5.4L Triton SOHC V-8 5.4L Supercharged V-8 There is a bushelful of great V-8s around these days. Unfortunately, a lot of them happen to come in vehicles that cost more than the $50,000 cap that governs the 10 Best Engines competition. So one place we didn't expect to find an excellent, affordable V-8 with honest-to-gosh refinement was in a pickup truck.

Ford took a gamble with the 5.4L SOHC Triton when it broke cover in 1997. The company was astute in recognizing the consumer shift to pickups as personal-use vehicles and decided to specify an overhead-cam arrangement for its all-new redesign of the quintessential F-Series light-duty truck engine lineup. Ford planners bet that the personal-use customers would appreciate the passenger car-like NVH and power characteristics of the more refined overhead-cam engines - and simultaneously bet that hard-core "work" truck buyers could be won over, too.

Since its launch, the Triton engine design has proved versatile enough to power the F-Series and Ford's full-size SUVs, yet fully pleases the core market. It pleases Ward's, too, as this year marks the Triton's fourth consecutive year on the 10 Best Engines list.

Last year, Ford engineers reworked the Triton's upper end: The camshaft profile was revised, a larger exhaust valve was specified and the cylinder head casting was redesigned to promote improved tumble motion of the intake charge. The net result was a solid 25 hp, bringing the total to 260 hp. A competitive number, but not the best horsepower rating, which can be a liability in the dog-eat-dog truck market.

So how does the Triton best GM's more powerful Vortec 5.3L OHV V-8 and Toyota Motor Corp.'s new, highly refined 4.7L DOHC V-8 - not to mention any number of passenger-car engines?

Back to versatility. The Triton is out-powered by a good 25 hp by GM's Vortec, but the Triton produces more torque at a lower peak - important for a truck engine. Toyota's new DOHC, 32-valve 4.7L Tundra engine is a formidable new presence in the market, but Ward's testers believe it falls a touch on the "soft" side for a truck application.

Anyway, the Triton outpowers the Tundra V-8 by 15 hp and produces 30 lb.-ft. (41 Nm) more torque at a lower peak: 350 lb.-ft (475 Nm) at just 2,500 rpm for the Triton versus 315 lb.-ft. (427 Nm) at 3,400 rpm with the Tundra's i-Force 4.7L V-8.

What's more, every year the 10 Best Engines competition puts the 5.4L Triton up against a host of buttery passenger-car engines, and it trounces a goodly number of those, too.

Ford's 5.4L Triton V-8 goes above and beyond the call of duty for truck applications, striking a careful balance between refinement and get-your-hands-dirty power and durability. The Triton V-8 is a remarkable effort.

That's why Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) put the touch on the 5.4L Triton for its high-performance Lightning pickup. SVT engineers know a good thing when they see it.

And they know how a good thing can be made outrageously good with a little help from a supercharger. SVT's recipe takes a heapin' helpin' of Triton and spices it to the tune of 360 hp and 440 lb.-ft. (597 Nm) of torque with one prime ingredient: the Eaton Corp. Roots-type supercharger.

But since the SVT Lightning V-8 essentially is the Triton 5.4L unit, Ward's considers both applications under a single entity, but we believe it's necessary to call out the SVT version as being such a far-reaching extension that it goes beyond the common definition of a simple "variant."

It's testimony to the basic structure of the 5.4L Triton that the only internals upgraded to handle the extra 100 hp for the Lightning are forged aluminum pistons. The "regular" Triton's forged steel crankshaft, powder metal connecting rods and deep-skirt block required no modification.

But that's not to say there aren't changes. Along with the supercharger comes a water-to-air intercooler - artfully nestled into the vee between the cylinder banks - to provide a denser intake charge that's fed through dual throttle bores uprated to 2.2-ins. (57-mm). There's also a larger mass-airflow sensor to adequately process the gush of intake air to the supercharger.

The compression ratio is reduced to 8.4:1 (standard Triton CR is 9.4:1) with specially dished piston crowns. All the better to handle the higher peak combustion of the force-fed intake charge.

When it all meets the ground via the Lightning's massive rear rubber, the outpouring of 440 lb.-ft. (597Nm)of torque is beyond the realm of common driving experience. You often read automotive hacks blathering about the "shove in the back" of a torquey engine, but the Lightning V-8 provides true meaning to the cliche: It genuinely will cinch you to the seat and leave your seatbelt hanging loose.

It's all thunderously good fun, backed up by the delightful and versatile (there's that word again) 5.4L Triton V-8 - a V-8 so good it makes you forget it's a truck engine.