3L DOHC V-6 It's becoming a habit, this business of telling readers that Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s "VQ" 3L DOHC V-6 has won yet another 10 Best Engines Award. Securing a place on this year's list ties Nissan with BMW as the only manufacturer to place the same engine for six consecutive years.

How else to describe the VQ but pre-eminent? The inherent excellence of this design absolutely stunned us - and many of Nissan's competitors - when launched for the '95 model year, and the same basic engine today still stands out from a growing cadre of sophisticated V-6 engines.

The VQ's uncanny refinement and lack of vibration always seemed practically supernatural; it's unrivaled noise, vibration and harshness characteristics are a large contributor to the VQ V-6's insouciant, exuberant power delivery.

Because of its "attitude," the VQ's 190 hp always satisfied, largely because it really felt like 220 hp. Well, thanks to a host of upgrades for model-year 2000, the VQ really does make 220 hp. Well, 222 hp to be precise. This is icing on the cake, because the former 190-hp VQ already was the standard by which all V-6 engines, regardless of price, should be judged.

Masahiro Hibino, General Manager, Nissan Powertrain product planning, says Nissan did not want to rest simply on the virtues of the VQ's outstanding basic design (Mr. Hibino, incidentally, helped to develop the original 240Z and 280Z inline 6-cyl. engines). He says the goal was to upgrade the VQ - already an acknowledged V-6 refinement benchmark - to retain Nissan's reputation for class-leading power.

Most of this year's newfound horses come from a variable-path muffler; it incorporates a simple spring-loaded butterfly valve to route exhaust gases more directly through the resonator during large throttle openings and high-rpm operation.

But the VQ's camshaft profile is reworked to reduce exhaust back pressure by 40% before it even gets to the fancy exhaust piping. A new, variable-length thermoplastic intake manifold helps to increase intake efficiency by 7% and adds a bit more torque. Mr. Hibino says that more than 50% of the VQ's parts have been redesigned.

That's in addition to the already lovely starting point: all-aluminum construction, an extremely lightweight valvetrain and numerous microfinished internals. Nissan engineers viciously attacked reciprocating mass with the original VQ design, and it shows every time you rev to 6,500 rpm with less fuss than most V-6s show at 3,000 rpm.

Nissan's VQ 3L V-6 is a marvel of intelligent design and meticulous attention to detail - but its cat-quick throttle response and unmatched smoothness also mean it's a genuine delight to drive. Best of all, Nissan delivers what may be the best V-6 engine ever - yes, we said ever - in cars that are priced for normal mortals.