Imagine this year’s 10 Best Engines nominees on stage at the Met or Hollywood Bowl. A hush comes over the packed house as maestro Senior Technical Editor Bill Visnic picks up his baton and, with a majestic wave, ignition systems stir.

What follows is, to a driving enthusiast’s ears, rich music emanating from a chorus of unique voices. But above the din (or DIN for European audiences), virtuosos can be heard.

No surprise, because exhaust systems are getting the star treatment from an industry that has seen powertrain engineers become impresarios.

Judge Eric Mayne

At Ward's, this year’s auditions have seen performers run the gamut, from the petulant SRT-4’s turbocharged I-4 (think Avril Lavigne) to the gravelly Silverado HD’s Duramax diesel (think Tom Waits). But a quartet came to the fore.

Singing lead is the Honda Accord’s 3L V-6. Honda claims the powerplant is a natural talent, and its exhilarating exhaust note is not the result of studio trickery.

It is to Ward's 10 Best Engines what young Josh Groban is to the world’s operatic tenors. Meanwhile, critics – including this one – grow tired of Luciano Pavarotti (Nissan’s 3.5L V-6), whose familiar antics are getting old.

Despite its ’60s-era roots, Dodge’s 5.7L Hemi doesn’t suffer this problem. Its Harley-esque rumble is a breath of fresh air (with minimum added oxides of nitrogen).

Dodge confesses to considerable tweaking, using software and focus groups, before defining Hemi’s made-in-Detroit attitude. But its flair is so distinct as to merit comparison with a former Memphis resident whose name starts with ‘E.’

Mazda RX-8’s Renesis rotary also rocks, for its energy as much as its tone. Like Bruce Springsteen, it’s born to run.

So full of zing, it caused a tense moment for Mazda product development guru, Robert Davis. After noticing excessive heat coming from a test-vehicle’s engine, he inquired about the driving pattern of a journalist who’d been behind the wheel.

The journalist said he’d enjoyed the sound of 4th gear so much, he never bothered with 5th or 6th.

And the fourth member of the band? Marcel Marceau, a.k.a, Toyota Prius’ hybrid-synergy-drive system.