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Ten Best Engines logoWard’s 10 Best Engines

Those who thought DaimlerChrysler AG’s hulking Hemi 5.7L OHV V-8 this year would be “politically corrected” from the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list probably don’t know the Hemi very well.

It takes more than $3-per-gallon gasoline to change our minds about the Hemi.

Returning for its fifth consecutive 10 Best Engines win, the Hemi’s intrinsic goodness and legitimate effort to improve efficiency transcend this year’s fuel-price scare, in the minds of the competition’s judges.

After high gasoline prices dented everybody’s wallet and definitively shifted consumer tastes, we wondered if anybody would care anymore about the Hemi, for several years nothing more than the hottest brand in the powertrain sector.

But the Hemi waltzed its way on to this year’s list, mostly because there’s still plenty of need for traditional V-8 power, and right now, nothing’s serving that need better than the Hemi.

“After several years in the market, the Hemi still feels fresh and invigorating – and sounds great,” says one editor.

“This engine wouldn’t be out of place in an $80,000 car,” insists Ward’s AutoWorld Editor Drew Winter, a self-admitted connoisseur of that breed. Indeed, although we typically do not hold up OHV layouts as paragons of refinement, V-8s tend to be the exception, and the Hemi continues to set the refinement benchmark for OHV V-8s.

Power and torque, the Hemi’s calling cards, remain its most convincing 1-2 punch. Regardless of the vehicle it’s powering, the Hemi always delivers what you want, when you want it.

Our Chrysler 300C test vehicle, sporting a Hemi at its chesty 340 hp and 390 lb.-ft. (529 Nm) torque rating, was the ideal vehicle to reaffirm this mill’s assets. The car is plenty good without it, but the Hemi is what takes the 300C from darn good to darn wonderful.

Chrysler also wisely broadened the scope of the Hemi’s Multi Displacement System (MDS) cylinder-deactivation setup to almost every vehicle in which the Hemi is offered.

And although critics have questioned the real-world fuel savings attributable to MDS, we’re convinced it makes a difference.

MDS definitely has sleep-better-at-night value: The MDS-equipped Hemi in the 300C, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ratings, at least, is just 2 mpg thirstier than the available 3.5L SOHC V-6 in the same car.

A 2-mpg penalty for the Hemi? C’mon. It would take way more than that (apart from the extra money, obviously) to turn away any sane person from the Hemi.

There’s little question the mood of the nation has changed, and nearly everyone now is questioning U.S. buyers’ consumptive vehicle and engine preferences of the past decade or more.

But to say the Hemi isn’t good anymore because of that is specious. There’s a place and a need for V-8 power in the U.S., and the Hemi is far and away the best combination of power, affordability and versatility among contemporary V-8s.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com