With light trucks accounting for something around 40% of total U.S. market share, critical readers may find our 1996 Best Engines selections -- with not a single truck engine in the group -- delinquent in its tacit disregard for what's generally accepted as a Full-Blown Market Trend.

For an answer to why no truck engine has yet muscled its way onto the Best Engines list, look no further than our no-nonsense rating system: each nominated engine is judged head-to-head against every other. Each must survive on its own inherent merits -- no "handicapping" is accepted.

In that format, truck engines don't really have a prayer. As a group, they remain slow-revving, low-revving cast iron lumps that tend to rely on aging architecture and pure displacement to get the job done.

Consider, too, that they're relegated to vehicles invariably weighing two tons or more, and nothing saps one's perception of an engine's strength and responsiveness like a ponderous power-to-weight ratio.

So, pitted against some of the world's most refined passenger-car engines, even the current top-drawer truck engines end up a drawer or two short.

There is hope. Look next year for some new-technology truck engines to fare better against their passenger-car counterparts.

Best truck-engine bets for 1997? Ford's 4.6L and 5.4L "Triton" single overhead cam (SOHC) V-8s, complete with alloy cylinder heads, and any number of upmarket imported sport/utility vehicles, most of which will be propelled by high-tech, all-aluminum overhead-cam powerplants.