Choosing the Best Cylinder Engine for Your Driving Needs


Every vehicle owner knows that their car has a heart, and that heart is the engine inside it. It’s often the topic of debate and discussion among driving enthusiasts. After all, your vehicle performance and fuel economy largely depend on the engine that you choose. Selecting the best cylinder engine for your driving needs can be complicated because there is a wide assortment of configurations.

An engine with a larger number of cylinders spends more fuel, produces more power, and often has more longevity. Fewer cylinders have better fuel economy but generally lower performance. A V4 is best for the lowest costs, while a V8 is best for raw power and towing capacity. A V6 is a good compromise option.

Choosing the best cylinder engine for your car depends on what you are trying to achieve when driving. The rest of the article will go into greater detail so that you can make an informed decision.

Choosing the Right Engine for You

Okay, so this is a bit complicated, so if you don’t understand a word I am saying in this section, don’t worry. I’ll break it down to the nuts and bolts. (See what I did there?)

Depending on your experience, you may or may not grasp this stuff immediately. I know it took me several years to understand a lot of this stuff. If you want to skip down the pros and cons section, that’s perfectly fine. I probably would. 🙂

The right engine for your vehicle depends on:

  • Your car type and how you use it
  • The preferred compression ratio
  • Your engine displacement and gear size
  • Any modification features.

It’s not as simple as adding cylinder heads to an existing engine. You have to look at the whole picture to make the right decision. First, let’s give a quick, straightforward definition of what we are talking about.

Cylinders are units of burned gasoline transformed into power.

The cylinder heads have to be suitable for your engine’s operating range and the different vehicle components that help running the engine. It’s like selecting the right piece for a complicated puzzle.

One of the most common misconceptions is that more cylinder heads will undoubtedly make the vehicle perform better due to higher intake. However, most drivers forget the exhaust it may cause. The prioritized intake airflow numbers often don’t provide the desired vehicle performance due to inadequate exhaust flow. You need to consider the design and size of the combustion chamber. The puzzle has to fit with other parts of your engine.

The manufacturers usually arrange the engine cylinders in a V-shape, vertical, or horizontal orientation.

  • The vertically oriented ones typically use four, five, or six cylinders
  • The V-shaped ones have six or more cylinders in their configuration.
  • The more expensive cars, such as Porsches, are the ones with flat engines and horizontal arrangement of cylinders and contain four to twelve cylinders.

Okay, I won’t get any more technical than this. If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of engines, I recommend this guide.

Pros and Cons of V4

The four-cylinder engine can be found in such motorbikes as Ducati Panigale V4 and such cars as Suzuki.

The V4 engine has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to driving.

It’s light

The four-cylinder engine is compact and lightweight. It is suitable for most engine bays and reduces the weight of a vehicle.

It’s cheapest

A V4 engine is cheaper to maintain and has a lower manufacturing cost. It is well balanced as it distributes power evenly equally good at low and high RPM. The engine works continuously and perfectly balances power, compression ratio, exhaust, and intake.

It’s best for most folks

If you need a small vehicle for local driving, such as a daily commute to work, then a 4-cylinder engine is the ideal choice. You get fuel and maintenance economy with a well-balanced drive.

Not ideal if you need to tow or haul heavy loads

On the downside, V4 is not suitable for most large trucks, sedans, and SUVs as it has a limited towing capacity and cannot carry heavy loads. You’ll be better off with a bigger engine if you have a large vehicle.

However, most cars with four-cylinder engines have the option of upgrading to a 6-cylinder one. This way, drivers can add more power to current engines in small vehicles.

Pros and Cons of V6

As mentioned above, a V6 engine is more relevant to use for larger vehicles such as full-size SUVs.

A nicely balanced option

Most V6 engines will provide more attitude, extra horsepower, and torque, making the drive more enjoyable. There is also the added versatility that you can haul, usually in the neighborhood of about 7,000 pounds.

This means you could haul many boats and even small to mid-sized campers. Assuming your vehicle is heavy enough, another factor to consider. The good news is that auto manufacturers will list the weight allowances.

If you have a big family or travel long distances with medium loads, V6 is an obvious choice.

Worse gas mileage, but not by much

Of course, the engines weigh more and provide less fuel economy, but they produce more power for such heavy cars. However, with new modern technologies, some of the V6 engines can provide as much fuel economy as V4, while some 4-cylinder engines can produce as much power as V6 engines.

But besides a few more trips to the gas station, the maintenance cost will be higher overall.

Longevity is not (usually) an issue

Of course, this will vary across different engines and vehicle types, but the myth that V4 motors last longer than V6 is a myth. Just keep in mind that if you are hauling heavy loads, that will put a strain on and likely shorten the life of the engine.

Pros and Cons of V8

You can often upgrade a standard V6 to an 8-cylinder as an option.

V8 engines have a rigid design and allow high displacement. They are great for large vehicles such as Land Cruiser SUVs, as they can pull up to 10,000 pounds. If you need to transport trailers or big boats, the eight-cylinder engine is the perfect solution.

Expensive to own

The disadvantages of the V8 engine include the high weight, complexity, and cost of components. These engines are thirsty for gas and aren’t the best options for daily driving in the local area. You will spend a lot of money on fuel and maintenance.

So unless you absolutely need the extra power, almost everyone would benefit from choosing a smaller cylinder size.

What Lasts Longer: 4 or 6 or 8 Cylinders?

We already touched on this, but let’s go into a bit more detail.

I hate to do this to you, but there are so many factors here that it really is one of those “it depends” answers. But don’t worry, I’ll stick to actionable info.

Mix and match carefully

As you know, a higher number of cylinders will provide more torque and power. In a heavy vehicle, having a smaller engine displacement will put more load on the engine. It will take more force to move the car, and, as a result, the engine components will wear and tear faster.

However, that concerns only really large vehicles. Having a V4 or a V6 in a mid-sized car won’t make a big difference on engine life.

If you go for the 4 cylinder option (downgrade?) on a small SUV, you may be trading for lower monthly costs and a shorter vehicle lifespan. Of course, if you don’t plan to keep a vehicle until it dies (like I do), then this may not be a big issue for you.

Simpler vs. more “complicated”

Engines with more cylinders are more complex and have more components. These components add extra weight to your vehicle, and they continuously move and rotate. Therefore, by default, there is a higher possibility of parts breaking in the more complicated and higher number of cylinders engine. While V6 and V8 engines are more durable in large vehicles, they will require more maintenance and repair time.

I’m not going to scare you out of larger engines here. I just want you to be well aware of the potentially substantially higher maintenance costs.

When I downsized from a Tahoe to a Corolla back when gas prices spiked in 2008, I was shocked at how much money I saved over the next year(s). No joke, I have saved about $3,000 per year in vehicle costs on average.

I still own the Corolla.. you do the math… I’ve saved about 2.5 Corollas so far.

My-Silver-Toyota-Corolla
Old Bessie

But which engines last the longest?

Generally, the larger engines, such as V8 cylinder ones, will last longer because they can withstand long-distance travel, oversized loads, and mountainous roads.

However, every vehicle engine needs maintenance and efficient components. If you are ready to give it the required money and time, then the larger cylinder engines will serve you for a longer time. It’ll just cost you a lot more for that long life. Of course, my Corolla has 450,000 miles and is on the original engine still. So, four-cylinder motors can last a long time as well.

Bottom Line

Still on the fence about what type of vehicle and engine to get? I recommend writing down all of your needs and making sure your choice fits everything you ever want to do with the vehicle.

  • If you only need something for a daily commute, don’t need to haul anything heavier than your friend Bubba, and want to have the lowest costs possible, go with a V4 in a compact car.
  • If you may occasionally want the flexibility to be able to move some furniture (or whatever) around sometimes, go with a V4 in a small pickup or small SUV.
  • If you want to be able to haul a small RV or boat on the weekends, choose a V6 in a small to mid-sized pickup, SUV, or even a mid-sized sedan (if it’s a popup camper).
  • If you own a large camper or boat, get a medium to large pickup with a V8. Even if you could technically pull what you own with a V6, you might be hating life if you try going up and down mountains or get hit with hefty repair bills due to overstraining the smaller engine.

Of course, don’t forget to pick something you really enjoy driving. Do lots of test drives!

And, ask your loved ones their opinion. They may think of something you didn’t, or that wasn’t included in this article. This is an important decision; make sure you sleep on it. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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