direct injection is employed by six of the winning engines this year, reflecting the trend toward smaller engines with more power.
And for the third time since the Toyota Prius made the list in 2001, a hybrid-electric vehicle earned a spot — this time the GMC Yukon Hybrid, equipped with General Motors Corp.'s jointly developed 2-Mode HEV architecture.
Likewise, each year a hybrid has made the list, so has a new-generation turbodiesel. This year's winning oil-burner is the Mercedes E320 Bluetec, which also earned an award last year. The arrival of several new diesels for the U.S. in 2008 will make for an exciting competition next fall.
And a new federal mandate for U.S. light vehicles to achieve 35 mpg by the year 2020 should produce some fascinating new engines to evaluate in upcoming years.