Pickup trucks have been sadly overlooked for several years by Ward’s 10 Best Engines judges.

In 19 years of selecting the top powertrains, only nine light-truck applications have been recognized.

If any real-world environment serves as a ready-made torture chamber for automotive engines, it’s the duty cycle of a pickup truck. From towing heavy loads to sloshing about at muddy construction sites, a truck engine must be bullet-proof and always ready to run, and its exhaust note needs to be deep and burly, greeting its owner each morning like a strong cup of coffee.

Chrysler’s 3.6L Pentastar V-6 checks those boxes and earns a third straight Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophy for its first-time application in the new Ram 1500 pickup.

“It has excellent NVH (noise, vibration harshness),” WardsAuto editor James Amend writes on his Pentastar score sheet. “I could work all day from the cabin of this truck.”

The 60-degree V-6 dazzled us in car applications the past two years and has gone on to power just about everything in Chrysler’s stable, from Jeeps and minivans to luxury cars and muscle coupes.

The Ram 1500 provides the last piece of the puzzle, proving definitively the Pentastar truly is an all-purpose V-6.

Tweaked for the truck application, the V-6 delivers42% more horsepower than the 3.7L V-6 it replaces and achieves a best-in-class V-6 tow rating of 6,500 lbs. (2,948 kg). The torque peak also comes earlier in the Ram, ensuring the driver gratifying throttle response.

We’ve touted the Pentastar’s virtues previously – the simplified manufacturing process, reduction in engine components and the disappearance of the exhaust manifolds by casting them directly into the cylinder heads. Chrysler used to have 32 different exhaust manifolds in this segment and now has zero. That’s a great way to bolster the bottom line.

The all-aluminum Pentastar keeps getting better. For instance, the new Ram integrates an optional stop/start system that improves fuel economy up to 3.3%, and the Ram’s V-6 now runs on E85 as well as regular unleaded gasoline.

Our 4-wheel-drive tester was rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 16/23 mpg (14.6-10.2 L/100 km) in city/highway driving, but lighter 2-wheel-drive versions are rated higher, at 18/25 mpg (13-9.4 L/100 km). That’s best-in-class for V-6 pickups.

In the well-equipped Ram Quad Cab test Ram, we logged 325 miles (523 km) and pretty much met the EPA estimate, averaging 18 mpg (13 L/100 km) in mostly suburban commuting.

The smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission is paired with a new thermal-management system designed to quickly raise engine and transmission fluid temperatures, reducing parasitic losses and improving fuel economy 1.7%.

Another important technological achievement for the Pentastar is that it does its job without trendy gasoline direct injection, which is found on most new engine programs.

Like Chrysler, Honda notably sticks with conventional multi-port fuel injection for its re-engineered 3.5L V-6, which also wins Ward’s 10 Best Engines recognition this year. The takeaway: Engines with less-expensive, old-school fuel injectors in this year’s competition beat out two GDI V-6s, the 3.6L in the Cadillac ATS and the all-new 3.3L in the Hyundai Azera.

By 2014, the Pentastar is expected to account for more than a third of the powertrains in Chrysler’s vehicle stable. With this stout performance in the Ram, it’s easy to see that percentage tilting higher.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com