By winning a 10 Best Engines award in the first year of production for the 2L supercharged DOHC I-4, General Motors Corp. and its Powertrain Div. prove they are capable of playing serious ball in the performance market.

We can think of few options for a sophisticated, forced-induction DOHC 4-cyl. that fronts 100 hp per liter and can be had in a vehicle that starts at less than $22,000.

GM Powertrain engineers de-stroked the standard 2.2L Ecotec to make the 2L displacement of the new supercharged variant.

The 40% horsepower pop over the standard 2.2L mill comes largely from the ministrations of an Eaton Corp. M62 roots-type supercharger sending the intake charge through a unique air-to-water intercooler that is cleverly integrated into the intake manifold to improve efficiency and reduce noise. There's a maximum of 12 psi (0.8 bar) of boost pressure.

Crack open the throttle of the 2L supercharged Ecotec 4-cyl. and the firecracker-in-a-mailbox fun runs from idle through to the 5,600-rpm power peak.

The punch practically rushes out of this engine in its eagerness to please, aided by the hefty 200 lb.-ft. of torque that also belies this engine's size.

Ward's testers particularly relished the supercharged Ecotec's immediate and crisp throttle and the measured fashion in which this engine seamlessly deals out torque like a deep sea fisherman giving a marlin the line it needs.

But in the hard world of aluminum and steel, the Ecotec foundation architecture is one of GM's best: Every Ecotec engine is all-aluminum and has dual camshafts, roller-finger cam followers, twin balance shafts and direct-mounted accessory drives.

The supercharged variant offers meaningful upgrades such as a forged-steel crankshaft, jets to direct cooling oil to the undersides of the piston crowns and sodium-filled exhaust-valve stems.

There are many engines vying for a piece of the burgeoning compact-performance market, where buyers are notoriously fussy – and knowledgeable. Come with something bogus, and they'll sniff it out in a second.

The 2L Ecotec supercharged DOHC I-4 is a bona fide gem. It is the best compact-performance engine at its price and can stand against many engines in much pricier vehicles.

Apart from the sheer exuberance, Ward's judges embrace the 2L Ecotec for its excitement-per-dollar formula.

Judges' Comments

Murphy: 25.1 mpg during test drive. Not bad for a performance car.

Winter: Driving this car makes you want to buy GM stock. Surprisingly refined. Really impressive all around.

Banks: Deceptively fast. You're speeding before you realize it.

Visnic: Vibration-free and willing to rev.

General Motors Corp. 2L Supercharged DOHC I-4

Engine Chart

Engine type: 2L supercharged DOHC I-4

Displacement (cc): 1,998

Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum

Bore x stroke (mm): 86 x 86

Horsepower (SAE net): 205 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 200 lb.-ft. (271 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm

Specific output: 103 hp/L

Compression ratio: 9.5:1

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 23/29

Application tested: Chevrolet Cobalt SS

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com