Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

Adversity has been known to bring out the best in people.

President George W. Bush’s approval ratings soared as he attempted to heal the nation after the 2001 terrorist attacks. People routinely run into burning buildings to rescue family, friends, total strangers and even pets.

Without overstating matters, the future of the U.S. auto industry hangs in the balance, and adversity has turned into desperation.

Problems that have haunted domestic auto makers for years, compounded by a debilitating credit crunch, plummeting consumer confidence and a foundering global economy, are forcing Detroit’s cash-poor OEMs to beg for federal assistance, or face an abyss of uncertainty in 2009.

What does this all mean to the design and production of world-class engines? Plenty.

Automotive engine programs are notoriously lazy incubators. It took years to perfect hybrid-electric technology, variable valve timing and fuel injection and even longer to integrate them with volume production engines.

Winners of this year’s 10 Best Engines awards trace their development roots to the beginning of the decade, and in some cases earlier, when times were much better and when reasonably priced gasoline provided little impetus to hammer away at the most innovative approaches to conserve fuel.

So imagine what kind of engines and modes of propulsion will surface for 10 Best Engines testing several years from now, a product of the current frantic hand-wringing from Detroit’s executive suites to its test labs and assembly lines.

Like a blizzard that nine months later produces precious new offspring, this crisis also has the potential to give us technologies once perceived as far-fetched, and to alter mobility as we know it, prodded along by stricter and stricter emissions regulations.

This year’s 10 Best Engines winners represent remarkable achievements by nine auto makers. They are unique in their own way – two diesels, a hybrid, small I-4s and big V-8s – but they all have two things in common: sterling performance and outstanding fuel economy.

Ward’s editors evaluated 32 different engines in their routine daily driving cycles for this year’s competition. The nominee list consists of the 2008 winners as well as all-new or significantly improved engines.

Over a nearly 2-month period, the editors tested and scored each engine against all others based on horsepower, torque, refinement, technology and fuel economy. Each engine must be available in a regular-production, U.S.-specification model on sale no later than the first quarter of 2009 in a vehicle priced not more than $54,000.

The awards, now in their 15th year, will be given at a Jan. 14 ceremony in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show.

So, don’t despair. Here are 10 reasons to celebrate the future of the auto industry.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

Ward’s 10 Best Engines is a copyright of Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward’s Automotive Group.