Few engines got more raves this year than the not-so-new turbocharged “Prince” engine in the Mini Cooper hardtop.

We tested this engine for the first time in the Mini in 2007, but were not all that impressed, even though it was a huge improvement over the previous Pentagon engine, which actually made our list in 2003. More on this later.

The big difference this year is the addition of BMW AG's excellent Valvetronic fully variable valve-timing system, which enhances power and fuel efficiency.

Combining Valvetronic with the direct-injection system and twin-scroll turbocharger of the “S” version of the Prince was a deal-clincher for Ward's judges, combining stunning performance and superb fuel economy into a driving experience that really sells the car.

“Averaged 34 to 35 mpg (6.9 to 6.7 L/100 km) while beating it hard,” says Ward's AutoWorld Executive Editor Tom Murphy. “Valvetronic makes a huge difference.”

The turbocharged I-4 allows the Mini hardtop to sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.6 seconds, and overboost on this improved engine pushes torque to 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm).

DISPLACEMENT (CC): 1,598

BLOCK/HEAD MATERIAL: ALUMINUM/ALUMINUM

BORE × STROKE (MM): 77 × 85.8

HORSEPOWER (SAE NET): 181 @ 5,500 RPM

TORQUE: 177 LB.-FT. (240 NM) @ 1,600-5,000 RPM

SPECIFIC OUTPUT: 113 HP/L

SPECIFIC OUTPUT: 10.5:1

ASSEMBLY SITE: HAMS HALL, U.K.

APPLICATION TESTED: '11 MINI COOPER S

EPA CITY/HIGHWAY (MPG): 27/36