My fellow judges consider me public enemy No.1 because I have this thing about small-displacement engines. It's no fetish — just a deep-seated respect for a powerplant that does its job efficiently, quietly and with enough gusto to fool me into thinking I'm driving a V-6. What's wrong with rooting for the little guy? If Honda doesn't need a V-8, why should I?

Of course, people are dazzled by V-8s because they're powerful and sound grunty. Some fellow judges fall for them every year — some days, I think we should be merciful and ply the fish hooks from their throats.

If all you want is to impress your neighbors while lugging your kid and his goalie bag (Drew), or hauling your boat (Barb) or carting the accoutrements of a kinky Gen X honeymoon (Brian), well then, a V-8 is for you.

Shame on you, Corbett. You fled your wedding reception in our long-term loaner — the fabulous Audi A4 with the 1.8L turbo. This glorious powerplant found its way back onto the 2002 Best Engines list without your help. After traversing three states with your bride in this car, you couldn't even place the 1.8T in your top 12! Guess your attention was on something other than the engine.

Sound like sour grapes? Absolutely. I'm appalled that I consented to one engine on this year's list: the Mercedes 5L V-8.

This engine, along with its accomplices on the judging panel, convinced me that it should replace the fuel-sipping Toyota Prius hybrid on this year's list. I remain enthralled with the Prius, but we've driven common-rail diesel cars in Europe that are all-around better. And we hear Honda's upcoming hybrid Civic will out-do Prius.

Here's the problem: Replacing the 1.5L Prius with the Mercedes V-8 drastically drives up the average displacement of the winning engines — from 3.19L in 2001 to an alarming 3.74L this year. The 2000 average was 3.41L, down from 3.8L in 1999.

Some of you gas-guzzlers will send me more notes saying, “Get a life.” That's fine. I apologize to no one, except the folks at Toyota. Forgive me for not fighting to keep the Prius on this year's list. It was a moment of weakness.