For the last few decades, Honda’s influence on the auto industry — and its corresponding sales volumes — has been nothing short of revolutionary. Consider that the latest Accord just made Car and Driver’s 10 Best list for a record 32nd time; meanwhile, the Civic recently became the top-selling car in America. This makes the underperformance of Acura, Honda’s luxury division, somewhat puzzling.

Acura was the first premium Japanese marque to launch in the US, with sixty dealerships by 1986, and its early years were heralded by world-class machines like the Legend and the NSX. But since then a mix of uneven investment, marketing, and styling choices has positioned Acura well behind its rival, Lexus, as a credible challenger to long-established luxury marques like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Though the Acura brand as a whole underwhelms, looking across its history one can find a handful of machines beyond just the original Legend and NSX that deserve respect and admiration. Judged on cost-to-quality ratio, perhaps none is more deserving than the third-generation Acura TL (UA6 / UA7 chassis), which debuted for the 2004 model year and ran through 2008.

The third-gen TL is thankfully devoid of the overly-complicated styling and engineering gimmicks – like crazy metallic beaks, Jewel Eye LED headlights, Precision All-Wheel Steer, 9-speed hybrid torque converter/clutched transmissions, and so on – that have afflicted the automaker’s more recent products.

Instead, it delivers on attributes that Acura, perhaps with better focus on its original slogan, “Precision Crafted Automobiles,” ought to have stood for through the years: a characterful, sonorous V6 that loves to rev and builds power beautifully, well-designed, durable, and high-quality interiors, remarkably tight styling that is distinct from the German brands and their imitators, and quality and reliability that regularly sees these cars exceed 200,000 happy miles.

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While there are some excellent battery-powered vehicles like the new Chevrolet Bolt trickling into our garages, the good, old fashioned, oil pumping, octane swilling, internal combustion engine is still at the heart of the automotive experience. It has been ever since, some 130 years ago, Karl Benz bolted a one banger of his own design onto the back of a three-wheeled cart.

And it’s been a glorious run. Sure, there were low points, like the anemic power plants that wheezed through the 1970s while automakers struggled to cope with strict new emissions and fuel economy regulations. Anyone remember the 1975 Ford Granada? Its 4.1 liter inline six had a California variant that puttered out just 71 horsepower. Folks, that’s less than 20 horsepower per liter.

These days, though, your average minivan throws down 250 ponies and still gets nearly 30 highway MPG. Meanwhile, muscle cars like the Camaro ZL1 routinely deliver 600+ horses, and supercars are converging on the magic 1000 figure. These numbers would have boggled the mind not long ago — and likely would have caused poor Mr. Benz, whose motor wobbled out just two-thirds of a horse, to burst a mental gasket.

It’s clear that we’re in a golden age of engines. And that’s great news. Because who doesn’t want more power? Or more efficiency? Or both? The more great mills that are produced, the greater the chances that one will find its way into a budget-minded enthusiast’s heart… and driveway.

Which got us to thinking, what are the very best engines to be had in cars that most anyone can afford? The Klipnik brain trust gathered recently to hash it out. We gave ourselves just two simple rules: 1) keep the picks from within the last 25 years and 2) make them choices that can easily be attained for less than $25,000 — preferably much less.

Here are the ten exceptional motors that made our list (in alphabetical order by automaker).

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