What does the 2013 Ward’s 10 Best Engines say about the state of powertrain development?

The list uncovers several emerging trends:

  • Direct fuel injection has its benefits, but so does tried-and-true multiport injection.
  • There’s not a lot of new V-8 programs.
  • Exhaust manifolds are disappearing, replaced by cleverly packaged (and cost-efficient) cylinder heads that route hot exhaust gases more swiftly to the catalytic converter, reducing emissions.
  • A growing number of sporty engines pipe their intake sounds directly into the cabin.
  • Battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles have reached a plateau in performance, range and driving pleasure.
  • A fullsize pickup can do just fine with a naturally aspirated V-6, thank you very much.
  • A 4-cyl. engine can do the work of a 6-cyl. And, in the case of the Ford Taurus, a 4-cyl. EcoBoost can do the work of a V-8.

The North American market also is awash with small vehicles powered by pint-sized engines displacing less than 2.0L, a trend that surely will advance in coming years.

WardsAuto editors evaluated nine such engines this year, including three in hybrids. None made the cut, but the two that came close were the 1.6L turbocharged 4-cyl. engines in the Hyundai Veloster and Ford Fusion.

The Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition is in its 19th year. Ten editors evaluated 40 engines during two months of daily driving in metro Detroit, ending in December.

To be eligible, an engine must be all-new or significantly improved and available in a production vehicle in the U.S. market within the first quarter of 2013. Vehicle base price is capped at $55,000. New engines are pitted against the 10 winners from the previous year.

Editors score each engine based on horsepower, torque, technology, observed fuel economy, relative competitiveness and noise, vibration and harshness characteristics.

The awards will be presented at a Jan. 16 ceremony in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show.