If there is a common theme to the majority of engines making the 2011 Ward’s 10 Best List, it’s this: technology. Gasoline direct injection, forced induction and variable valve timing have become commonplace, as manufacturers scramble to achieve the contradictory goals of increasing power while boosting fuel economy.

Less-is-more seems to be a common theme, too, as five of the ten engines are four-cylinders, four are six-cylinders and only one is a larger-displacement V-8. In fact, the 5.0-liter, double overhead cam Ford V-8, as used in the Mustang Boss 302, was one of only three winners not using direct injection.

Representing the six-cylinder brigade are the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 used in the Audi A6, the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six used in the BMW 335i, the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 used in various Chrysler and Jeep models and the 3.5-liter V-6 used in the Infiniti M35h hybrid.

Four cylinder engines taking top honors this year include the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 used in the BMW 5-Series and Z4, the 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecoboost I-4 used throughout the Ford product range, the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 used in the Buick Regal GS, the 1.6-liter I-4 used in various Hyundai and Kia models and the all-new 2.0-liter SkyActiv i-4 used in the Mazda3.

There are several repeat winners, as well. Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 repeats for the third year in a row, BMW’s 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 repeats for the second year in a row, as does Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. Ford’s 5.0-liter V-8 repeats for the second year as well, although last year it won for its performance in less-powerful Mustang GT.

Engines were scored by Ward's Auto editors based on multiple factors, including technology, power, observed fuel economy and noise, vibration and harshness. To qualify, an engine had to be available in a U.S. market, production vehicle no later than the first quarter of 2012, at a price of less than $55,000.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony during the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.