For those curious about the arguments that fill the Ward's conference room every year when strong-willed editors meet to decide our 10 Best Engines list, let me crack open the door and give you a peek.

In recent years, the Nissan VQ V-6, now a 13-time winner, was not a shoo-in to make the list. Certain judges had noticed an erosion of refinement and disconcerting clutch-pedal vibration after this engine was bored out (from 3L to 3.5L), recalibrated and modified to produce horsepower and torque numbers previously unheard of for normally aspirated V-6s.

This year, however, there was no question about the VQ, which arrives totally new in fourth-generation dress, with 80% new parts. Nissan powertrain engineers recognized the 3.5L VQ was growing coarse and set out to restore the smoothness that made the VQ so special when it debuted in 1995.

They succeeded. And they cranked up the output of the new high-revving variant to 306 hp and 268 lb.-ft. (363 Nm) of torque in the Infiniti G35.

The new mill whispers at idle and still delivers the delicious midrange that, to this day, is largely unmatched by competing V-6s. And the VQ howls like a hungry jackal at wide-open throttle (see story, p.44).

Yes, I remain troubled by clutch vibration that still mars an otherwise fabulous new powertrain, and Nissan engineers say they are working on a fix. Despite this quibble, the VQ is much improved and has once again earned its place on this year's 10 Best Engines list.

My frame of reference is my '96 Nissan Maxima that sits in our parking deck for weeks at a time, waiting for me to creak open the door, turn the key, spurt clean the windshield and go for a drive. Time on the highway is like a Milk Bone to a terrier.

I love this old Maxima, with its 190-hp first-generation 3L VQ under the hood. After 94,000 miles (151,274 km), the VQ runs as sweetly as the day I bought it, despite my utter neglect. Never once has the engine given a lick of trouble.

My Maxima will not run forever — at least, not the way I treat it. Someday I'll find time for a full restoration, and the car will proudly hit the pavement at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

In the meantime, it will collect dust and grime while I contemplate financing the latest G35 and the excellent new VQ.