How do 4-Cylinder and V6 Engines Differ?

Sun Devil Auto Expert, published on 07/13/2016

Your cylinders are critical elements of your engine’s ability to convert raw fuel into power, which it does through tiny, controlled explosions. An average small to medium sedan or coupe typically requires a minimum of four cylinders to operate while much larger vehicles such as semi-trucks may require up to 12. Many car models are offered in both four- and six-cylinder options. In general, the more cylinders an engine possesses, the faster power can be generated. This often comes at a tradeoff in fuel efficiency. More power requires more fuel, which means you will end up paying significantly more for gas over the lifetime of your vehicle.

Cost

In the same model vehicle, you will be paying a greater price at the dealership for a V6 over a four-cylinder engine, which will give you more power with less fuel efficiency. With a V6, you find yourself frequenting the gas station more regularly, and you may also end up with higher insurance premiums. If economy is your top priority, a four-cylinder is likely the best choice for you.

Performance

A V6 engine will be able to produce a greater amount of power at a quicker pace and will be much more responsive to each tap of the gas pedal, able to quickly accelerate to high speeds. Larger, heavier vehicles such as SUVs and trucks may require the power of a V6 to operate while smaller compact cars will often offer both varieties.

Improved Engine Design

With recent improvements in engine technology, 4-cylinder engines have become increasingly powerful while V6 engines are more fuel efficient than ever, significantly narrowing the gap between four- and six-cylinder vehicles. A well-functioning 1991 V6 engine is likely to be outperformed by a four-cylinder model today. Number of cylinders is one of many factors that determine power and fuel efficiency, but not the only factor. 

How many cylinders you choose to invest in is largely a matter of your values. A four-cylinder economy engine makes more sense for a mainstream vehicle brand than it does for a luxury sports car. If that feeling of raw power--that earth shaking vroom of the engine beneath you is what you want, a V6 may be a worthwhile investment. A V6 may also be a more practical choice if you are frequently driving steep hills or unpaved or icy roads, where more difficult driving terrains may place a greater demand on your engine. Understanding the difference will help you make the best informed choice in selecting the right vehicle to fit your needs.