WardsAuto now is in the midst of testing for the 2018 Wards 10 Best Engines competition, marking our 24th year of recognizing outstanding powertrains. This is the story behind one of our 2017 winners. The 2018 Wards 10 Best Engines will be announced in mid-December.

WardsAuto editors concede it was a tough competition among a quartet of premium turbocharged GDI 2.0L 4-cyl. engines before Mercedes-Benz won out for a 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines trophy. It’s not as potent as Alfa Romeo’s Giulia entry, but it is more refined. Though not as fuel-thrifty as the I-4 in BMW’s 330i, it is more efficient than the competition offered in the Audi A4.

Editors chose this “unassuming but capable” Mercedes I-4 turbo as the one that “does it all: smooth and quiet at start-up and idle, rev-happy and ready to run and capable of 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) under an occasional heavy foot.”

They characterize it as “punching well above its designated weight” despite lagging the others with only 241 hp compared with BMW’s 248 hp, Audi’s 252 hp and Alfa’s 280-hp engine. They praise it as “the go-to workhorse in a wide array of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, from the high-volume C- and E-Class to the SLC roadster and GLC utility vehicle.”

Designated M274, this engine’s mission is to offer more power and more fuel-efficiency. It has strong family ties to Mercedes’ R4 gasoline engine family, which dates back to late 2011 and now is produced in Europe, China and the U.S. The family’s first member, designed to be transversely mounted in front-wheel-drive Mercedes vehicles, was the 154-hp, 1.6L M270. That was followed a year later by a 208-hp, 2.0L longitudinal M274 for rear-drive C- and E-class cars. Then a reduced-friction M274 provided improved fuel efficiency for a new C-class in 2014, and this more powerful 241-hp version was developed for use in a variety of Mercedes vehicles.

“This engine had to meet all the Toptype specs (such) as power, low-end torque, fuel consumption and emission standards while being modeled closely to the whole engine family. This enables economic production of a top-type M274 in all existing plants worldwide,” says Peter Lückert, director-Passenger-Car Gasoline Engine Development.

Paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission, it offers “a wide spread between sporty, comfortable and economical (modes) selectable by the driver,” he adds. “Therefore, fun-to-drive was also an important development objective.”

Mercedes calls its technology package of third-generation direct injection with centrally located piezo injectors (with outward-opening tapered jet nozzles) and multiple-spark ignition “BlueDIRECT.” Both M270 and M274 non-hybrid versions are closely related to the M276 and M278 BlueDIRECT I-4s used in Mercedes hybrid models. All versions share their direct fuel injection with “third-generation jet-guided combustion, which is realized by means of an A-nozzle piezo injector,” Lückert says.