Ask The Best And Brightest: Whither The Six Cylinder?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
ask the best and brightest whither the six cylinder

Detroit’s auto critics are a funny bunch. For decades they’ve been mocking the idea that Americans could ever love Europe’s small, underpowered, overpriced cars, as Detroit gorged itself on SUV profits. Now that Ford and GM have announced they’re bringing small cars like the Fiesta and Spark to the US, you’re starting to see the pendulum swing twice as hard in the opposite direction. “Yes, there will be a couple of mega-powerful V-8 asphalt eaters at the Detroit show, including the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and the 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0,” writes Scott Burgess in a Detroit News piece entitled “ V-6 engines begin long fade into history.” “But, it turns out, destiny has determined that the meek four-banger will inherit the earth.” Burgess’s theory follows Ford’s Ecoboost playbook fairly closely: thanks to direct injection and turbocharging, smaller engines can produce more power. And when you consider that electric hybrids can restore some of the lost poke of a large-displacement engine, the prediction seems all the more likely. Eventually. But just because the new Sonata and Regal aren’t being offered with a V6, doesn’t mean the six-banger is ready for automotive Valhalla just yet. Even Burgess admits that “it may take 10 years or even more.” When do you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest, reckon the six-cylinder option on cars like the Camry, Altima or Impala will fall by the wayside? When will we see the death of the six-cylinder popular sportscar alá the Nissan Z?

Oh, and Burgess? Can we please stop calling all six-cylinder engines “V-6” now? It confuses the civilians, and everyone’s sick of correcting people when they say their car has a “V-4” even though it’s clearly not a classic Ford Taunus (etc).

Thanks, The Management

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  • Ronman Ronman on Jan 11, 2010

    Turbocharged D.F.I V6s are the New V8s... but a Turbo+Supercharged I4 with DFI, VVT, should be what all manufacturers aim at in the near internal combustive future.

  • Bruce from DC Bruce from DC on Jan 11, 2010

    Having owned a 250-hp turbo'ed 4 (in a Saab) for 8 years, I can certainly say that, in transverse-mounted FWD applications, a 4 will get the job done for any reasonably-sized car. And the auto tranny in the Saab coupled with the engine management software means that about 85% of the time, you don't catch the turbo napping. In fact, when we shopped that car in '02, we test-drove the light-pressure turbo 200 hp 3-liter V-6, which drove inferior to the base model 185 hp turbo 4. That said, the Saab engine (which has a balance shaft) is pretty rough and gruff over 5,000 rpm. The fact is, however, that you never spend any time in that rpm range with that engine, and even at supra-legal (but sane) US highway cruising speeds, engine rpms are less than 2500, and abundant torque is available very quickly. I was fortunate enough to own for 10 years a car with the best V-6 ever, the 3 liter Yamaha SHO engine. The SHO was rated at less output than the Saab 4 and loved (needed) to rev. To be sure, it was smoother than the Saab 4, but the need to spool up to hit the power and torque, somewhat negated that advantage. In a RWD car, I don't see much of an argument for a V-6. The 3-liter BMW I-6 (which I now own in a Z3) is leagues ahead of either engine in smoothness and power delivery. Obviously, a transverse-mounted 3 liter I-6 has packaging problems. I think FWD (and AWD) has been greatly oversold, for mid-size and larger cars. And, as others have pointed out (and the Saab demonstrates vigorously, the SHO less so) torque steer is a significant issue with high power FWD applications (which is why Audi developed the "Quattro" AWD system in the first place. With traction and stability control systems being ubiquitous, the "advantages" of FWD in low-traction situations fade. So, I could imagine a future with 4-cylinder engines for FWD applications (with some sort of forced induction) and I-6 engines for RWD applications, with or without forced induction. As BWM's 300 hp, 3 liter twin-turbo'ed 6 demonstrates, it seems to me that the big V-8 is more questionable, except in supercars. In the historical curiousity department, recall that Porsche developed a 3-liter 4 cylinder engine for the RWD 944 car, later adding a multivalve head and ultimately a turbo, IIRC. That engine had a balance shaft. Never drove that car, but don't recall complaints about significant roughness, etc.

  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.
  • Morley Wasn't that the war where the Brits came down from Canada and burned the White House to the ground?
  • Master Baiter I'll wait for the actual driving reviews. User interface quality and range are big question marks.
  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.