By on June 14, 2010

Do you buy the base four-cylinder, or upgrade to a V6? For most car-purchasing decisions, this is an important question to think through. And usually the trade-offs are simple: you can pay more for more power and less efficiency with the V6, or save money and gas with the four-potter. And with fuel prices staying volatile, four-cylinder engines are becoming all the more popular: for example, Hyundai’s new Sonata has been engineered to be four-cylinder only. But according to Consumer Reports, the differences between the V6 and the four-cylinder option aren’t always as clear as you might expect.

Interestingly, CR’s example of a strange relationship between base and upgraded engine options also comes from South Korea, in the form of Kia’s new Sorento CUV. CR explains:

We bought two 2011 Sorentos: an EX with the 3.5-liter V6 engine and an LX with the 2.4-liter four cylinder, both AWD. In our fuel economy tests, they both achieved 20 mpg overall. Break it down, and they both tied at 14 mpg city and 26 mpg highway…

…While the numbers are stacked against it, I found that in the right circumstances, it is possible to get better mileage out of the four-cylinder Sorento. On my longish, modest speed rural-highway commute, I observed more than 25 mpg in the four-cylinder version, versus just 21 in the V6. Of course, results may vary depending on routes, speed, and driving style.

Based on our formal testing, we got near-matching fuel economy and consequently calculate similar annual fuel cost: $1,685 for the four cylinder, versus $1,720 for the V6. That $35 a year difference won’t amount to much though, compared with the higher $5,800 purchase price difference. ($26,590 versus $32,390).

The Sorento is the only new car in our current test that defies conventional wisdom. The next closest model I could find is the Toyota RAV4, which gets 22 mpg overall with the V6 engine, and 23 mpg with the four cylinder.

CR’s assessment is that four-pot engines have to work much harder than a V6 to move a large vehicle like the Sorento. The four-banger might be more inherently efficient, but in practice it has to be used far less efficiently to maintain good progress. Its lower gearing further reduces its efficiency advantages. And though nearly $6k to upgrade to the V6 is a steep jump, it seems that in the case of the Sorento at least, it’s worth stretching for. After all, who would rather have 22 lbs per horsepower instead of 15 lbs per horsepower if there’s no efficiency bonus?

But here’s where things get psychological: if you have the V6′s grunt will you be tempted to drive more… enthusiastically? After all, with “adequate” four-cylinder power, chances are that you’ll be lulled into a more sedate pace compared to a V6. With more power, the temptation to drive faster and therefore less efficiently has to be part of the equation… and it’s one that will never show up on an EPA test.

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71 Comments on “V6 Or Four-Cylinder?...”


  • avatar

    This isn’t news. I similarly compared the two engines in my review of the Sorento for TTAC–back in March:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/review-2010-kia-sorento/

  • avatar
    Audi-Inni

    A very timely post, indeed. Considering the Audi Q5, they will release the vehicle for 2011 with their 2.0T engine. While it is likely to get better mileage than the 3.2 model if they release it in FWD only, I’d not expect much better mileage at all over the V6 if spec’d in quattro form. The biggest advantage would probably be a lower sticker price along with lower content.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      The turbo four may be an exception to this rule which is why Audi discontinued the 3.2 V6 A4 as the turbo 4 delivered significantly better mileage with only minimal loss in performance.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      If one is looking at overall economy a turbo, especially an unreliable VW/Audi turbo-4, may not be the best choice.

      If you have a need for speed or do lot of highway driving buy a V6. It will be cheaper over the long haul.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      Gardiner — that’s been my thinking. EPA on the V6 Q5 is 18/23. The A4 Avant 2.0T Quattro isn’t much better. Put the little 4 in the heavier Q5 and I’d not think there will be much of a difference and I am concerned about long term issues on the 2.0T – especially running at full boil under a 4100 pound (at least) load. And yet, it continues to be their engine of choice. I wish they’d bring in some diesels – right now, only the Q7 and it doesn’t do that great in that beast.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    I drive mostly highway and get about 28mpg out of my V6 Altima. However, I can easily drop that number to 20mpg or lower by being overeager with the go-pedal.

    One thing that is often overlooked in this equation, and is something I neglected to check, is that the V6 can be much harder to work on when crammed into a tight engine bay. On my car, for instance, the windshield cowl, wipers, and intake manifold need to be removed to change the spark plugs.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    Of course it all depends on the car. When Accord shopping (yes I lead an exciting life)the decision was clear cut – stop and go driving makes the 4 a slam dunk.

  • avatar
    twotone

    My 1998 BMW 328i sedan, manual transmission, gets 21 mpg around town and on two road trips gave 33 mpg (at 85+ MPH). BMW four-cylinder 3-Series sedans are just not BMWs to me. My 540i Sport (6-speed manual) did a respectable 26 mpg on road trips (90+ MPH). My old 1991 Issuzu Trooper (5-speed manual) with the 2.6l four banger gave 21 mpg city and highway (as aerodynamic as a barn).

    Twotone

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    For midsized, mainstream sedans, I think the I-4 is the way to go for most folks. They typically run at 170hp, giving an 8 second 0-60 which is plenty for the typical driver. And the fuel economy savings are real — I’ve never gotten less than 29MPG in my 6 year old Accord.

    As a bonus, you can typically get the I-4 with a stick, although Nissan and Mazda have been know to produce the V-6 manual transmission combo.

    To my mind, if you really need that much power, you may want to re-think the wheels which are driven first.

    • 0 avatar
      Shane Rimmer

      For Nissan, it depends a lot on the options you want. I wanted leather and a sunroof in mine with the V6, and that pretty much made the 5-speed automatic the only choice when going through option packages. The only way to get a stick was to move up to the SE-R or to drop some of the options. In the end, I sucked it up and bought one with an automatic.

      In its defense, though, the 5-speed auto is well matched to the V6 in the Altima. It does not annoy me nearly as much as most automatics I have driven.

    • 0 avatar
      postjosh

      Shane Rimmer, “…it depends a lot on the options you want. I wanted leather and a sunroof in mine with the V6, and that pretty much made the 5-speed automatic the only choice when going through option packages.”

      good point! i for one care more about the seating material than i do about the engine – and i care about the engine. i buy used and i’m not going to subject myself to someone else’s sweat stains on the crappy velour upholstery that comes with the 4 banger.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    It will be interesting to see, after this trend towards installing four-bangers in everything that rolls establishes itself, what the average lifespan of an engine will turn out to be.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      Depends. If the car is going to go through a lot of short trips the 4 might get to op. temp. quicker and stay cleaner as a result of “working harder”.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    @John.fritz – Longer than the lifespan of the body it is bolted into, or especially the electronics controlling it. With the exception of various engines that are prone to sludging (which is equally distributed amoung cylinder count), when do modern engines EVER “wear out”?

    The number of cylinders is very much irrelevant to anything really, other than possibly smoothness (a moot point with modern balance shafts) and how nice an exhaust noise it makes. 200hp is 200hp, whether made with 3,4,5,6,8 or 12.

    • 0 avatar
      Geeky1

      Not true. 200hp @ 5800rpms and 140lb-ft of torque at 4000 is a very different driving experience than 200hp @ 5500rpms and 200lb-ft from 2200-4400rpms.

      Admittedly, they’re starting to get wider, flatter torque curves that plateau at relatively low revs out of turbo/di small displacement engines, but the statement “200hp is 200hp” is not entirely accurate. The performance may be the same, but the driving experience can be totally different. And some of us find the driving experience provided by most small displacement engines distinctly unpleasant.

  • avatar

    Four cylinders aren’t automatically more efficient than a V6. Usually people mean fuel consumption when they refer to it that way. Four cylinders area almost always better suited to small, light vehicles. They don’t do so hot in larger, heavier ones.

    Many V6s also average about the same amount of overall fuel consumption as a four cylinder in larger vehicles while providing better overall performance, making them more efficient the four cylinder that works harder to move the car and uses just as much fuel while making less power and going slower. Making the V6 the more “efficient” choice.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      For two engines of a given power output, the one with the fewer cylinders WILL be more fuel efficient as a general rule. Fewer moving parts, less friction. Most likely bigger cylinders allowing bigger or more valves allowing better breathing. The MOST efficient means to a given power level is to use a smaller engine and turbocharge it – essentially variable displacement on demand. TANSTAAFL still applies, you trade complexity for efficiency.

      A good tradeoff in the case of my Saab, 210hp out of 2.0L with TONS of torque way down low where it is useful, and an easy 30+ mpg on the highway.

      Historically, the choice has always been a wimpy little 4 with not enough hp (really not enough torque) or a big beefy V6 with more power than anyone has any need of. Modern engine management and variable valve timing mean that current 4s make just as much power as V6s from a few years ago, and modern V6s make power that Ferrari only dreamed of back in the day. Does anyone really need near-as-damnit 300hp in an ALTIMA grocery-getter???

    • 0 avatar

      As CR stated above, that’s not really reality. I’ve had numerous V6 FWD cars that easily returned 30mpg highway.

      Another good example is my friend’s Acadia, which is a large SUV-like vehicle with a V6. He averages 16mpg in it overall.

      I have an Escalade ESV, which is a 400hp+ Suburban with AWD. It also returns 16mpg overall and on my last trip to Vegas was returning 23mpg on the open road at 70mph. The V8 in it doesn’t sweat to move the vehicle and doesn’t have to rev hard at all to provide good performance.

      The Escalade is actually more efficient than the V6 Acadia my friend has (I also think we paid close to the same price for both too). The Escalade is a better value.

      I will always take the better performing powertrain over the four cylinder powertrain if the overall consumption is nearly the same. It’d be silly not to.

    • 0 avatar
      Rada

      @krhodes1 “For two engines of a given power output, the one with the fewer cylinders WILL be more fuel efficient as a general rule. Fewer moving parts, less friction.”

      Not true at all. There are more parts, but the friction area of each part is proportionally smaller, so there is no net increase in friction. Also, bigger valves are a problem in engines, because they have more mass. This is why they make them smaller, and put more valves instead.

      The article here should be comparing displacements, not the number of cylinders. The number of cylinders only affects the cost of the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      The general premise is that fuel economy and fuel efficiency still boils down to the amount of potential energy stored in your gasoline and the hurdles you put in place trying to apply that energy to moving the car.

      The result is that the general rule makes sense – smaller stuff that weighs less and has less wind resistance will be easier to move around than a big vehicle with more mass and cross-section. The general rule falls apart when you consider the exact same vehicle with the lone variant being the selection of powertrain

      The confusion is that end consumers do not see the amount of efficiencies baked into the inherent engine designs, nor do they see the electronic calibration and mechanical gearing of the vehicle’s powertrain. You could easily have a 4 cylinder do far worse than a V6 if the 4-banger isn’t engineered as well, or the materials used in that engine are less efficient.

      The VQ-V6 used by Nissan could be calibrated for pokey acceleration and geared it to cruise at a very low RPM. At this rate, it would probably rival the 2.5L in terms of fuel consumption, and the driver won’t notice any real performance change.

      But there’s a reason Ward’s has given that engine its seal of excellence for so many years, it’s just a great engine design. Unfortunately it costs more to build the VQ compared to the 4-banger. So Nissan will make due with the cheaper engine for their budget/econo option and put a nicely tuned VQ into their more expensive rides. They could always try to slap turbos on their 4 cylinder engine to get the power of the VQ … but it’s cheaper to just offer the VQ.

      Look at this from the alternate view, Mazda has the direct-inject 2.3L turbo application in their Mazdaspeed3. This car has worse fuel economy than a V6 AWD Ford Fusion. Is this to say that the Ford Fusion has a better engine? No. It’s just down to the tuning where the Mazdaspeed3 is sacrificing economy for power.

      The reason larger engine options are available usually comes down to the fact that consumers will pay money to get more power, and more power is easier (cheaper) to squeeze out using displacement rather than turbos and wacky camshafts. When you’re talking about $1 margins, any savings is desirable.

      But it’s a fallacy to assume that larger displacements always result in worse economy when compared to a smaller displacement engine used in the same car. The engineering and tuning behind those engines has way more to do with the result than just the number of cylinders.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    It seems that sometimes the bigger engine is coupled to a transmission with more speeds then you get with the smaller engine. This would tend to help the bigger engine’s economy, but hobble that of the smaller engine.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @JP: I got this far down before anyone really addressed the biggest variable here, the transmission. I have a Pontiac G6 with an Ecotec and a 6 speed autobox, and have driven the SV version of the same car with the 4 speed autobox. The 6 speed car accelerates faster, smoother as the gaps are much smaller with the newer trans,

      Before this G6, we had a Malibu Maxx with the V6/4spd auto combination, which was plenty peppy on the road and almost the same freeway mileage as our Ecotec G6, which was better than EPA estimates. Maxx was 24 MPG EPA, actual 28, G6 was 30 MPG EPA, actual 30MPG.

      But the advantage for us with the Ecotec has been the city mileage, which is 22 vs. the Maxx’s 17. And, the G6 with six speeds mileage in city is the same as the G6 SV which has the 4 speed automatic.

      There is less weight with the smaller motor, fewer parts, easier to repair, too. I’d love to have the LSJ 260 HP turbocharged version of this motor in the G6, but maybe the extra weight of the turbo and plumbing, this would put it back in 3.6 V6 weight territory.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Personally, my next vehicle purchase will have a V6 (or even V8) of some description up front. Why? I’ve lived my whole life in the UK driving 4-pots (V6′s are rare and expensive to fuel) and now I live in the Great White North, I’m going to treat myself to something different.
    This decision is not based on any MPG numbers, or even how much more expensive my insurance may be – it’s because I can.

    • 0 avatar
      Rada

      Big mistake. Enjoy watching 60-70 bucks pouring down the drain each week.

    • 0 avatar
      PeregrineFalcon

      Sinistermisterman: “This decision is not based on any MPG numbers, or even how much more expensive my insurance may be – it’s because I can.”

      Rada: “Big mistake. Enjoy watching 60-70 bucks pouring down the drain each week.”

      I’m pretty sure he said something about not basing his decision on MPG numbers.

      No, wait, he said *exactly* that.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Rada – it’s called a company fuel card. I don’t pay for my gas, and my company’s only limit is ’4 tanks a month’ – they never mentioned how big the tank should be… *Manic Grin*

  • avatar
    findude

    I have a 2005 Accord with the I-4 and 5-speed manual transmission. On the highway it is only a couple MPG better than the V6, but in town it is much better. Mine is a heavily optioned EX-L (tough combo to find), but even so it was substantially less expensive than the similarly equipped V6.

    If you keep your foot out of it and do a lot of in-town, stop-and-go driving, the 4-cylinder will be more economical to operate as well as cheaper to purchase up front.

  • avatar

    This is also why a four-cylinder turbo F150 (or Camaro, etc) would be bafflingly stupid powertrains to offer in their respective vehicles.

  • avatar
    silverkris

    It’s going to depend quite a bit in terms of the car model and what sort of driving one mostly does.

    The Accord Four, especially the 190 hp variant in the current model, is more than adequate in terms of acceleration, for daily driving and the usual commuting duties. The V6 is quieter and smoother, though, and maybe better if you got up a lot of hills and carry full loads more often. Tradeoff for the Six – somewhat higher fuel consumption (about 2 mpg more), higher initial purchase price, not to mention somewhat higher servicing costs and insurance.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    When buying each of two Audi A4s, I chose the I-4 as much to reduce weight way out front and get – so I hoped – somewhat better handling. I haven’t driven a V-6 any distance and don’t know how that worked out. But the cost savings and probably better mileage made it worthwhile. The 1.8T engine dwarfed the 1.4 engine in my first purchased car.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Isn’t a I4 going to be less efficient than a V6 in hotter climates? I know the MPG with my 4 cylinder goes waaaaaaay down when I drive with A/C on in summer months.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    When buying my new Accord sedan, the choice was simple: Honda sells a manual transmission only if it’s bolted to the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder.

    The V-6 is probably faster and nearly as efficient, but I row my own, so there was no choice to be made. As it is, the 4 is surprisngly fun to drive and agile, so I’m happy despite the speed potential that I left on the table.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Split the difference and go with a turbo 4 to get the best of both worlds: power, economy and a lighter car.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      Hm, my turbo 4, shifting conservatively in chicago traffic yields 16, maybe 17.

      Now that I do 80% highway driving, my subcompact can almost squeeze out 23mpg…..almost.

      I think gearing on my STi kills the gas mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      steeringwithmyknees

      not really. You do get the power, but it comes at a fuel cost – both in less MPG and in usually needing premium fuel. Also, a turbo equals more maintenance/reliability concerns. A turbo four is also less smooth and quiet than a 6.

  • avatar

    My “daily drivers” have always been 4-cylinder cars, and more often than not Diesels. As such I’m addicted to fuel efficiency and anything that gets less than 40 MPG is a major disappointment. The idea of feeding dollars into a V-6 seems bizarre to me.

    I do have a 6 cylinder car for entertainment purposes, but it’s cylinders stand proudly in a line and produce wonderful, perfectly balanced music, in 1,5,3,6,2,4 order. The way god intended six cylinders to sound.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      That engine makes a nice sound, and I’ve got one for my DD, but I gotta say, I like it better then the 6 cylinders are laid flat and opposite each other.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Last year our lease was up on our V6 Malibu Maxx. We purchased an Ecotec powered six speed Pontiac G6 hoping to get better fuel mileage. After 20000 miles, our mileage is slightly better than the Maxx, considering the cars are similarly sized. The G6 is slightly quicker, I think due to the six speed autobox. Additionally, the Ecotec should be slightly cheaper to service over the life of the car, but it was a cost a fair amount less than a V6 equipped G6.

    With the exception of some ‘do or die’ acceleration incidents, like merging on very busy freeways, I don’t think I would go back to the V6. The combination of Ecotec and six speed tranny is more than sufficient for the vast majority of our driving situations.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    The secret formula for buying a 4-lung sedan in North America, and being happy with the purchase is:

    1) Buy an airline ticket to South or Central America and rent a base 4-cylinder car for two weeks. Nissan Tsuru is a great starting point. So is a VW Fox or Fiat Uno. Drive it around everywhere. Go to trips along the hillsides and beaches and two lane roads shared with donkeys, tractors, 22-24wheeled trucks and army jeeps/tanks.

    2) Upon return, head out from your hometown airport DIRECTLY to the auto mall and test-drive a loaded 4-cylinder Camry/Accord/Mazda/Sonata. Turn the auto-climate on, put in the XM on a nice station, notice how useful the sat-nav is to find the nearest Starbucks.

    3) Do NOT drive a V6-equipped model after test-driving the 4-banger.

    4) After purchasing it, forget about the fact that a 275hp+ version of your car even exists. You don’t need it. Think about how easy it will be to change those spark-plugs the next decade, when your kid graduates university, if you are still alive.
    Buy a 600cc sport bike or a Motard with 1/2 the price difference for the V6 and still have enough money for your next vacation adventure on that Tsuru-Fox-Uno with manual crank windows and no AC and no power steering.

  • avatar
    jfranci3

    I rent cars weeekly. Most transmissions paired with v6s are VERY restrictive about letting you tap into the additional power. In many cases, the i4 car is actually more fun to drive as the power is more accessable. This in tandem with 6-speed or cvt transmissions and the trend of 2.5 liter 4cyl (over the old 2.0 std) has made modern 4cyl cars much more paletable. The exception to this might be the Ford Fusion 3.0 which works quite nicely with the auto. The run away best example of this is the v8 impalla,which makes it very difficult to use the additional power of v8.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    Sometimes the 4 cyl vs. V6 debate ends up being about something other than power and efficiency. For example if you want an Altima with ESC, you have to get the V6, it’s not offered on the 4 cyl

  • avatar

    The idea of an engine working harder is nonsensical – the power curve is what it is regardless of the number of pistons. It made some sense back in the malaise days when you could choose between a 70 hp four and a 125 hp 6 (or 8), and with three or four speed transmissions. It’s just not a factor the way it once was. There are many factors that contribute to overall efficiency, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many larger engines compete well against the base 4 cyl.

    Our expectations have changed as technology has advanced. Even the base engines are offering acceleration like a sports car of a couple generations ago. Very few people really “need” the bigger engines, but often they are a lot of fun to drive.

  • avatar
    relton

    My wife is looking at a new Mustang. Her decision is, “4.6 V8 or 5.0 V8″?

  • avatar
    carve

    Question: why would a small engine get worse mileage than a big one in certain applications because it’s working at a greater % of it’s max capacity? As long as it’s doing the same amount of work, and pumping the same amount of air, as a big engine, shouldn’t it get roughly the same mpg?

    Also, it seems like fewer, bigger cylinders might be better for mpg because a big cylinder would have less surface area per displacement than a small cylinder, reducing heat loss to the coolant.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Something called “Torque” also matters.

      A Honda has zero torque, so if you’re highway cruising, you need to turn high rpm to keep up with traffic. Honda’s simply don’t have the torque to turn a deep overdrive at 80-90 mph while keeping the revs under 3000.

      A larger BMW 6 or Subaru 6 engine makes considerably more grunt at low throttle and low rpm, so it can cruise much more comfortably.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    More than a little blame for the typical (North American) desire for “moar cylinders plox” needs to be laid at the feet of any manufacturer who stupidly ties options to a particular engine choice, especially those with no connection to the drivetrain (ie. leather seats, navigation)

    The dumbest one I have heard of was the Nissan Altima Coupe’s previous requirement to select the CVT in order to “unlock” the ability to buy the goddamned car in blue. No joke.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    Well until the HVAC systems from the Volt/Prius start to appear in ‘normal’ cars – I will choose a V6 over a I4 simply because it takes a lot less time to heat up in -20 C temperatures that are common for me in the winter.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand why the Kia six should do as well as the four. Any engine will be more efficient when pushed, all else equal. This is why hypermiling works by speeding up and slowing down and again and again. (And I’ve gotten 40mph in my ’99 Accord 5-speed by hypermiling between 60 and 70. With steady throttle at 65, I’d probably be getting 33.5-34ish.) Less air friction when wide open, I believe. Maybe someone explained why this is happening above. I didn’ thave time to read through all the commnts. Interesting post.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Knowing what I know about aerodynamics at different speeds, I suspect that the pulse and glide method really just lowers your average speed below 65mph instead actually averaging out to 65mph. Lower average speed = less drag. Consider that you are probably accelerating linearly to 70mph and decelerating at a decreasing exponential to 60mph instead of linearly up and down.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The difference between engines of different sizes seems to be attributable to two things: (1) how much fuel does the engine consume at idle and (2) pumping losses resulting from working against a vacuum at small throttle openings. A small displacement engine is going to consume less fuel at idle, assuming that idle rpm is the same. That’s the whole reason to use turbocharged, small displacement engines as opposed to equally powerful but larger displacement normally aspirated engines. The small, turbo’ed engine will use less fuel idling (important for city driving) and, with engine management software in charge, can be run at lower rpms and wider throttle openings (using some turbo boost). That’s the entire premise of the Ford “ecotec” line of engines. And, direct fuel injection into the cylinders (which has a cooling effect on the charge) allows the use of higher compression ratios and/or greater boost without fear of detonation, which equals greater efficiency.

    In the real world, this means that my 3400 lb., 250 hp. 2.2 liter turbo 4 Saab with a 5-speed auto gets better fuel mileage in town and on the highway than my 2700 BMW Z3 with a 220 hp normally aspirated 3 liter 6 cylinder and a 5 speed manual, same driver, same driving style. The BMW doesn’t seem to do better than about 27 mpg on the highway, where as the Saab will get 30 even with the a/c running and a pretty good load of stuff.

    Of course, the BMW 6 is smoother than the 4, up and down the rev range . . . but it’s also smoother than a lot of V-6s out there as well.

  • avatar

    The previous generation Audi S4 (one of the sport versions of the A4) used a 4.2 liter V8. The current iteration uses a supercharged V6. The next generation is scheduled to have a 4 cylinder with dual turbochargers. The V6 has roughly the same horsepower and torque as the V8, a flatter torque curve, and gets 18mpg in town and 25 on the road (which the V8 most DEFINITELY did not.)

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    I come from an engineering perspective, so I take whichever engine has better inherent balance, smoother power delivery, then reduced complexity. Boil it down, and I’m looking at F-6, I-6, F-4, and V-8 engines, preferring NA over FI. I’m not interested in the inherent compromises with other engines.

    If the choice is between a I-4 with a balance shaft versus a lumpy domestic V-6, I take the I-4.

    If the choice is between a I-6 or F-6 versus a I-4, I get the I-6 or F-6 for the inherent balance and smoother power.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    I usually buy some sort of mass-market family sedan (Accord, Passat, Mazda6, etc.)

    I’ve been alternating between I4 and V6 engines with each new car.
    If the I4 has been upgraded in some way (16 or 20-valve head; turbocharged), I want to give it a try.

    The bottom line is that I’ve always been completely satisfied with the V6 versions and only moderately satisfied with the I4 versions.

    Because of this personal prejudice, when I was buying my current car, a 2008 Honda Accord, I test drove only the V6 models and didn’t even try a 4-cylinder version. Another reason was Honda’s insistence on saving some equipment for V6 models only (HomeLink, foglights, and a few others).

    It’s entirely possible that I made a big mistake but, the mileage penalty (on paper) was slight and the J35 V6 felt great so I didn’t give the legendary K24 I4 a chance.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I look at it from a physics standpoint. In any particular car, it takes a certain amount of energy to move it from place to place, whether it is a huge engine or a small one is not the biggest factor in consumption.

    Now we know that is not quite true that all engines would be equal in any platform because the optional engine or the higher model sometimes weighs more, there could be gearing differences, smaller engines can have less rotational mass, drivetrains can be lighter duty etc. There are a lot of factors. Also the bigger motor gives you the option of wasting more gas because you can always choose to accelerate faster than the lesser model ever could which would would surely be less efficient.

    The more powerful motor is an option for more acceleration and gas consumption even though you might not drive that way most of the time. In that way the bigger motor usually isn’t far off from the lesser models in gas mileage. That is usually my justification anyways. But it depends greatly on how you drive.

    Ford has shown us that they can achieve the same economy adding ecoboost to the Taurus. The ecoboost buys the option for more power at the expense of economy.

  • avatar
    NickR

    ‘Honda sells a manual transmission only if it’s bolted to the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder.’

    Sadly, that’s also true of the Fusion. The good part is that having the manual adds back some of the fun you lose with less power.

  • avatar

    I’ll take the 6 cylinder for the infinitely better sound and smoothness compared to a 4 cylinder

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Havent V6s always been known as the most efficient engines in terms of the total power output? ok an I4 will definetly burn less fuel with no load, but have the two operate with the same load at the same speed with the same gearing ration, there is a specific load percentage (real life) at which the V6 will be the most efficient of the two. but perhaps the new TC and SC features on these tiny I4 will make a difference i presume

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Maximum fuel efficiency will never be achieved with an engine design using a single camshaft geared to the crankshaft. Varying the cam timing in response to rpm and load as some engines have is a start in the right direction, but until the intake and exhaust valve timing are separated, the job isn’t done.

    This would appear to mean double overhead variable camshafts or electronic valve lifters. Set aside the lifter solution for now even though some diesels use it.

    A DOHC inline 4 with the reliability of a brick is relatively straightforward to design and build. Not so with any V configuration. A case could be made for a large-bore V8 but the cost premium on a V6 would probably rule it out except for the most extreme needs.

    Keep your eye on the I-4 market: an I-4 having premium balance shafts, dual variable cams, 4 valves per cylinder, variable fuel injection, and optionally supercharged would possibly be the death knell for V6s.

  • avatar
    Joe_Gamer

    V6 or turbo 4, nothing else will satisfy.

  • avatar
    don1967

    For me the choice of engine boils down to how well it matches the vehicle’s size and character. There is little point in stuffing a V6 into a 3,000 pound FWD sedan, when a smooth-running 200hp 4-banger is available. All the V6 does is waste rubber, and make the vehicle handle like a shopping cart with one wheel seized.

    Conversely, there is little point in stuffing a 4-banger into a 4,400 pound crossover. You won’t save any fuel buzzing down the highway at 3,000 rpm, nor will you save any money at resale time.


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