Check out the Ford SVT 2.5L High Output V-6 specs and you might dismiss it as hardly worth the effort. Twenty-five more horses and a torque rating identical to the bog-standard 2.5L Duratec V-6 might not appear to be the formula for a "cooking" version of a volume-production engine.

But the Special Vehicle Team's reworking of the 2.5L Duratec - itself a winning engine in our inaugural Best Engines competition in 1995 - is sublime. Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) got the call to take the already reasonably power-dense Duratec and warm it over for the SVT Contour.

The extra horsepower comes mainly from opening up the Duratec's intake and exhaust streams. SVE fitted the larger 70-mm throttle body from the 3L Duratec and larger butterfly throttles in its variable-length intake ports. The required extra intake air is sucked through a special conically shaped high-performance air cleaner.

Maybe the neatest trick for the SVT 2.5L V-6 comes in dealing with the intake plenum and intake runners. To ensure the smoothest possible airflow path, Ford forces a gritty putty through the whole works, polishing it down to an ultra-fine finish. The process is called extrude-honing, and Ford engineers claim it's the first volume-production use of the technology.

The best move, from a driveability standpoint, comes from the SVT-specific flywheel, lightened by 2 lbs. (0.9 kg) to allow the High Output engine to spin more freely. Every standard Duratec 2.5L we've tried suffers from a distinctly heavy flywheel "feel," but SVT's lightened component takes care of that, allowing the Duratec to make a greyhound rush for the sweet 6,750-rpm redline with the merest flick of the throttle.

And then there's the exhaust tone. Plenty of tuned-up engines sound throaty and muscular under certain conditions - or all the time, which often becomes wearisome. But the SVT High Output engine emits what we consider to be an absolutely glorious timbre all the time: mellow and deep with light throttle openings, a refined high-performance wail when piling on the revs. It's all-the-time perfect.

SVT goes out of its way to note that this new engine has higher specific output than some high-falutin' rivals, including BMW's 3.2L I-6, another 1998 Best Engines winner. Numbers aren't always truthful, but in SVT's case, they're pretty darn convincing. The SVT 2.5L High Output V-6 is this year's performance engine bargain.