The last several model years saw automakers unleash a slew of new powertrains. So many crisp, new sets of wheels were motivated by brand-spanking-new engines - or at least seriously reworked existing ones.

Although MY 2000 presents only a few notable engine launches - among them, Audi's sparkling twin-turbocharged 2.7L

V-6 technology showcase and Honda's 2L motorcycle-engine-in-disguise - the biggest powertrain moves will be marked by new applications, which engines fall under which hoods. And more often than not, it's the little guys that will clean up.

Beginning to wend its way through DaimlerChrysler AG's truck lineup is its award-winning 4.7L SOHC V-8 (read: Ward's Ten Best Engines award-winning). The engine debuted last year in the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee, an application in which this genteel performer more than pleased the media and customers alike.

For 2000 the 4.7L makes its home under the hoods of two new vehicles, the Dodge Durango sport-ute and the Dakota compact pickup upon which it's based. The 4.7L's refined operation and uncharacteristically low (for a truck) noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) should do much to smooth out the Dodges' sometimes rough edges.

Output remains the same in the new applications, with 235 hp available at 4,800 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) peaking at 3,200 rpm. That's roughly equivalent to the output of the larger, all-iron 5.2L OHV

V-8 it replaces, with better NVH and improved fuel economy to boot.

Look for the 4.7L to pop up in other Chrysler truck applications soon, as well as derivatives in both V-6 and V-8 form.

General Motors Corp. finally gives its loyal Saturnites (or is that Saturnphiles?) something to graduate into with the long-awaited "big" LS. It bows with an all new base engine. The "global" 4-cyl., as it's dubbed, is a twin-balance-shafted 2.2L DOHC I-4 that puts out 137 hp at 5,800 rpm and 135 lb.-ft. (183 Nm) of torque at 4,400 rpm. Variants of this engine also should soon appear in other GM products, both here and in Europe.

Although you'd hardly know when looking, GM's always-awesome 4.6L DOHC Northstar V-8 essentially is all-new. An extensive retooling of the 'Star doesn't bring any more displacement, power, or torque, but incorporates a raft of design changes and refinements that really tweak the Northstar to a fare-thee-well.

At the root of it all is what amounts to a totally new cylinder head; there are bigger intake valves and smaller exhaust valves to feed a redesigned combustion chamber that improves tumble and burn rate. The heads themselves now are squeeze-cast. A friction-cutting roller-finger cam follower design is borrowed from Northstar's 3.5L V-6 cousin, the 3.5L Twin Cam.

Pistons are new, with a ring set that brings new meaning to "reduced ring land:" there's a minuscule 3 mm total top ring land. The pistons also are lighter, with ridiculously short skirts, to cut reciprocating mass and overall vibration.

Customers, though, will likely note just two things. First, the internal redesign brings a drop in compression ratio from 10.3:1 to an even 10:1. Buyers won't know that, of course, but their wallets will: The CR reduction means the Northstar now can deliver full power (300 hp or 275 hp, depending on Cadillac application) while being fed regular unleaded gasoline. And a revised, center-feed intake manifold gets credit for refining Northstar's unmistakable but grumbly induction note to, according to Powertrain engineer Al Cline, "More of a nice, clean mechanical snarl."

GM also finally fits its popular entry-level Alero with an optional sporty 5-speed Getrag gearbox, but only those models with the 2.4L 4-cyl.

Other Olds news for '00: Aurora finally gets equipped with the 3.5L Twin Cam

V-6 (another Ward's Ten Bester) borrowed from the Intrigue early next year, but will bow as a '01 model.

Ford Motor Co. stays fairly quiet on the powertrain front for 2000. Much of its powertrain efforts were successfully exercised with the Lincoln LS and its new 252-hp, 3.9L DOHC V-8, so much so that the Wixom, MI, plant that builds the luxury sport sedan recently had to temporarily shut down production for lack of the in-demand engine.

Ford decides to go with the tried-and-true in its launch of the all-new Focus. Pumping 130 horses from under the hood is the familiar 1.9L DOHC Zetec I-4, which saw first duty in the Escort ZX2 and Contour. In the Focus, however, Ford beefs up the Zetec's aluminum block and crankcase by adding a frame-like structure between them. The pistons and connecting rods also were optimized to minimize the engine's overall vibrations.

And because 80% of peak torque is available from idle to 6,000 rpm, the Zetec should make zipping the fairly diminutive 2,551-lb. (1,158-kg) Focus around town plenty of fun.

Perhaps the biggest powertrain news comes this year from abroad. The highly anticipated S2000 from Honda Motor Co. Ltd. has just hit our shores, replete with the highest specific output of any naturally aspirated production car on the road today. Its rev-happy 2L DOHC I-4 cranks out an unmatched 240 hp, achieved in most part thanks to a stratospheric redline of 9,000 rpm. Don't expect to get all of that 240 hp until 8,300 rpm, either.

The 2L employs Honda's signature VTEC variable valve timing system, along with a host of other technological goodies to encourage its free-spinning tendencies: needle-bearing roller cam followers, hollow camshaft, fiber-reinforced cylinder liners, forged aluminum pistons and forged steel con-rods.

Challenging the little Honda roadster's 2L for most exciting-in-2000 honors is Toyota Motor Corp.'s Celica, packing its own high-revving 1.8L 4-cyl.

Toyota has developed its own version of VTEC, called VVTL-i (for variable valve timing and lift with intelligent control). It co-developed the engine with high-tech head specialist Yamaha Motor Co. The higher-lift cam jumps in at 6,000 rpm, and output peaks quickly thereafter, with 180 hp at 7,600 rpm. The engine redlines at 8,400 rpm.

Like Honda's 2L, the Celica's 1.8L takes advantage of ceramic-reinforced cylinder walls, and both the crankshaft and pistons are made of high-strength steel to withstand its dizzying revs.

Mazda Motor Corp. taps into its parent Ford for the new MPV's engine, a 2.49L de-stroked Duratec borrowed from the Contour. Thank Japan's strict displacement-based tax system for the marginal shrinkage. The result still delivers a respectable 170 hp at 6,250 rpm, and with a variable air intake system, much of its peak 165 lb.-ft. (224 Nm) of torque is available in the low- and mid-range.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., too, equips its new-for-2000 Eclipse with an all-new powerplant. No longer available in 2L turbocharged form, the line-topping Eclipse GT instead makes do with a smooth and spirited 3L SOHC 24-valve V-6. The new 3L turns out more power than its predecessor, with a peak 205 hp available at 5,500 rpm and a wallop of mid-range torque that peaks at 205 lb.-ft. (278 Nm) at 4,500 rpm.

Two new high-output turbo models bow from the Saab Automobile fold. Both the 9-3 Viggen and the 9-5 Aero will come equipped with Saab's always thrilling 2.3L, now turning out 230 hp at 5,500 rpm. The Aero jumps up quicker on the torque, with a peak 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) available at an off-the-line-pleasing 1,900 rpm and holds it straight through to 3,800 rpm.

Audi AG graces its cutting-edge flagship A8 with a technical wonder to match. Like the lightweight all-aluminum spaceframe that it powers, the widespread use of high-tech materials means Audi's new 4.2L DOHC

V-8 weighs in at only 441 lbs. (200 kg). A three-stage variable-length magnesium intake manifold delivers chunky amounts of torque throughout the engine's rev range, with a peak reaching 302 lb.-ft. (409 Nm) at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm.

Power is aplenty, too, and available all the way up to its 6,200 rpm redline, where output peaks at 310 hp. Achieving such numbers is due in no small part to the five valves now crammed into each cylinder, with variable valve timing used on the intake side.

Frictional losses are minimized and fuel consumption optimized through the use of low-friction roller cam followers and an electronic drive-by-wire throttle.

Audi slathers its new 2.7L DOHC twin-turbo V-6 with the same kind of attention to detail. Powering the new-for-2000 S4 and A6 2.7T, the 2.7L breathes through 5-valves per cylinder like every engine in Audi's lineup for 2000, but the addition of two small turbochargers - one for each cylinder bank - magnifies the net output. Variable intake valve timing and dual-length intake runners add to its peak 250 hp, reached at a usable 5,800 rpm.

The 2.7L's torque output, however, benefits most from the turbos, with a meaty 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) available at just 1,850 rpm. The fact that both the S4 and A6 2.7 T come with an available 6-speed gearbox makes getting at that power all that more fun.