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Ten Best Engines logoWard’s 10 Best Engines

Judges’ Remarks

As Ford Motor Co. struggles through one of its most challenging eras in its 100 year-plus history, the pressure no doubt was intense to make the all-new Duratec 35 3.5L V-6 a compelling, game-changing engine.

But we all know that, even during good economic times, the pressure from the financial side of the business to hold down engineering costs can sometimes be even more intense.

Indeed, the difference between a world-class engine and one that adequately performs its duties while sounding like a lawnmower often boils down not to engineering, but to how many little battles are won and lost with the beancounters.

Even before driving the new Duratec 35, I knew a lot of important battles had been won. While other judges were focusing on the engine’s horsepower, torque and 72 hp/L specific output – very good numbers for a bread-and-butter engine that burns regular gasoline – I looked deeper and saw things I found even more impressive, such as a forged steel, fully counterweighted crankshaft, a diecast aluminum windage tray for enhanced structural rigidity and fully isolated cam covers made from aluminum rather than today’s typical – and cheaper – plastic.

None are earthshaking innovations but, rather, small quality- and refinement-enhancing extravagances the accountants don’t always permit for mainstream, high-volume engines.

These details, along with dozens of others, demonstrate that engineers really cared about this engine and fought the good fight with the evildoers in accounting when they had to.

With that kind of introduction, it was easy to fall in love with the Duratec 35. Its crisp throttle, strong midrange and frictionless, free-revving nature remind me a lot of the Nissan VQ, only with a bit more of a blue-collar demeanor.

Some of the judges were much less impressed with the new Duratec than I was, complaining its performance in the Lincoln MKX cross/utility vehicle in particular was quite ordinary. My response is these folks were spending a little too much time flogging engines at the top end of our $54,000 price limit and not enough in the real world.

Spend some time in comparably hefty CUVs powered by other workaday V-6s, and you will quickly appreciate just how much Ford engineers have accomplished. Did I mention the Duratec, unlike the other hoity-toity V-6s nominated for our list, gets great specific power from regular gasoline?

The skeptics are just plain spoiled by the more elite V-6s that constantly make our list – but generally are used in more expensive, lower-volume vehicles with easier-to-engineer rear-drive layouts.

It is in a heavier, more practical vehicle such as the MKX – and by the way CUVs are becoming the most important vehicle segment in the U.S. – that the Duratec 35’s strong midrange outshines most V-6 competitors.

The 10 Best Engines program is designed to recognize excellence in mainstream engines for high-volume vehicles – and acknowledge engineering efforts that achieve such excellence in the face of the normal budget constraints posed by mass production.

Knowing this, and understanding the context of Ford’s current financial situation, the Duratec 35 deserves a place on our list this year more than any other engine.

dwinter@wardsauto.com