How Car Engines Work

How Are 4-cylinder and V6 Engines Different?

Ford Fusion engine Ford Fusion engine
The 2017 Fusion V6 Sport comes standard with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine with 380 lb.-ft. torque and 325 hp. Ford

The number of cylinders that an engine contains is an important factor in the overall performance of the engine. Each cylinder contains a piston that pumps inside of it and those pistons connect to and turn the crankshaft. The more pistons there are pumping, the more combustive events are taking place during any given moment. That means that more power can be generated in less time.

Four-cylinder engines commonly come in "straight" or "inline" configurations while 6-cylinder engines are usually configured in the more compact "V" shape, and thus are referred to as V6 engines. V6 engines were the engine of choice for American automakers because they're powerful and quiet, but turbocharging technologies have made four-cylinder engines more powerful and attractive to buyers.

Historically, American auto consumers turned their noses up at four-cylinder engines, believing them to be slow, weak, unbalanced and short on acceleration. However, when Japanese auto makers, such as Honda and Toyota, began installing highly efficient four-cylinder engines in their cars in the 1980s and '90s, Americans found a new appreciation for the compact engine. Japanese models, such as the Toyota Camry, began quickly outselling comparable American models

Modern four-cylinder engines use lighter materials and turbocharging technology, like Ford's EcoBoost engine, to eke V-6 performance from more efficient four-cylinder engines. Advanced aerodynamics and technologies, such as those used by Mazda in its SKYACTIV designs, put less stress on these smaller turbocharged engines, further increasing their efficiency and performance.

As for the future of the V6, in recent years the disparity between four-cylinder and V6 engines has lessened considerably. But V-6 engines still have their uses, and not only in performance cars. Trucks that are used to tow trailers or haul loads need the power of a V-6 to get those jobs done. Power in those cases is more important than efficiency.

Last editorial update on Aug 16, 2018 04:15:43 pm.

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More Great Links


  • Associated Press. "Consumers Moving to 4-Cylinder Engines Amid High Gas Prices." July 10, 2007.,2933,288644,00.html
  • Collins, Dan. "How Do Car Engines Work?"
  • Ofria, Charles. "A Short Course on Automobile Engines."