The U.S. market's infatuation with V-8 engines has been hard to stomach for a guy who vows to never own one. I'd like to say I'll never own a sport/utility vehicle, either, but at some point there might be nothing else in the showroom.

To the rest of the world, the V-8 engine represents American excess at its worst. They guzzle like frat boys on a weekend bender, and they have compromised the safety of American roads by fueling the sport/utility craze.

I have long believed that V-8s have an obvious and unfair advantage over small-displacement engines in the Best Engines competition, and I figured 4-cyl. units might disappear from the list forever. The U.S. market doesn't want 'em, so why should they be good enough to deserve such a prestigious award?

So it does my heart good to see the Best Engines list downsizing. This year, 4-cyl. engines take three awards, compared to none in 1999 and one last year. This growth comes at the expense of V-8 engines, which won four awards in '99, three in '00 and only two this year.

I also did a little digging and discovered that the average displacement of the 10 winning engines jumped significantly over the years to 3.8L in 1999. Last year, the average displacement dropped to 3.41L, and this year it's a palatable 3.19L, the lowest since the 3.05L average tallied in the first year of competition (1995).

Mind you, this year's 3.19L average takes into account the largest powerplant ever to receive a Best Engines honor — the hulking yet agile 6.6L Duramax diesel from General Motors Corp.

Take off the Duramax and substitute another, say, the underappreciated 1.8L 4-banger in the Toyota MR2 Spyder, and the average displacement falls to an astounding 2.71L.

Better yet, let's give the Toyota Prius TWO awards. It's got two powerplants, you know.