The engines have been studied, the arguments won and lost, the winners announced and the press releases written.

Now all that is left to do is decide the fate of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition.

Do we leave well enough alone and soldier on as we have for 16 years, driving every vehicle that arrives with a new or heavily modified engine, in search of the right combination of performance and fuel economy?

Or do we recognize the era of electrified mobility is at hand, forcing a re-examination of our criteria for judging the best engines, or the best powertrains? Do we need to bone up on voltage and consider new ways to quantify motoring excellence?

We’ve crossed this bridge before, when Ward’s editors first put a hybrid, the Toyota Prius, on the list in 2001.

If we only evaluated the Prius’ gasoline engine, it wouldn’t make the cut. It gets a leg-up from an electric motor, requiring a fresh and well-justified perspective that takes into account fuel economy, NVH and a host of other factors for the entire drivetrain.

Think about it too long, and the questions can overwhelm:

How can a Chevy Volt compete with a V-8 Camaro, in both performance and emotional appeal? Must we be dispassionate about the exhaust note for some vehicles, but not others? Do we need one list for internal-combustion engines and another for everything else? How deeply, if at all, must we realign our thinking about engines?

This year’s competition showcased auto makers’ tremendous strides in balancing the traditional need for speed and power with the growing interest in reducing tailpipe emissions and conserving oil.

Six Ward’s editors evaluated 34 vehicles from 13 auto makers in their everyday driving cycles in metro Detroit during October and November.

To be eligible for the competition, each new or improved engine must be available in a regular-production U.S.-specification model on sale no later than first-quarter 2010, in a vehicle priced no more than $54,000. The awards will be presented at a Jan. 13 ceremony in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show.

An old corporate boss used to tell employees, “You can’t change fast enough.”

Eyes would roll. But he was right.

The only way an auto maker keeps its spot on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list is by staying on the cutting edge of technology.

Likewise, Ward’s will be considering ways to enhance the 10 Best Engines competition and ensure it can accommodate whatever comes from the test labs of the automotive powertrain community well into the future.

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.