Researching an engine before you buy a new car is one of the keys to being happy with the vehicle you bring home. Even two motors that, on paper, produce the same amount of power can deliver very different driving experiences, which means you should prepare yourself to understand the various differences between drivetrains before handing over your hard-earned cash.
Let’s take a look at the most popular choices out there and summarize what they have to offer.
All of your engine research will tell you one thing: V8s offer the best blend of low-end torque and smooth power delivery as compared to any other design on the market. They also offer one of the best soundtracks, with a deep rumble that is unmistakable. Eight-cylinder engines are often found in task-focused vehicles like trucks, high-performance cars, and larger sedans and full-size SUVs where torque is king. The downside to all the big power fun? They are among the least efficient designs due to their typically large displacement.
V6s have taken over as the go-to workhorses of the sedan and SUV segment. It’s tempting to think of them as being similar to V8s, but with more peaky power bands and not quite the same level of torque. Many car companies have switched to supercharged V6 engines to replace V8s in recent years, as the six-cylinder designs drink less fuel while still offering the excellent throttle response and power production associated with a supercharger. A number of European manufacturers, such as BMW, employ inline six-cylinder motors, which are frequently turbocharged and are better balanced than the V engine designs.
With efficiency concerns paramount in the industry, engine research will no doubt point you towards 4-cylinders as being the most frugal at the fuel pump. Small displacement 4-cylinder motors are making big power these days, too, thanks to the use of turbochargers to squeeze as much air into them as possible. Turbocharged engines can match V6 offerings in terms of torque, and often outperform naturally aspirated options in daily driving thanks to their ability to shift output to the low part of the rev range. Performance fans enjoy turbo fours too because they can be tuned to produce high RPM power that can be addictive on a race track.
Keep these differences in mind as you pick out the engine that best suits your needs.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.