A year ago, we found ourselves at a crossroads, bracing for the arrival of electric vehicles and pondering their impact on the Ward's 10 Best Engines competition.

We had been fielding a steady stream of comments and questions from readers who wondered how the annual event could keep its name if some of the vehicles tested had no internal- combustion engine.

We even floated the idea of changing the name to Ward's 10 Best Powertrains.

But we've reconsidered, realizing the equity built into the 10 Best Engines nameplate is too valuable to sacrifice in a war over words.

It boils down to semantics. We call it 10 Best Engines, but long-time readers know the transmission factors heavily in our vehicle evaluations because our process requires routine driving on public roads.

Although the “powertrain” turns the wheels, the ultimate motivating force is the block of metal pumping away furiously.

Likewise, if a propulsion system in an EV, hybrid-electric vehicle or extended-range EV turns the wheels with enough gusto to feel competitive with a conventional vehicle powered by an internal-combustion engine, then it will be in the running.

To be eligible for the competition, each engine must be available in a regular-production U.S.-specification model on sale no later than first-quarter 2011 and in a vehicle priced no more than $55,000, a price cap indexed to the average cost of a new vehicle.