Here are four words you haven't seen put together much lately: "New engines at Chrysler."

One won't get much argument that Chrysler Corp.'s doing killer work in styling, but for the better part of a decade the company has lagged desperately behind new-engine-happy Ford Motor Co. and yes, even General Motors Corp. in the development of modern powerplants. "Enough" says Chrysler as it unveils an entirely new range of all - aluminum V-6 engines to power its next-generation 1998 LH cars bowing next fall.

And in now-common Chrysler fashion, they've done it on the cheap.

The family of three all-new, all-aluminum V-6s set an unprecedented performance standard for Chrysler large-car powerplants.

The new 24-valve V-6s - Chrysler's first "paperless" engines developed solely with CATIA computer software - were designed con-currently with the new cars and will come in three configurations: a base 2.7L DOHC V-6, a SOHC 3.2L V-6 and its SOHC derivative, a 3.5L.

Chrysler says it shattered its own - and possibly the industry's - record for speed in developing the new family of V-6 engines in only 24 months, and it may have set a new mark for frugality as well.

The automaker will spend a scant $625 million on the program, which includes $115 million for engineering and purchased parts tooling, $395 million for what amounts to an all-new facility at the Kenosha, WI, plant, and $115 million to retool the Trenton, MI, engine plant. Chrysler executives contend an engine program of this size normally costs $1 billion or more.

Francois J. Castaing, executive vice president-vehicle engineering and general manager-powertrain operations, claims that when produced at full-go these new engines will make Chrysler the world's largest-volume producer of all-aluminum automotive engines.

With a peak horsepower rating of 200 at 5,800 rpm, the 2.7L produces 40% more horsepower than the 3.3L 24-valve cast iron V-6 it will replace - while still offering a 10% increase in fuel efficiency. This equates to a 74.1 hp/L specific output, which Chrysler says is the most grunt from any naturally aspirated V-6 in North America. Torque peaks at 188 ft.-lbs. (254 Nm) at 4,900 rpm.

Chrysler is adding 370,000 sq. ft. (34,000 sq. m) of new space at its Kenosha engine plant in order to build the 2.7L which supplants the 3.3L as a base engine in the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde. Capacity will be 400,000 annually.

The 2.7L is expected to play a major role in other future products from Chrysler. "The 2.7L is a core engine for this company in the future," says Mr. Castaing. He says it may be used in next-generation J-body (Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, Plymouth Breeze) cars, vehicles built for Chrysler at Mitsubishi Motor Mfg. of America Inc.'s Illinois plant and "applications we don't want to announce right now."

The new 3.2L - which will power the `98 Dodge Intrepid ES and Chrysler Concorde LXi - also produces more horsepower than the current cast-iron 214-hp 3.5L 24-alve engine. The new 3.2L will develop a peak 220 hp available at 6,600 rpm and 222 ft.-lbs. (301 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm. The 3.2L also achieves a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Chrysler will remain without a passenger car V-8, but nonetheless believes the 3.5L will compare favorably in power and performance with some V-8s offered by the competition. In addition, the new V-6s are designed to run on a mid-grade, not premium, gasoline, the two smaller V-6s will, be able to use regular gas.

Lack of a V-8 in its large-car lineup may seem to be a blatant oversight on Chrysler's part, but it emphasizes that the larger 3.5L, based on the 3.2L, will produce the most horsepower - 250 horses - of any naturally aspirated V-6 on the market. The use of aluminum reduces block weight in the 3.5L by 40 lbs. (18 kg) compared with cast iron blocks of similar size.

Installed in the Chrysler LHS and Eagle Vision, the 3.5L will have a higher power output than both BMW AG's 1996-model 328i I-6 (190 hp) and Ford Motor Co.'s 1996 Taurus SHO V-8 (235 hp).

Chrysler will have combined annual capacity for 240,000 3.2L and 3.5L engines, which replace the iron-block 3.5L in production at Trenton.

Chrysler went with the SOHC design for the 3.2L and 3.5L engines so that it could utilize a portion of Trenton's existing tooling. When asked why some sort of variable valve timing system was not used in these engines, Chrysler officials say that though they are able to engineer such a system, they feel the simpler SOHC design best suits the intended applications.

Chrysler engineers tweaked power and emissions improvements out of every engine system, achieving the increased horsepower and torque figures from powerplants with smaller displacements than the engines they replace.