Two of the top 10 engines do what they do so well with a mere four cylinders — not a bad representation.

But one easily can argue that eking award-worthy power out of a 4-banger is a far greater achievement than wowing the masses with a smooth six or the sheer force of an eight.

Perhaps that's why the 2L I-4 that powers the Acura RSX Type-S and the Volkswagen Jetta's 1.8L turbocharged I-4 drummed up highly emotional responses from the judges, impassioned speeches and all.

But even more notable were the many 4-cyl. powerplants that were oh-so-close to making the list. These strong contenders, whose names kept popping up in eleventh-hour discussions, all are the handiwork of the Japanese auto makers.

While the RSX's 200-hp all-aluminum i-VTEC represented the best of the bunch, it is just one of many venerable powerplants coming out of engine-specialist Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

The Civic Si's engine, a little brother to that in the RSX, found a fan base in those who appreciated its pep, while another in Honda's I-4 family, the 2.4L in the newly redone CR-V, added to the cute-ute's appeal. And the admirable Honda S2000's sport-tuned motor, a winner last year, had the lock on 11th place — losing points only because of its lack of versatility and low-rpm torque.

Other runners-up: the Subaru Impreza WRX's 2L turbocharged H-4, a rally driving-inspired pocket rocket, and the similarly minded Sentra SE-R Spec V's 2.5L, which knocks out 175 hp. That same 4-cyl. proves its versatility in the Altima, and it ranked high on several of our individual top 10 lists. Even the boring but benchmark-setting Toyota Camry's new 157-hp 2.4L 4-cyl. VVTi does its job very, very well.

The Japanese workhorses may not have the sparkle of VW's turbocharged wonder, but they certainly manage to leave the domestics in the dust. In fact, the only Big Three 4-cyls. tested were the SVT Focus's 2L and the Ranger's 2.3L — a pair that hardly got anyone's blood running.

Of course being of Japanese origin doesn't necessarily ensure greatness — the Mazda Protégé MP3 and Mitsubishi Lancer 4-cyl. engines come to mind. But in all, the Japanese auto makers should rest assured that their unassuming, inexpensive and efficient little 4-cyl. entries gave the winners a true run for their money.