DETROIT — Whenever we introduce the latest Ward's 10 Best Engines award winner that we'll be testing for the next year, it usually necessitates some background. We'll dispense with most of that this time, because we figure you all know, after seven years of handing out our annual 10 Best Engines awards, that with each new batch of Best Engines, we pick one or two and subject them to a year-long endurance test, just to be certain the engine isn't a one-week wonder that does something untoward under the duress of a 40,000-mile (64,000-km) year on the road.

From '01's list, we couldn't wait to dial up Audi and ask for the 1.8L turbocharged DOHC I-4, the pesky 5-valve-per-cylinder wonder that's usually referred to simply as the “1.8T.” The engine came residing in the enjoyable A4 Avant (station wagon, to burly U.S. tastes) bodyshell. Including a $575 destination charge, the A4 Avant showed us a $29,265 price tag, which includes the revered quattro all-wheel drive (standard for the A4 Avant), lots of good stuff like Bosch ABS 5.3 and precious few options: an extra charge for the silver metallic paint (aren't all German cars silver anyway?), $500 for a “Celebration” package, whose main contribution is a sunroof, and $450 for the cold-weather package.

Audi has enjoyed enviable demand for the A4 Avant and thus couldn't effect delivery until mid-April. In less than three months, WAW personnel tallied more than 8,000 miles in the car, which should tell you something about this driveline/car's everyday useability.

The quick tale: This is a universally fun driveline. Don't hurry the 5-speed manual and everything's fine. Clutch takeup is smooth, progressive and light, and this gorgeous little engine's delivering its utmost torque — 166 lb.-ft. (225 Nm) — just 1,200 rpm higher than the 750-rpm idle speed. That means jumping away from the light is a breeze, and none of its drivers ever grew bored with blowing away big-engined bruisers out of the hole.

We admit that the turbo wallop is smoothed somewhat by quattro's calming influence, but the fact is that when the gear ratios are sensibly chosen (a real delight with this car), the boost pressure is modest and the torque peaks early. managing the turbo blast tends to be a joy rather than a chore (Saab, are you listening?).

Moreover, the 25.4 mpg (9.2L/100 km) we've so far recorded is pretty darn acceptable, given the immense satisfaction derived from nailing the throttle. Servicing shouldn't hurt, either, since Audi generously covers all the routine stuff for the first four years or 50,000 miles.

So far, comments gush about the smoothness and general positive NVH vibes this engine delivers. The 5-valve layout certainly doesn't seem to add any undue mass, either, as this engine runs for the redline as quickly as anything we can recall.

With the A4 Avant and the 1.8T engine as companions, we're looking forward to a rewarding year on the road.

2001 Audi A4 1.8T Avant quattro
Engine: 1.8L (1,781 cc) DOHC I-4; iron block/aluminum head
Horsepower (SAE net): 170 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 166 lb.-ft. (225 Nm) @ 1,950 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Specific output: 94 hp/L
Date delivered: 4-11-01
Total miles/miles covered in this report: 8,204/8,148
Overall MPG: 25.4
Total maintenance cost: $0
Non-scheduled maintenance total: $0