When we launched Ward's 10 Best Engines 10 years ago, we had no idea if the industry would care or if our effort would get lost in an expanding bandwidth of automotive awards.

But 10 Best has flourished, growing in size, scope and recognition.

It's become a significant part of the industry landscape, and we remain convinced that recognizing achievement in powertrain development is a worthy endeavor. What's more important to a vehicle than its engine?

This year, Ward's panel of six editors nominated 32 engines for the 10 Best competition. Over seven weeks, the judges drove vehicles powered by the nominees.

Each engine is scored by each editor in a variety of subjective and objective categories. Each engine competes against all others. The 10 engines with the top scores win.

The few rules governing eligibility are crucial. Nominated engines must be available in production specification in regular- or near-production vehicles on sale at least by the first quarter of the coming year.

An eligible engine must be fitted in a vehicle with a base price of no more than $52,500, a price ceiling that has increased just 5% from our original $50,000 cutoff point in 1995. A vehicle base price exceeding the 10 Best Engines cap should guarantee fitment of an outstanding engine.

Not Just a Big Engine in a Small Car

Audi 4.2L DOHC V-8

Stick a big V-8 in a small-bodied car and watch it go like hell.

It worked 40 years ago for Detroit muscle cars and can make just about any big-displacement V-8 perform like a hero. Audi AG's 4.2L V-8 actually isn't all that big (only Volkswagen AG makes a smaller 8-cyl.), but it comes across like a piledriver in the light S4 bodyshell. Torque flows like lava from a roiling volcano.

But unlike its genuine muscle-car progenitors, this Audi V-8 isn't just about the numbers, and its reportoire isn't limited to overpowering a compact-car chassis. All the Best Engines judges commented on the balanced subtlety of the S4 package. Audi's V-8 is fitted in the S4 with what seems to be an inordinate level of attention to package-specific development.

The engine's exhaust tenor, for instance, is permitted to fully express itself only at the appropriate times; the idle burble is a wonderful mix of raw muscle and sophistication, while wide-open throttle tingles the spine. The rest of the time, the 4.2L V-8 minds its own business.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 4.2L 90-degree DOHC V-8

Displacement (cc): 4,163

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 84.5 × 92

Horsepower (SAE net): 340 @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 302 lb.-ft. (409 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm

Specific output: 81 hp/L

Compression ratio: 11:1

Application tested: Audi S4

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway, mpg): 14/20

My Fight to Save the Audi S4

By Kevin Kelly

As we huddled in the conference room, the debates began.

The cast of fickle Best Engines judges expounded on the virtues of their choices, whether it was the true technological genius of the Toyota Prius or the brute power of the Dodge Ram Cummins.

Then it became clear some judges weren't willing to give the Audi S4 its due. Some said it wasn't worthy because it's just a large engine in a small car, a formula that could work for any auto maker.

I beg your pardon? If that were the case, why did the '04 Cadillac CTS-V, which features a high-output V-8 tucked into a small luxury sheet metal casing, not make the list?

I'll tell you why: The Audi S4 is in every way ahead of the CTS-V. Sure, the CTS-V has more horsepower, but it's not just horsepower that counts. The CTS-V is, to put it bluntly, crude. It has a difficult time handling the 400 hp produced by its 5.7L V-8. The S4, on the other hand, seems to handle the added power of its 4.2L V-8 with grace and precision. There's no vibration, and the sound from the exhaust is not overwhelming.

All in all, Audi has managed to provide the power and refinement of an engine normally found in big-ticket cars in a refined and much more affordable package, proving it does take more than slapping a big engine in a small car to make our list.

This Hemi Is Packed with Plenty

DaimlerChrysler 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8

No other business rewards the latest design quite like the auto business.

So one of the surest tests of a 10 Best Engines winner's staying power is how well it can fight off brand-new engines — particularly when they also happen to be direct competitors in terms of size, cylinder count and market segment. When an incumbent winner outshines newer rivals it battles directly in the market, it's a testimony to its inherent goodness.

If you accept that premise, then consider the ringing endorsement earned by DaimlerChrysler AG's 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8. No engine's ever had to run a tougher gauntlet to secure a second appearance on the Ward's 10 Best Engines list.

For 2004, the thunderous Hemi had to beat back not only 23 of the 32 engines nominated for a 10 Best position, but two wickedly competent V-8s launched directly against the Hemi in the market: Ford Motor Co.'s redesigned 5.4L Triton SOHC V-8 and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s all-new “Endurance” 5.6L DOHC V-8.

And although both the Triton and Endurance V-8s are unlikely to leave the owners of their respective pickup trucks feeling shortchanged, the simple fact is neither could surpass the Hemi — either in raw numbers or on-the-road punch.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 5.7L OHV 90-degree V-8

Displacement (cc): 5,654

Block/head material: cast iron/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 99.5 × 90.9

Horsepower (SAE net): 345 @ 5,400 rpm

Torque: 375 lb.-ft. (508 Nm) @ 4,200 rpm

Specific output: 61 hp/L

Compression ratio: 9.6:1

Application tested: Dodge Ram

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 13/17

Dodge Truck Engines Reign Supreme

By Tom Murphy

The fullsize-pickup portion of this year's Best Engines competition promised to be tough, but in the end it was no contest.

We were fortunate to have the new Ford F-150, Nissan Titan and Dodge Ram pickups for testing at the same time. Some judges took keys to two or three at a time to test-drive them back-to-back.

When the scoring was complete, no debate was necessary: The Ram's 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 was the clear favorite.

The F-150 is all-new for '04, and its 3-valve 5.4L SOHC Triton V-8 is as quiet as a luxury car — no foolin'. The powertrain gurus at Ford Motor Co. tell us refinement is what their truck customers want.

Problem is, we think it's too refined. “Too much unrequited accelerator pedal travel,” I scribbled on my F-150 score sheet. “Not as responsive as Hemi.” Another judge was more blunt: “This engine was dogged when pushed,” he wrote.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has nothing to be ashamed of with its 5.6L DOHC V-8 — its first-ever V-8 for a fullsize pickup. “Like it better than Ford Triton,” wrote one judge. “More powerful than F-150 off the line!” wrote another. But judges also noted it wasn't as refined as the F-150 V-8.

The Hemi earned a Best Engines award in 2003 in its first model year. That it stared down two worthy competitors this year is evidence the Chrysler Group is serious about its pickup truck powerplants.

Judges gush about the Hemi. “Love the vocals,” wrote one. “Torque is exceptional, especially at low end,” wrote another.

In the medium-duty diesel portion of our competition, the Ram earned another Best Engines award — with nary a word of debate.

Its 5.9L I-6 Cummins turbodiesel now is the benchmark in the segment, offering superb refinement, an outstanding automatic transmission and enough power to make a Teamster giddy.

General Motors Corp.'s Duramax turbodiesel was the first to win a Best Engines award in this segment a few years back, followed last year by Ford's Power Stroke. This year, the Cummins-powered Ram Heavy Duty slays all comers — until a more worthy challenger comes along.

The only other diesel we tested this year was Volkswagen AG's 1.9L I-4 TDI in the Jetta. It was great on the highway but sounded too much like a clattery old diesel at idle, unlike the Cummins.

King for Today, Anyway

DaimlerChrysler 5.9L Cummins turbodiesel

With DaimlerChrysler AG's “Cummins 600” 5.9L turbodiesel earning a win in this year's Ward's 10 Best Engines competition, it's official: in each of the last three years, there's been an all-new or significantly revised medium-truck diesel engine. Each year, that new diesel won a 10 Best award.

The breakneck pace of diesel development for the hotly contested, astoundingly profitable medium-truck market is the new world order. Sit back for six months to enjoy your position as king of horsepower or prince of torque and your competitors have passed you by.

DaimlerChrysler and engine-development partner Cummins Inc. credit heavy reliance on computer analytical tools for the new Cummins 600's overnight burst from last in a three-way race (with General Motors Corp.'s Duramax and Ford Motor Co.'s Power Stroke V-8 turbodiesels) to front-runner in power/torque and refinement.

So in one fell swoop, DC and Cummins went right ahead and tended to both the numbers and noise-vibration-harshness concerns with the heavily revised Cummins 600. The new name reflects the class-leading torque rating of 600 lb.-ft. And the 325-hp rating isn't sissy stuff, either.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 5.9L OHV inline 6-cyl. turbodiesel

Displacement (cc): 5,883

Block/head material: cast iron/cast iron

Bore × stroke (mm): 102.1 × 119.9

Horsepower (SAE net): 325 @ 2,900 rpm

Torque: 600 lb.-ft. (813 Nm) @ 1,600 rpm

Specific output: 55 hp/L

Compression ratio: 17.2:1

Application tested: Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): N/A

The Return of the Rotary

Mazda 1.3L Renesis Rotary

Where do you start with Mazda Motor Corp.'s new Renesis rotary? That we're just plain delighted to see the rotary architecture return to thrill drivers with its eerie high-rpm smoothness? That the engine Mazda doggedly has made virtually its own since the 1960s is vastly improved, yet emotive as ever?

Its long-term implications are for history to decide, but we'll vouch for one aspect: Mazda's new Renesis rotary handily carries on the near-mythic qualities that have earned it one of the most rabid enthusiast followings of any engine in history.

Central to the rotary mythos, of course, is the engine's basic motion: rotary rather than reciprocating. Because the Renesis's two trochoids — triangular-shaped rotors with an indented “combustion chamber” in each of the trochoid's three sides — revolve in a motion that's essentially circular, the Renesis spins to spectacularly high rpm.

The rotary motion's advantage is described by Mazda as “theoretical near-perfect dynamic balance with torque fluctuation equal, if not superior to, an inline 6-cyl. engine.” All we know is this: Ram the Renesis to 9,000 rpm and vibration is all but non-existent.

We were overwhelmed by the Renesis, plain and simple. Mazda's new rotary is a fascinating technical achievement and a superb, emotional performance-car engine.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 1.3L twin-rotor rotary

Displacement (cc): 1,312

Block material: aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): N/A

Horsepower (SAE net): 238 @ 8,500 rpm

Torque: 159 lb.-ft. (216 Nm) @ 5,500 rpm

Specific output: 183 hp/L

Compression ratio: 10:1

Application tested: RX-8

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 18/24

Late Entry Leads the Charge

Honda 3L SOHC V-6

There's probably no better measure of engine-development progress than a contemporary automotive V-6.

When Ward's launched the 10 Best Engines competition a decade ago, V-6s were only beginning to account for a meaningful portion of sales in middle-market vehicles (particularly imports, power levels were unassuming and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. had yet to launch its first V-6.

Now, Honda's scorching 3L SOHC V-6, winning a 10 Best spot for a second year in a row, develops 50 hp more than a same-displacement competitor from a decade ago. Almost 30% increased horsepower, along with better fuel economy and reduced emissions, seems to be genuine progress.

Credit much of the last decade's power explosion to variable valve timing, a technology that's been singularly responsible for some whopping horsepower and driveability gains in everything from the smallest 4-cyl. to hulking V-8s.

So when Honda engineers got the bug to bring their previously sleepy 3L V-6 to world-class levels of specific output, they went straight to Honda's seminal variable valve-timing system that made its contemporary 4-cyl. engines renowned.

We don't know where V-6s will go from here, but it's likely Honda will be leading the charge.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 3L 60-degree SOHC V-6

Displacement (cc): 2,997

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 86 × 86

Horsepower (SAE net): 240 @ 6,250 rpm

Torque: 212 lb.-ft. (287 Nm) @ 5,000 rpm

Specific output: 80 hp/L

Compression ratio: 10:1

Application tested: Accord Coupe 6-speed

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 20/30

Putting on the Right Spin

By Steve Finlay

Retired auto technician Pete Wright had been working on rotary engines for a few years when, in 1978, Mazda Motor Corp. put one in its new RX-7 sports car. Soon Wright was fixing a lot of clutches.

“People were burning them out right and left, pushing their RX-7s,” he recalls. “One owner blew out three clutches in a year. It was a hot car.”

The RX-7 ended its North American run in 1995, and its unconventional engine took a 9-year hiatus in the U.S. It returns in an all-new vehicle, the '04 RX-8. It proves Mazda is persistent or the rotary is resilient — or both.

The RX-8's engine cranks out about as much power as the previous-generation turbocharged rotary in the RX-7, but it's 30% lighter and more compact. The RX-8 with a 6-speed manual transmission delivers 238 hp. That's impressive for a lightweight 1.3L engine (although power peaks require high rpm levels).

You won't find more than one rotary engine among Ward's 10 Best Engines (or any other engine list for that matter) because there's just one: Mazda's.

But it's noteworthy. Not only does the new one squeeze out the juice, it does so smoothly and quietly due to the nature of its two spinning, triangular trochoids, rather than the action of pumping pistons. “It's a pretty simple engine, and that's the beauty of it,” says Wright.

A German, Felix Wankel, invented the rotary, a.k.a. the Wankel. NSU, a precursor to today's Audi AG, was first to introduce a rotary-powered production vehicle in 1958. Only Mazda stuck with it.

It was a hit when Mazda first introduced it in the RX-3 compact in 1967.

“The public loved it, and it initially sold well,” says industry veteran David C. Smith, former editor-in-chief of Ward's AutoWorld and founder of the Ward's Wankel Report, a newsletter that evolved into today's Ward's Engine and Vehicle Technology Update. “There were 30 rotary engine licensees around the world. There was talk of all sorts of applications, from helicopters to lawn mowers.”

General Motors Corp. planned to put Wankels in various vehicles. But for all its advantages, the engine got so-so fuel economy (and still does). Emissions issues and the fuel crisis of the mid-1970s scared off GM. After that, rotary engines fell short of their predicted popularity.

Several auto makers experimented with rotary engines over the years. Conspicuously absent was Ford Motor Co. Late Chairman Henry Ford II said the concept was dumb.

Today, Ford owns controlling interest in Mazda Motor Corp., keeper of the rotary. Its U.S. return wouldn't have occurred without Ford approval.

Rally Around a Winner

Subaru Fuji 2.5L DOHC turbocharged H-4

Three hundred horsepower. Three hundred pound-feet of torque. Thirty thousand dollars.

That covers about 90% of the winning formula for Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru 2.5L turbocharged DOHC H-4. The only engine with a performance-per-dollar quotient like this is DaimlerChrysler's 2.4L turbocharged DOHC 4-cyl., and it barely missed making the cut.

This is Subaru's first-ever 10 Best Engines winner, and it's not surprising given the company's reputation for reliable, though usually unspectacular and unassuming powertrains. With the 2.5L turbocharged DOHC H-4, you can forget about that reputation: Subaru's showing us why it's won all those World Rally Championship trophies.

In the lightweight Impreza WRX STi, this engine exhibits truly violent performance. Sixty mph (97 km/h) arrives in 4.8 secs., so wave bye-bye to the Porsche 911 and stay neck-and-neck with Corvette. We told you this engine was strong.

This engine's best trick is the one it's bought for: otherworldy acceleration at almost any speed. It's one of the most exciting engines available in the U.S. at any price. Its relative affordability only underscores its brilliant performance and technical sophistication.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 2.5L turbocharged DOHC H-4

Displacement (cc): 2,457

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 99.5 × 79

Horsepower (SAE net): 300 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm

Specific output: 120 hp/L

Compression ratio: 8.2:1

Application tested: Subaru Impreza WRX STi

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 18/24

In This Case, Red Means Go!

BMW 3.2L DOHC I-6

There have been other 100-plus-horsepower-per-liter engines to win past Ward's 10 Best Engines awards, but none has enjoyed the staying power of BMW AG's magnificent 3.2L DOHC I-6 “M” engine.

Credit one thing: BMW's stalwart inline architecture.

To make in excess of 100 hp/L inevitably requires a high-rpm power peak. Internal combustion engines essentially are air pumps — the more air one can “move,” theoretically the more power one can produce. Moving lots of air typically requires lots of rpm. Ask those Formula One engine guys, who squeeze out hundreds of horsepower per liter, if you don't believe us.

Past engines that have enamored us in the specific-output stakes eventually have proven to be rather “boring” one-trick ponies. Revving a 4-banger to 9,000 rpm — in each and every gear, all the time — inevitably becomes a grating chore to extract, say, 80% of an engine's power. Few engines genuinely reward perpetual redline visitation.

BMW's always-spectacular 3.2L DOHC I-6 is one, however. The inherently balanced inline 6-cyl. layout, so marvelously refined by BMW over the past four decades or so, virtually rejoices in bouncing the tach needle into the scarlet.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 3.2L DOHC inline 6-cyl.

Displacement (cc): 3,246

Block/head material: cast iron/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 87 × 91

Horsepower (SAE net): 333 @ 7,900 rpm

Torque: 262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) @ 4,900 rpm

Specific output: 103 hp/L

Compression ratio: 11.5:1

Application tested: M3

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 16/24

Power, Output and Thrift: Powerful Trio

By Alisa Priddle

Maybe I'm just a cheap date.

Don't get me wrong — I love power. I love horsepower, especially when I can hear and feel it permeate the entire vehicle. Torque does it for me.

But I have a prudent side. And it was soundly trampled on by my fellow judges who refused to see the light when it comes to the Dodge SRT-4 and its wonderful, lively 2.4L turbocharged DOHC inline 4-cyl. engine.

This little baby thrilled me at all speeds and in all gears. Turn off the radio and sing along as the burble builds to a rumble and intersperses a few crescendos.

This is no ordinary Neon. It has horsepower: 230 at 5,300 rpm. It has torque: 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm) in the 2,200-4,400 range. And, it has serious output: 96 hp/L for a vehicle that bases at $19,450. It delivers as much pleasure in city driving as running down the highway.

Sure, the numbers don't quite stack up against the cult-like Subaru WRX STi. That high-performance machine with the turbocharged horizontally opposed boxer 4-cyl. pumps out 103 hp/L. Its slightly larger 2.5L DOHC H-4 delivers 300 hp at 6,000 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. (235 Nm) of torque. Most impressive is the 120 hp/L and 120 lb.-ft. (163 Nm) of torque per liter.

But I can almost get a matching pair of Dodge SRT-4s for the $30,995 starting price of the Subie.

Dodge deserves bonus marks for offering so much bang for the buck — and encasing it in a killer package that is within reach of the modest-income buyer.

It's much more than a tuner car. It's my dream date: powerful yet frugal, but definitely fun.

Hitting 10 for 10

Nissan 3.5L DOHC V-6

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s sublime 3.5L “VQ” V-6 needs no introduction, being that it's won a 10 Best Engines award each and every year since the competition's inception in 1995. That the VQ has cemented itself as the dominant V-6 benchmark is without question — a decade after its introduction, the VQ, amazingly, remains the admitted development target of rivals who will discuss such details.

“No doubt about it, the Nissan V-6 is the 600-lb. gorilla of V-6s,” says a competing powertrain engineer.

Rarely has the industry seen such a seminal design. Equally extraordinary, subsequent generations have not lost the edge that made the original VQ 3L variant stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries.

Only now are competitors beginning to approach the alluring combination of power and refinement that have been VQ bywords since its launch.

Continual upgrades and detail refinements have kept the VQ at the top of the heap, particularly in terms of power and torque. Honda's 3L V-6 — also a 10 Best Engines award winner for 2004 — surpasses some variants of Nissan's VQ in specific output, but the VQ's demonstrated flexibility means there are so many variants, in such a variety of vehicle applications, that the VQ's power and specific output figures now are widely spaced.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 3.5L 60-degree DOHC V-6

Displacement (cc): 3,498

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 95.5 × 81.4

Horsepower (SAE net): 260 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) @ 4,800 rpm

Specific output: 74 hp/L

Compression ratio: 10.3:1

Application tested: Infiniti G35 sedan

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 20/27

Crisp, No-Nonsense Power

General Motors 4.2L DOHC I-6

The first time Vortec 4200 chief engineer Ron Kociba showed his creation to the press almost three years ago, his facial expression combined cat-that-ate-the-canary satisfaction with the cautious optimism of a poker player betting a good, but not totally airtight, hand.

Kociba knew his team had developed a pivotal engine. Problem was, the new engine had only six cylinders and was earmarked to launch in a midsize SUV segment whose customers seemed increasingly hell-bent on having eight.

Now, with a third-consecutive 10 Best Engines trophy under the Vortec 4.2L I-6's belt, General Motors Corp.'s decision to green-light the Powertrain division's straight-6 truck engine proves the General often is capable of excellent feats of engineering. The Vortec 4200 remains a favorite of Best Engines judges because of its crisp responses and no-nonsense power delivery. If the late running back Walter Payton were an engine, he'd be the Vortec 4200: lithe, composed and always capable of the instant burst of power.

It's one of the most versatile and satisfying engines available at any price. It's skillfully engineered, brilliantly executed and immensely gratifying to use.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 4.2L DOHC I-6

Displacement (cc): 4,160

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 93 × 102

Horsepower (SAE net): 275 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 275 lb.-ft. (373 Nm) @ 3,600 rpm

Specific output: 65 hp/L

Compression ratio: 10:1

Application tested: GMC Envoy 4WD

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg):

Stop the Cubic-inch Madness

By Drew Winter

The warning signs started the minute the Audi S4 appeared on our doorstep.

Judges would show up after a long lunch with illegal smiles, giggling like kindergartners.

You know what I'm talking about: cubic-inch madness: Hundreds of lbs.-ft. of torque available at about 5 rpm. It's addictive, and I watched helplessly as a majority of our judging panel was seduced.

I kicked the habit in the early 1980s, when gas prices were the equivalent of about $3 per gallon. During a visit to a secret location, a friend at General Motors Corp. pulled the top off a crate and showed me a mothballed 454 cu. in. engine with twin turbos that was designed in the muscle-car era.

We had a good cry because it never got built. Then I wiped my eyes and got over it.

There still is no substitute for cubic inches. Putting a big V-8 in a small car always will be a good strategy for creating stellar performance, whether you're based in Europe, Japan, or Detroit. But let's not confuse a proven formula with benchmark innovation.

The Audi S4 is the best car I've driven all year, but I'm not sure its powerplant deserves 10-Best status, especially because of it's appalling fuel economy: 14/20 mpg (16.8L/11.8 100 km.) There are V-8 powered SUVs with the same or better numbers.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co.'s 23E (2.3L Environmental) in the Ford Focus did not make our final cut. The 23E is an economical and environmentally friendly engine that is very satisfying to drive. It's rated a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) in five states and nearly that everywhere else.

In states where fuel is clean enough, it achieves Tier II, Bin 2 emissions (compared with Bin 8 for the standard 2L offered in Ford Focus) and has a 15-year/150,000-mile (240,000-km) warranty on emissions-related equipment.

It's technical significance was criticized by some because much of the pollution reduction is related to fuel system evaporative emissions — solved largely by replacing a plastic fuel tank with a steel one. However, the 23E also is 40 lbs. (18 kg) lighter than the Focus' standard 2L I-4 and features many other small innovations in its pistons and valvetrain.

In a humble way, Ford's 23E breaks more ground than the slick Audi V-8. While the journalism community is wetting its pants over expensive hybrid technology, here is a clean little engine that's economical to build as well as to drive, and gets a very respectable 25/33 mpg (9.4l/7.1L/100 km) city/highway.

The 23E is the future; the Audi V-8 — seductive as it may be — is just a well-executed formula from our past.

No Longer a Curiosity

Toyota 1.5L DOHC I-4

In 2001, when Ward's named Toyota Motor Corp.'s original hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) powertrain as a 10 Best winner, nobody was sure if it even qualified as a competitor to standard internal-combustion engines. After all, HEV powertrains rely on an electric motor to “aid” the IC engine; both engine and motor team to deliver torque.

We're still not sure if Toyota's super-intelligent Prius powertrain can — or should — be compared to standard IC engine-only drivelines. But the industry will see more HEV architectures — and we'd better decide to deal with them.

With Toyota's excellent second-generation HEV powertrain, Hybrid Synergy Drive, it's hard to imagine the uninitiated knowing the Prius isn't propelled by a standard IC-only driveline.

The piddling torque output doesn't really matter. That's where the Prius' electric motor comes in. The AC motor provides extra twist to the gasoline engine. So the Prius steps off with more authority than many moderately powerful IC-only vehicles.

The Prius obviously isn't meant for power-craving buyers. For what it's meant to do, it does remarkably well.

Toyota just hiked projected full-year sales to 47,000 units — a number that makes Prius look less like a curiosity.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine type: 1.5L DOHC I-4

Displacement (cc): 1,497

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore × stroke (mm): 75 × 84.7

Horsepower (SAE net): 76 @ 4,500 rpm

Torque: 82 lb.-ft. (111 Nm) @ 4,200 rpm

Specific output: 51 hp/L

Compression ratio: 10.5:1

Application tested: Prius

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 60/51