Creating a V-6 worthy of replacing Audi AG's superb 4.2L V-8 represents an especially tough challenge.

That's because consumers say they want better fuel economy, but performance-car buyers are notoriously fickle. They like to talk about efficiency, but if it results in a tad less low-end torque or an exhaust note that lacks gusto, many walk away.

That's why Audi's 3.0L V-6 makes Ward's list for the second year in a row.

It looks good on paper, and also delivers when the rubber hits the road. The 6-cyl. provides massive low- and mid-range torque and breathtaking acceleration. And throughout the entire power band it makes wondrous sounds.

“Really, really enjoyed this car,” says WardsAuto.com Associate Editor Bryon Pope.

With a 6-speed manual, the all-wheel-drive S4 now is rated at 18/27 mpg (13-8.7 L/100 km). Its 333 hp is less than the V-8's 340 hp, but the V-6 produces 23 lb.-ft. (31 Nm) more torque than its predecessor and allows the car to sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.9 seconds, 0.4 seconds faster than the V-8.

Most importantly, the V-6 has a fatter torque curve for all-around drivability.

“It shows you don't have to pay a performance penalty when you downsize,” says WardsAuto.com Editorial Director David Zoia.

DISPLACEMENT (CC): 2,995

BLOCK/HEAD MATERIAL: ALUMINUM/ALUMINUM

BORE × STROKE (MM): 84.5 × 89

HORSEPOWER (SAE NET): 333 @ 5,500-7,000 RPM

TORQUE: 325 LB.-FT. (441 NM) @ 2,900-5,300 RPM

SPECIFIC OUTPUT: 111 HP/L

COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.3:1

ASSEMBLY SITE: GYOR, HUNGARY

APPLICATION TESTED: '10 AUDI S4

EPA CITY/HIGHWAY (MPG): 18/27 (MANUAL AWD)