Safety and Scandinavian design have been hallmarks of the Volvo brand for decades. Now, powertrain excellence can be added to that list.

The Swedish auto maker always has had good engines that provided enough motivation for luxury sedans, wagons and cross/utility vehicles.

But few car enthusiasts spoke longingly about Volvo engines, known for reliability and family-friendly transport rather than heart-pounding performance.

It didn’t help that Volvo’s powertrain strategy was all over the map, literally. In recent years, Volvo has produced its smallest engines internally, in Skovde, Sweden; sourced midsize engines from former parent Ford Motor Co. in the U.K.; and purchased V-8s built in Japan by Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd.

But Volvo has a new lease on life under Chinese ownership, as well as something to motivate the powertain engineers in Sweden to continue stepping up their game: a Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophy.

Judges have driven several 4-, 5-, 6- and 8-cyl. engines in Volvo vehicles during the competition’s 17 years, but this is the first time Volvo will step to the podium in January to collect the hardware and take a bow.

The auto maker’s “T6” 3.0L Turbocharged I-6 in the all-new S60 sedan truly is deserving, with its meaty mid-range power band, minimal turbo lag, expressive exhaust note and outstanding NVH characteristics.

The all-aluminum I-6, internally known as the B6304T, features a twin-scroll turbocharger and variable valve timing on both the exhaust and intake side of the engine and meets ULEV2 emissions standards.

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Ward’s 10 Best Engines

The latest iteration is a heavily modified version of the T6 originally introduced in the ’09 XC60 cross/utility vehicle.

Its specs are wholly competitive. With 300 hp, the T6 matches the output of BMW AG’s 3.0L N55 I-6 (also a 10 Best Engines winner this year) and actually betters the Bavarian mill on the torque meter by 25 lb.-ft. (34 Nm).

The T6’s 325 lb.-ft. (440-Nm) torque rating equals that of Volvo’s 4.4L V-8 and reaches its peak 1,800 rpm earlier.

Even more surprising, while the BMW engine uses direct injection, Volvo manages quite nicely without it, saving krona by the handful.

The T6 is destined to become a workhorse for the Volvo brand, powering the ’11 S80 and XC70, in addition to the S60 and XC60.

Volvo engineers clearly paid close attention to reducing friction and optimizing fuel economy as they benchmarked the best 6-cyl. engines in the world.

Drive it hard or soft – the T6 is gloriously refined. We agree wholeheartedly when Volvo management calls the T6 the best engine Volvo’s ever produced.

In the cut-throat luxury segment, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Cadillac, Lexus and Infiniti pay close attention to each other’s powertrain developments.

They’ll need to add Volvo to the list of rivals worth watching. The T6 is for real.

tmurphy@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.