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Ten Best Engines logoWard’s 10 Best Engines

Judges’ Remarks

I’m developing a bias for powerful engines in small packages.

For me, many of the memorable rides among this year’s 33 nominated vehicles are compact-car sized – or smaller.

They include the head-turning BMW Z4 sports car with a 3L DOHC I-6 generating 255 hp and 220 lb.-ft. (298 Nm) of torque and the sublime BMW 335i (OK, it’s a bit bigger) with the new twin-turbocharged I-6 and its 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) of propulsion.

I’ve always been a fan of Volkswagen’s engine lineup for its small cars. This year it’s the 2L DOHC I-4 tested in the Audi A3 that left me hungering to keep this entry-level Audi in my driveway.

And a strong also-ran for me is the diminutive new Honda Fit with a 1.5L SOHC I-4 mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. The mini-engine perfectly complements this wonderful little hatchback.

This is a stellar city car, infused with low-end torque. The pep in the lower gears diffuses road rage in a traffic snarl. There isn’t much oomph left for passing at highway speeds, but I could run errands all day long in this little gem, with few trips to the gas station as an added bonus.

Sure, I can appreciate the grunt work of 660 lb.-ft. (895 Nm) of torque from the 6.6L OHV V-8 turbodiesel in the Chevy Silverado towing a fifth wheel, but this is not my idea of fun.

And I remain a Hemi V-8 fan – love the rumble and torque.

I embrace the dueling 3.5L V-6s from Nissan and Lexus: character vs. refinement, both of them well-deserving spots in the top 10.

But when it comes to sheer unadulterated fun, there were two cars that forced my face into a grin.

One was the overindulgent 4.6L SOHC V-8 in the Ford Mustang Shelby GT that has the most gorgeous exhaust notes at every stage of acceleration, changing from one resonant octave to another. Idling in a concrete parking garage, the sound bouncing in the echo chamber was symphonic – almost embarrassing, but beautiful.

Still, it is the Mazdaspeed3, with its 2.3L turbocharged DOHC I-4 that pushes all my buttons. At 114 hp/L, this $23,000 hatchback offers the most power for your money.

Throw in the fact it has a direct-injection gasoline engine for low-end torque and a turbo to take it home, and this is what revs my engine. Small, but powerful.

apriddle@wardsauto.com