The Chicago Cubs. Charlie Brown. Susan Lucci. Michael Dukakis.

Each one professional, well-intentioned, and idealistic. And yet, each one also falls a breath or two short of the big celebration.

In the spirit of this luckless lot, here’s a list of lovable losers – those powerplants that left Ward’s 10 Best Engines judges hopelessly smitten, but ultimately, as Agent 86 would say, “Missed it by that much!”

Arguably one of the finest engines on the market, BMW AG’s silky 3.0L DOHC twin-turbocharged I-6 fails to make the list for the first time in three years.

Blasphemy, you say? I agree. But as Ward’s AutoWorld Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter asks, “What have you done for me lately?” In short, this mill misses the cut because Munich’s latest technology upgrades won’t be available for evaluation until spring.

So while judges poured praise on the engine for its non-existent turbo lag and impressive low-range torque, they lamented the 1-Series application’s surprisingly poor fuel economy.

Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

That will change, however, as BMW tweaks the N54 engine for an 8% fuel-economy boost but with no degradation in power and torque.

The 3.6L DOHC direct-injection V-6 from General Motors Co. made back-to-back appearances on the list after its launch in the Cadillac CTS sedan. It scores highly again this year in the CTS Sport Wagon, but ranks as another premium V-6 that isn’t keeping up with the Joneses.

Ward’s judges called GM’s high-feature V-6 “deliciously powerful” and recognized the yeoman’s work it now does throughout the auto maker’s portfolio. But a few tweaks to improve NVH were not enough to keep this otherwise superb powertrain on the list.

The carnage among premium V-6s continues with the excellent 3.5L SOHC from Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Making the winners’ list the last two years, this workhorse also suffers from a degree of complacency.

“Perfectly competent,” writes Associate Editor Christie Schweinsberg. “But pretty ho-hum. I’m getting bored, Honda.”

Fuel economy also was uneven in the application tested, an Accord coupe outfitted with a 6-speed manual. Also, our Accord tester stickered at $31,865 – no bargain.

That leaves the Detroit V-8s, a trio of also-rans some Ward’s judges would be happy to run with anytime. Well, almost anytime.

The 5.4L DOHC supercharged V-8 Ford Motor Co. tucks into the Shelby GT500 makes 40 more hp than its predecessor, and dollar-for-dollar it represents a remarkable value.

However, it packs so much punch and so little refinement, this pony can get onerous day-in and day-out.

GM squeezes into the new Chevy Camaro its 6.2L V-8, an old-fashion push-rod engine that does heavy lifting across the auto maker’s stables.

It pours out creamy smooth power at a reasonable price, but the cylinder deactivation technology that got it into the competition turned in fuel economy as low as 13 mpg (18 L/100 km). That’s hardly raising the bar.

And finally, Chrysler Group LLC offered the vaunted 5.7L Hemi OHV V-8, which spent five years on the list, departing in 2008. It returned to the list in 2009 with several upgrades.

As tested with a 6-speed manual in the Challenger R/T, the Hemi wins for throatiest exhaust note among the Detroit trio. However, specific output (66 hp/L) isn’t as impressive as it used to be, and judges complained the Hemi’s favorite gear always seemed a shift away.

As difficult as it is to make the 10 Best Engines list, it’s equally challenging to stay on it. Sometimes, what seems good on paper does not always transfer to the pavement.

Yes, these eight engines may have their flaws, but they also are ambitious, individualistic and worth at least a small degree of doting. They are lovable losers.

jamend@wardsauto.com

Ward's 10 Best Engines is a copyright of Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward's Automotive Group.