SOUTHFIELD, MI – Now in its 12th year, the annual Ward's 10 Best Engines competition continues as the industry barometer of powertrain development.

Although little has changed about the competition, itself, 2006's 10 Best Engines are evidence that meaningful change is enveloping the industry's powertrain sector.

First, four of the 10 Best Engines employ forced induction – a new record for the list. This is significant because it indicates a trend toward the downsized engines and higher specific output some powertrain analysts have predicted.

Certainly 2005's high-profile run-up in fuel prices increased the public's attention on fuel economy, but recent events that affected fuel prices could not have influenced the engineering development of the winning engines, which began years ago.

Forced induction – turbocharging, specifically – also is the “companion” technology to the powertrain sector's other emerging trend: direct injection gasoline (DIG) fuel delivery.

The number of DIG engine variants in North America and the rest of the world is quickly blossoming as the technology merges the attributes, to some degree, of spark-ignition and compression-ignition engines. Three of this year's 10 Best Engines feature DIG technology, and we expect more in the future.

For 2006, Ward's 10 Best Engines judges nominated and tested 31 engines that must be available in regular-production vehicles on sale in the U.S. market no later than the first quarter of 2006. To be eligible, the engine also must be available in a vehicle with a base price of no more than $52,500.

During a 2-month testing period, Ward's editors evaluate each engine according to a number of objective and subjective criteria in everyday driving situations – there is no instrumented testing. Each engine competes against all others.

Ward's believes this process recognizes engines used in a wide range of vehicle segments, while the head-to-head format generates just 10 clearcut winners free of the “categories” that could dilute such a competition.

Meanwhile, the price cap eliminates expensive, exotic engines that by their nature should be superior engineering efforts.

By limiting the competition to volume-market considerations, the annual 10 Best Engines awards have a high degree of relevance, we believe, to the majority of the industry's powertrain developers, as well as consumers.

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com