Most of the conversations about Ford Motor Co.'s 4.6L SOHC V-8 during Ward's 10 Best Engines testing went something like this:

“You drive the Mustang yet?”

“Yeah. The four-six is nasty. Goes like stink in that car.”

“Sounds awesome, too. Perfect muscle-car sounds. Perfect muscle-car V-8, as a matter of fact.”

Associating Ford's spectacular 4.6L V-8 so closely with the Mustang is both boon and curse. It is an advantage because the Mustang owes its runaway success to its excellent, new-generation V-8.

Without it, enthusiasts would not have bought the 'Stang as the real deal, regardless of the car's brilliant sheet metal.

But the 4.6L SOHC V-8's close affiliation with the Mustang discounts this outstanding modular V-8's keen work in its other high-volume home, the Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer SUVs.

In the SUVs, the same new 3-valve-per-cylinder configuration that last year yielded such great new power gains is slightly modified, and the 4.6L V-8 gets an iron block, apparently to underscore its light-truck duty. For the Mustang, however, aluminum is the material of choice for the block.

In other vehicles, Ford continues to deploy 2-valve variants of the 4.6L. So Ford currently offers in the market a 3-valve all-aluminum mill (our tested winner), a 3-valve version with an iron block and a 2-valve iron-block variant.

The Mustang, of course, is this engine's halo application, and it is the model best-suited to show off this power-dense V-8's finest attributes.

The lightened flywheel encourages exploring the upper tach range, and the 4,500-rpm torque peak underscores the modular 4.6L SOHC V-8's newfound ability to rev to places the old 4.9L pushrod V-8 never visited.

The characteristic that enthralled Ward's judges again was this V-8's broad power band. There is stump-pulling torque at low- and mid-range speeds, yet the 4.6L V-8 seems to keep churning out power for at least 1,000 rpm longer than is expected.

The mark of 60 hp per liter is the top tier of “mainstream” V-8s – almost matching Chrysler Group's vaunted 5.7L Hemi in power density.

And thanks to some attentive engineering detail, Ford's smooth and torque-laden 4.6L V-8 isn't the gas-guzzler one might expect.

The 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km) city rating and 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) highway economy are easily attainable, if one can resist the constant temptation to pin the throttle for an easy grin and a jolt of the Mustang's magnificent and near-perfect exhaust notes.

Plus, this engine is perfectly happy to run on regular unleaded gasoline.

For the second consecutive year, no auto maker provides a more power-packed V-8 at a more accessible price than Ford's brilliant 4.6L SOHC V-8.

Judges' Comments

McClellan: This engine is a handful: hard work, but worth it. Fabulous for the price. A true DEE-troit muscle car.

Murphy: A joy to drive. A symphony to the ears.

Winter: Best value V-8 going. Right up there with the big premium guys.

Ford Motor Co. 4.6L SOHC V-8

Engine Chart

Engine type: 4.6L SOHC 90° V-8

Displacement (cc): 4,604

Block/head material:aluminum/aluminum

Bore x stroke (mm): 90.2 x 90

Horsepower (SAE net): 300 @ 5,750 rpm

Torque: 320 lb.-ft. (434 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm

Specific output: 65 hp/L

Compression ratio: 9.8:1

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

Application tested: Mustang GT

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com