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4-Cylinder VS. V6: A Look at the Differences for Students in Automotive Training

Published on January 23, 2020 by in Blog, CATI

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Whether you’re interested in an automotive career, are on the market for a new vehicle, or simply want to learn more about how cars operate, understanding the difference between a 4-cylinder and V6 engine is a foundational concept that all car lovers should know.

However, recent developments in the automotive industry have changed the abilities of these engines, as well as their public perception, requiring everyone from car experts to the average consumer to stay on their toes. Read on to learn about how these engines work, how they’ve changed, and more.

Automotive Training 101: How Do Engine Cylinders Work?

Within a car’s engine is a cylinder, and inside that is a piston which helps turn a crankshaft, thereby powering a car’s engine. The power an engine generates is influenced by the number of cylinders it has and how they’re arranged.

4-cylinder engines typically come in ‘straight’ or ‘inline’ form, meaning that the cylinders are configured side by side. In car specs, the inline 4-cylinder engine is usually listed as l-4 or L-4.

Those with 6 cylinders, in contrast, are usually arranged in a V shape – which is why they are most commonly called V6 engines. But they can also come in ‘flat 6’ form, with two rows of three cylinders, and a ‘straight six’ configuration where the cylinders form a straight line.

Notice the distinctive 'V' shape of the 6-cylinder engine

Notice the distinctive ‘V’ shape of the 6-cylinder engine

How Do 4-Cylinder and V6 Engines Differ?

The differing configurations of these two engines means that each is more suited to certain types of cars. You’ll commonly find a 4-cylinder engine in more compact cars such as the Mazda 3 or the Ford Focus ST, while race cars, sportscars, and trucks tend to have V6 engines. That’s because the 4-Cylinder engine tends to be small and efficient, whereas the V6 is large and powerful.

As a result, vehicles with V6 engines tend to be more expensive than those with 4 cylinders. Since V6 engines require more energy, the vehicles they’re in also tend to be less fuel-efficient.

4-Cylinder and V6 engines each have their pros and cons

4-Cylinder and V6 engines each have their pros and cons

Generally speaking, more pistons equals more cylinders, which equals more engine power. But as you’ll learn in auto mechanic training, that equation has started to change in recent years.

The Rise of the 4-Cylinder Engine

While many American automotive experts used to praise V6 engines and turn up their noses at those with 4 cylinders, this perception has changed significantly since the 1980s and ‘90s, when Japanese automakers began to create highly efficient 4-cylinder engines that appealed greatly to the average car buyer. As a result, the popularity of Japanese cars such as the Toyota Camry skyrocketed across North America.

Nowadays, recent updates in the automotive industry have further increased the attractiveness of the 4-cylinder engine compared to the V6. Today’s 4-cylinder engines use lighter material, making them more efficient.

In addition, advanced aerodynamic and turbocharging technology has improved 4-cylinder engine performance. As a result, students in automotive training may find it notable that even luxury car brands known for their V6 engines have created models with less cylinders, such as the 718 Porsche Boxter GTS and the 718 Cayman GTS.

Factors such as better fuel economy, decreased carbon emissions, and cheaper prices have also caused the 4-cylinder engine to grow in popularity. However, it’s important to note that despite these innovations, large vehicles still require more cylinders in order to function, which often makes a V6 a must.

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