V6 vs. Four-Cylinder: Worth the Upgrade?

BMW 3 Series
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Small and Fuel-Efficient or Big and Powerful?

Six-cylinders good. Four-cylinders bad? Not necessarily. Engines have evolved nearly as fast as the vehicles they’re in, making the line between which size is best blurry. Add in turbocharging, fuel economy concerns, and light weighting to make the line blurrier.

In this age of power, it’s not the case that one engine’s cylinder configuration is drastically better than others. Rather, buyers must be aware of all the factors that go into making an engine more powerful to determine which configuration is right for them.

Let’s start with the basics. Four- and six-cylinder engines are the most common passenger vehicle engines in the world. Usually, four-cylinder engines have a displacement under three liters while six-cylinder engines displace over three liters.

Four-cylinder engines come in a variety of configurations but an inline four-cylinder engine is the most popular. Inline refers to the fact that the engine’s four cylinders are lined up side by side in a straight line. When looking at car specs, you will often see this type of engine listed as I-4 or L-4.

A six-cylinder engine can come in a variety of configurations including a V6 where there are six cylinders lined up in the shape of a V, a flat six where there are two rows of three cylinders side by side, and a straight-six where the cylinders are lined up in a single row. The most common type of six-cylinder engine in passenger vehicles is a V6.

Turbochargers are frequently added to engines. They can help engines have improved fuel economy, reduced emissions, more torque, and a larger power output. When turbochargers are added to engines, frequently the displacement of the engine can be made smaller and it will still have as much power as a larger engine that does not have a turbocharger.

Is it worth the upgrade? In some models, upgrading from the base four-cylinder engine may be worth the extra money. In other models, the decrease in fuel economy and big jump in price may make it not worth getting the bigger engine. 

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