As we huddled in the conference room at our Southfield, MI, offices, the debates began.

The cast of fickle Best Engines judges expounded on the virtues of their choices, whether it was the true technological genius of the Toyota Prius or the brute power of the Dodge Ram Cummins, the battle was brewing.

Once we reached the discussion on the Audi S4, it became clear that some judges weren’t willing to give Audi its due.

Some said it wasn’t worthy because it’s just a large engine in a small car. That formula basically could work to any auto maker’s advantage, they said.

Judge Kevin Kelly

I beg your pardon? If that were the case, why did the ’04 Cadillac CTS-V, which itself features a high-output V-8 tucked neatly into a small luxury sheet metal casing, not make the list?

I’ll tell you why: The Audi S4 is in every way leaps and bounds ahead of the CTS-V. Sure, the CTS-V has more horsepower, but it’s not just horsepower that counts. The CTS-V is, to put it bluntly, crude. Its NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is sub-par, thanks to the almost bobble head-ish action of the gear shifter.

Not to mention, the CTS has a difficult time handling the 400 hp produced by its 5.7L V-8. The S4, on the other hand, seems to handle the added power of its 4.2L V-8 with grace and precision. There’s no vibration from the steering wheel or shifter, and the sound from the exhaust is not overwhelming.

All in all, Audi has managed to provide the power and refinement of an engine normally found in big-ticket cars in a refined and much more affordable package, proving it does take more than slapping a big engine in a small car to make our list.

kekelly@primediabusiness.com