We recently came across a Detroit chassis engineer sweating over a hideously complex-looking multilink suspension computer simulation. We asked if his was a difficult task.

"Nah, this is easy stuff," he sniffs. "Now my old college buddy, he's in Powertrain. They're busting his butt over there."

Engines have evolved into more than just the symbolic heart of the auto industry. Engines certainly have always been important, but 30 years ago, what was under the hood usually concerned only hot-rodders and hard-core enthusiasts. Style was what moved iron -- the mechanical bits laboring under those yards of luscious metal were considered little more than necessary evils.

In the 1970s, the double whammy of emissions regulations and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirements drastically changed the engine's role in the automotive equation. Conditions that influence engine performance became subject to serious regulation.

Building engines to satisfy ironically divergent conditions requires enormous technical commitment from the world's automakers. Style still sells -- but designing engines that are simultaneously clean, economical and powerful, has become the industry's perpetual challenge.

That is why Ward's Auto World, along with Ward's Engine and Vehicle Technology Update, have, chosen 1995 to inaugurate their "Best Engines" award. The award honors the Top 10 production engines Ward's editors believe most effectively satisfy myriad requirements of modern engines -- now and for the future.

To select the Top 10, each person on the six-editor panel "nominated" engines worthy of consideration.

The panel agreed that engines from extremely high-priced sports and luxury cars should not be considered; by their nature, those types of vehicles should be fitted with standout engines.

Second, all decided that the engines should be regular, production-line products. No one-offs, after-market "tuner" specials or regular production options (RPO) offered by the manufacturer.

Panelists also agreed to an arbitrary vehicle price "cap" of roughly $50,000. Although a few of the nominees may fly in that rarefied air, an effort was made to stick to engines powering vehicles in the affordable" category.

After the 29-engine list was complete, no other conditions applied -- nominees were not subdivided into any categories. That means each engine was compared and evaluated in relation to all others on the list, a (cylinder) head-to-head free-for-all: eights against fours, fours against sixes, "vees" versus inlines.

Each editor drove each nominated vehicle for at least one day, switching into another the day, for direct back-to-back comparison of all 29 entrants.

Each engine was then "graded" by each editor on an objective/subjective evaluation form that awarded a certain fixed number of points in categories, including "power;" "torque;" "NVH characteristics;" "basic numbers" and "technical relevance." Each editor's total score for a given engine was added to the others for that engine and then divided by the number of evaluating editors, leaving its aggregate score.

Those scores are what set our "Top 10" engines apart from the rest of the nominees. Perhaps reflecting current market trends, note that six of the Top 10 are 6-cyl. engines.

Along the best sixes -- both vee and inline -- you'll find two mighty V-8s and even a couple of surprisingly potent fours, making the Best Engines of 1995 what we believe to be an eclectic but representative group.

Top 10 Winners

BMW AG: 4L DOHC V-8 BMW AG: 3L DOHC I-6 Ford Motor Co.: "Duratec" 2.5L DOHC V-6 General Motors Corp.: 3800 Series II 3.8L V-6 General Motors Corp.: "Northstar" 4.6L DOHC V-8 Honda Motor Co. Ltd.: VTEC 2.2L DOHC I-4 Mazda Motor Corp.: Miller-cycle 2.3L DOHC V-6 Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.: "VQ" 3L DOHC V-6 Saab Automobile AB: "LPT" 2.3L DOHC I-4 Volkswagen AG: VR6 2.8L SOHC V-6

The Rest of the Nominees

Chrysler Corp.: 8L V-10 (Ram) Chrysler Corp.: 2L DOHC I-4 Chrysler Corp.: 5.9L OHV turbodiesel Ford Motor Co.: 2L Zetec DOHC I-4 Ford Motor Co.: 3L DOHC V-6 (SHO) Ford Motor Co.: 4.6L DOHC V-8 General Motors Corp: 2.3L DOHC I-4 (Quad 4) General Motors Corp: 5.7L V-8 (LT-1) Honda Motor Co. Ltd.: 1.6L DOHC I-4 (VTEC) Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.: 4.5L DOHC V-8 Mitsubishi Motors Corp.: 3L DOHC twin-turbocharged V-6 Mercedes-Benz AG: 3L DOHC I-6 (diesel) Mazda Motor Corp.: 2.5: DOHC V-6 Mazda Motor Corp.: 654 x 2 cc twin-turbocharged rotary Saab Automobile AB: 2.3L DOHC turbocharged I-4 (Aero) Toyota Motor Corp.: 3L DOHC twin-turbocharged I-6 Toyota Motor Corp.: 3L DOHC I-6 (GS300) Toyota Motor Corp.: 3L DOHC V-6 AB Volvo: 2.3L turbocharged I-5