• May 21, 2010
Along with eight-cylinder engines and manual transmissions, six-cylinder motors appear to be on the outs, relatively speaking. In the first quarter of this year, USA Today notes that four-cylinder lumps made up 46.5 percent of new car sales, almost a five percent jump over the same period last year.

This movement to fewer cylinders is likely to continue, as more and more mainstream models like the Hyundai Sonata, Suzuki Kizashi and Buick Regal are only being offered with four-cylinder powerplants. That's partially because modern technologies, including direct injection and forced induction, have closed the power deficit, and partly because automakers' need to raise their CAFE figures and play to growing consumer appetites for better fuel economy.

The trend has caused J.D. Power to raise its four-cylinder sales prediction for 2012 from 48 percent to 51 percent. If that ends up being the case, that will leave 35 percent for six-cylinder cars, and just 17 percent for V8s.

[Source: USA Today]


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  • 71 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      The sound of progress.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I was originally online to go on the Auto Shipping Network site but of course I'm now on a blog. I totally agree, today's 4-cylinders are definitly better than those before.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Just stopped by to do a little spamming?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've owned two eights and a six, but there are few fours I could ever see myself owning, and they're all out of production. Integra GS-R/Type R, S2000, Prelude, etc. While fours may be gaining ground on power, they can't touch the refinement of a good six. Automakers who drop sixes seem to miss that point. Instead of forcing out sixes in the market, why not focus on making them more efficient and the cars lighter? Our '03 Accord EX V6 averages 24 mpg city and well over 30 highway with a six. Are fours *that* much better?

      Power is one thing. Sound and feel is another entirely.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Exactly! See my comment above.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Unfortunately, 'sound and feel' aren't given much consideration by CAFE requirements.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't disagree, but sound is a luxury, so it's good for the lower end part of the market that 4-cylinders are no longer a performance penalty. I like the fact that I can safely accelerate my compact car to highway speeds (with power to spare, really), which was not the case 20 years ago.

        You are welcome to keep buying a 6-cylinder engine, but you will have to pay the CAFE penalty for that luxury.
        • 4 Years Ago
        What engineers would do with unlimited funds isn't useful info. They'd have a 21,000rpm 2.0L V8 that you had to rebuild every 90 minutes (like in F1).

        If you're talking about actual balance, a 4-banger is more balanced than a V6. A V6 may be smoother though, if it's a 60 degree V6.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm not saying 4-cylinder engines aren't better than they used to be, and they MAY be the best configuration-- not sure. But I don't like how they feel, and I understand it's because they're inherently unbalanced. Something about 4 strokes/4 cylinders, you can even it out but you can't balance it without an added spinning mass to counterbalance the cylinders-- which adds inertia and friction.

        So what I haven't seen clarified is whether the 4-cylinder configuration is simply, inherently, more efficient at making power from fuel.

        Smaller displacement engines use less fuel, yes. And smaller engines using less fuel keep getting better at making power, so today's smaller displacement engines are much more powerful than yesterday's. Engines with fewer parts are cheaper to build-- got it.

        But the question is this: are I-6 or V8 or V10 engines inherently less efficient at producing useful power compared to their fuel consumption? If you gave some engineers a limit of 2.0 liters of displacement but did not limit the cost of building the engine, what cylinder configuration would they choose to maximize power versus fuel consumption?

        Engineers out there? Please weigh in!
        • 4 Years Ago
        A good 6 will turn well over 30 mpg on the highway, with the power and torque to keep the revs down via deep overdrive.

        For reference, a 1991 SVX with an EG33 flat-6 will make 30 mpg at 75mph, turning 2500 rpm. A lot of newer cars don't do so well.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Today's 4-cylinders are far different (i.e. better) than those of years ago and will continue to be offered in models that once would have only had 6s or even 8s.

      Engineering and technology improvements have made 4-bangers much more viable in a broader market.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I guess V8's will only remain in high performance cars.
      • 4 Years Ago
      V8's are overrated
        • 4 Years Ago
        crossplane crank, not flat plane crank.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Add the current state of most everyone's financial situation, the DOW's heart stopping fluctuations and the concern of $4 a gallon gas again, it's a given.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a 6Cyl van a newer 4Cyl wagon that weights more than the van. The 4 Cyl performs the same as the 8 year old 6 and is much better on gas. The new 6 speed autosmatic helps significantly though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Indeed, many of the 'antiquated' V6s of the 1990s were teamed with three and four-speed transmissions with relatively wide gearing. Not to imply those engines would again become relevant with newer transmissions, but the greater flexibility afforded by additional gears is a contributing factor to the upward shift of small engine performance. Some of newer fours are 'peakier' than their V6 forebearers, yet perform similarly, if not superiorly because they're no longer having to commit to powerband-averting overdrive in third. It also helps when some, like virtually any VAG turbo four, offer peak torque only a few hundred rpm north of idle. . .
      • 4 Years Ago
      4-bangers are about the only non-hybrid way to meet EPA regs. And thanks to the idiots who are allowing states to make their own rules (violating Federal commerce laws), it will only get worse in that aspect.
        • 4 Years Ago
        CARB's existence is written into Federal law. Also, the current fuel economy requirements from the Feds are tighter than the proposed CARB standards (CO2 standards).
      • 4 Years Ago
      I hate the sound and overall feel of driving a 4-cylinder engine.

      Does anyone here know: are more cylinders inherently more or less efficient?

      I love the sound, vibration, and overall feel of inline 6s and V8s and I've always been intrigued by small-displacement versions. Ferrari used to make very small V8s for their domestic market for instance. I understand a 4 is less expensive to build than an engine with more complexity, but given similar displacement, would it be more or less efficient?

      Imagine a Mini with a tiny V8... how cool would that be?
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think you should drive a built NA honda. 4 bangers in a small, light chassis= driving excellence on some backroads.
        • 4 Years Ago
        An unbalanced engine like an inline four or 90 degree V6 requires a balance shaft, the spinning of which wastes some power. How much? I have no idea.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm not going to claim to be an engineer or anything, but it also seems to me that cramming more cylinders into a smaller space means increased stress on small parts, which leads to the likelihood of engine problems.
        • 4 Years Ago
        bssplayr, it MAY be exactly the opposite of what you speculate-- the smaller masses are less likely to get out of control when spinning at a high rate. Not sure of that!

        I'm definitely not an engineer either, but I think we need one or two to weigh in here-- please!

        The question is this: are I-6 or V8 or V10 engines inherently less efficient at producing useful power compared to their fuel consumption?

        It's pretty clear I-6s and V8s are inherently more smooth and balanced because of the way the firing order can work and the way the rotating masses counterbalance each other. They are more pleasing and refined. And it seems reasonable that engines having more parts would be more expensive to build-- got it.

        But are they more, or less, efficient at producing power from fuel?
      Tim
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just got a 6 cylinder altima coupe......I kinda wish I got the 4....also 270 HP is too much for FWD

      It's crappy on gas and rough on tires/alignment....

      The speed and handling are fun though....
        Tim
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Tim
        Yup...my Driver Improvement Class is scheduled for next week....
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Tim
        Yea, one of my pet peeves is that there's generally a huge gap in performance between the base model 4 and optional 6-cylinder engines available. You can either have a 4-cylinder with ~180hp and decent gas mileage, or a 270hp V6 with crappy gas mileage. I think the sweet spot would really be a lower displacement V6 at about 220hp, or a boosted 4 in that range. Anything more than that and I'm just going to get traffic tickets.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The number of cylinders alone does not dictate (fuel) efficiency. Most of the time, however, 4-cylinder engines (whether boosted or not) are smaller displacement than 6s or 8s. And, in general, smaller displacement engines are more fuel efficient.

      New technologies (COP ignition, DI fuel delivery, lighter alloys with lower friction coatings, improved CAD/CAM modeling for combustion simulation (head/valve design) have certainly gotten power outputs from 4 cylinders that would have been unbelievable, even for race engines, just 10-15 years ago.

      The discussion of "smoothness" seems similar to arguments I have heard that a "heavy car holds the road better".

      I can drive my boosted 1.6 engine and shift at 2-3000 rpm and it feels plenty "calm and smooth".

      Most drivers will not push an engine much beyond the mid-range of the tach (where ever the torque peaks) so for most drivers, it really doesn't matter if there are 4-6-8-2-or pi cylinders under the hood... The perceived power (away from a light, merging, going uphill with passengers) is good and the fuel economy is better with 4 cylinders, so that is selling well. 4-cylinders are usually a bit smaller, so designers/engineers have more packaging leeway, which means more options for styling and meeting new crash regs. They also tend to be less expensive, not just to produce but at retail - and lower costs (upfront and long-term operating) are a definite selling feature in this economy.

      Remember that survey (reported on AB a while back) that found most drivers don't know whether or not they have FWD or RWD? If most people can't tell whether the car is being pushed or pulled (or both, for AWD) they certainly aren't going to notice 4 or 6!
        • 4 Years Ago
        John H:
        People seem to pay a lot for flat-crank V8s even though they are as rough as 4-bangers.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Very nice write-up.

        Like I posted above, this is all transparent to the driver.

        Getting good power out of a 4 is much less of a problem than changing people's perceptions of what a 4 can or can not do. My dad know absolutely NOTHING about cars and yet the first thing he'll ask about this car or that is if it has a 6. Honestly, he doesn't know what that "6" even means or what it represents, but he just "knows" that a 6 is a good engine. He might be an extreme case of automotive ignorance, but the average driver isn't much more knowledgeable.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "smoothness" is a legitimate knock against 4-bangers.

        A 4-cylinder 4-stroke engine is going to have dead spots in power delivery with every single cycle. That is a given. You also have inherent second-order vibration that requires a countershaft for balance. So at best, you have inherent power delivery issues that can never be compensated for.

        A 6-cylinder 4-stroke engine will have sufficient overlap so you won't have those dead spots. That is also a given. In boxer and straight form, these engines also have inherent perfect primary and secondary balance, along with even firing - the very definition of smooth running. The newer 60-degree Vs have even firing and primary balance, so the balancing isn't so bad.

        "Smoothness" is real. A modern 60-degree V-6 is inherently smoother than a I-4, but not as good as an I-6 or boxer 6.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Honestly, he doesn't know what that "6" even means or what it represents, but he just "knows" that a 6 is a good engine. He might be an extreme case of automotive ignorance, but the average driver isn't much more knowledgeable."

        I submit my neighbor's son as the extreme. He grenaded two engines in his Sunfire on account of failing to change the oil in a timely manner, then supplanted the husk with a last-generation Saab 9-3 SE convertible under the belief that it is a low-maintenance car. . .

        A year later, the car proved such a money pit that he was considering taking a loss just to be rid of it. He ultimately chose to keep it, but it's apparent that he aims to drive it until the wheels fall off. Some cars will tolerate that kind of use. A turbocharged, electronics-intensive, near-luxury convertible isn't one of them. He should've bought another engine for the Sunfire. . .
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