Nobody could have predicted an engine name plucked from a dusty muscle-car past would have connected so completely with contemporary buyers.

Sure, the demographic of many customers buying Chrylser Group vehicles that offer the 5.7L Hemi V-8 is one that fondly remembers muscle cars and the simple-but-strong Hemi name.

But the Hemi's ongoing appeal – which still surprises some industry analysts – runs much deeper than a fortuitous marketing re-connect with baby-boomers. The Hemi is about real power and real engineering.

There is skepticism that the modern-day 5.7L Hemi V-8, returning for its fourth consecutive 10 Best Engines win, really has hemispherically shaped combustion chambers that led to the original Hemi's name.

But in a sense, it's not that important. Chrysler powertrain engineers studied the gas-flow characteristics of some of the world's best-engineered and best-performing engines (including Porsche AG's power-dense horizontally opposed 6-cyl.) and came up with a design that shares many of the attributes of a hemispherical combustion chamber.

The rest is history. The Hemi's simple architecture, combined with smart design details, makes a powerhouse package that wipes the floor with the competition.

If buyers actually need a test drive, dealers tell us most are ready to sign on the dotted line after their first taste of the Hemi V-8's mighty torque.

Ward's 10 Best Engines judges also continue to reward the 5.7L Hemi V-8 because it just plain works.

The throttle response is immediate but not artificially sharp, the Hemi revs as well as many overhead-cam V-8s (the Hemi's 5,200-rpm horsepower peak in the Charger application is not the signature of a lugging, low-tech V-8), and the exhaust and intake sounds are impeccably tuned. The Hemi speaks the language of power – but also backs it up.

Need more evidence? After four years in the market, the Hemi's installation rates remain the stuff of a bean-counter's dreams. In every application, it's an option or part of an options package that typically gets a buyer spending thousands extra.

Consider these most recent installation rates, not to mention that in most vehicles, apart from the extra cost, the Hemi is one of three available engines: Charger, 65%; Durango, 50%; Ram 1500, 49%; Magnum, 45%.

This, after the past year's gasoline price shock that brought the market for consumptive domestic vehicles to a standstill.

Perhaps the Hemi's ongoing success in the face of unlikely odds is partly attributable to Chrysler's intelligent decision to include in the Hemi's initial design the fuel-saving Multi Displacement System cylinder-deactivation technology.

Chrysler says MDS allows Hemi-equipped vehicles to cut consumption by as much as 20%. The timing could not have been better to help keep the thundering 5.7L Hemi V-8 at the top of the heap.

Judges' Comments

McClellan: Hemi does it for me again. Wonderful package. Love the exhaust tone. Impressed by fuel economy on highway.

Murphy: Who needs an OHC layout?

Winter: Sounds exactly like the old Hemi – at least as I remember it.

DaimlerChrysler AG 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8

Engine Chart

Engine type: 5.7L OHV 90° V-8

Displacement (cc): 5,654

Block/head material: iron/aluminum

Bore x stroke (mm): 99.5 x 90.9

Horsepower (SAE net): 350 @ 5,200 rpm

Torque: 390 lb.-ft. (529 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm

Specific output: 61 hp/L

Compression ratio: 9.6:1

Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg): 17/25

Application tested: Dodge Charger R/T

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com