As the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition has evolved over 18 years, there’s no denying fuel efficiency has gained prominence among the judging criteria. If the industry is moving in this direction, so should the list.

But we will never forsake the engines that ooze testosterone and conjure images of smoking tires and parachutes pulled taut from a reinforced rear bumper.

For this reason, and for reminding us how good it feels to be bad sometimes, the 444-hp 5.0L DOHC V-8 in the ’12 Ford Mustang Boss 302 earns a second-consecutive Ward’s 10 Best Engines win for 2012.

The modern “Five-Oh” earned high praise in last year’s competition with 412 hp and 390 lb.-ft. (529 Nm) of torque in the Mustang GT.

But a new iteration arrives in the all-new Boss 302, a track-ready homage to the legendary 1968 muscle car that loses a bit of torque but makes up for it with an additional 32 hp.

Most everything carries over between the two engines: displacement, all-aluminum construction, valvetrain, sinter-forged connecting rods, bore and stroke, 11.0:1 compression ratio and a fuel-economy rating of 17/26 mpg (13.8-9.0 L/100 km).

The Boss 302 gets forged-aluminum pistons, quad exhaust and a higher redline (7,500 rpm vs. 7,000 in the GT).

Also unique for the 5.0L in the Boss 302 variant are a revised composite intake manifold with shorter runners for better high-rpm breathing; lightened valvetrain components; sodium-filled exhaust valves for improved heat dissipation; and a new oil-pan design to ensure proper lubrication during extreme cornering.

The unique cylinder heads are made of high-strength aluminum alloy and are designed for optimum high-rpm airflow. The engine also takes 5W50 full-synthetic oil and has an engine oil cooler for longer-lasting lubrication during extreme racing conditions.

In last year’s competition, our well-equipped Mustang GT loaner stickered at $39,680, while this Boss 302 motors in at $43,485. In the dollar-for-horsepower measurement, even with all this additional high-powered content, the Boss 302 remains an excellent value.

The engine also makes sense economically for Ford because, although unique, it is machined and assembled on the same line and shares some dimensions with the previous “modular” V-8s. But there are few other common parts carrying over to the new 5.0L, which likely is the last engine in the modular family.

For those with serious racing intentions, the Boss 302 is available with a dealer-installed “track key,” which comes with modified powertrain control software that provides race-ready calibration and 2-stage launch control.

The Boss 302 was not the only muscle-car V-8 in this year’s competition. Certain editors wanted the 470-hp Dodge Charger SRT8, but its $1,000 gas-guzzler tax proved to be a deal breaker.

Next year, the Boss 302 will be in the hunt once again, along with every other 2012 winner. It will face a challenge from the 6.2L LSA supercharged V-8 in the Camaro ZL1, assuming it falls under the 10 Best Engines price cap.

As long as Ford and other auto makers continue producing and selling indulgent muscle-car V-8s, the WardsAuto editorial team will continue to evaluate them – and appreciate Ward’s 10 Best Engines judging duties as the coolest job on the planet.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com