4-Cylinder vs. 6-Cylinder Engines: What's the Difference, and Which Is Better?

The differences between 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines aren’t extensive, but they could still affect a choice between the two. Which one is right for you?
Written by Katie Dyer
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Are you looking into
buying a car
and the numbers and engine specifications are swimming in front of your eyes? Horsepower, torque, cylinders—what does it all mean? What are the differences between engines, and more importantly, which type should you buy? 
The answer may depend on whether you need more power and towing capacity, or are more concerned with fuel efficiency.
, your favorite car insurance
super app
, explains all you need to know when comparing 4- and 6-cylinder engines.

How does a combustion engine work?

To start at the beginning, it may help to know how a combustion engine works. 
It all starts with a fuel pump, which pumps gas to the fuel injectors. Next, the fuel injectors inject gas into a cylinder. Spark plugs attached to the cylinder head ignite a spark in the combustion chamber which moves the piston inside the cylinder. The piston then powers the crankshaft which converts the movement of the pistons into engine power. 
This means that, for a 4-cylinder engine, there are four fuel injectors, four cylinders, four spark plugs, and four pistons, and for a 6-cylinder engine, there are six of each of these components. Usually, more cylinders equate to more engine power. 

Fuel economy: 4-cylinder vs. 6-cylinder

It stands to reason that with more engine power, there may be a decrease in fuel economy, and that is usually the case. Four-cylinder engines tend to have lower horsepower, which means they typically have a better fuel economy. 
Four-cylinder engines are also smaller, which means they weigh less, further boosting fuel economy due to a lighter overall vehicle weight. On the other hand, larger 6-cylinder engines can crank out more horsepower, usually decreasing fuel economy but boosting performance and towing capacity. 

What about turbocharging? 

A turbocharged engine uses wasted exhaust gas to force more air into the cylinders. This gives the engine more power using the same engine footprint. It also increases torque and decreases engine noise. 
So, a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine can have close to the same amount of power as a 6-cylinder engine, but in a more fuel-efficient package, depending on how much the driver is using the throttle. If the gas pedal is constantly mashed down, turbocharged engines will be less fuel efficient, but if driven in a more measured manner, the fuel efficiency will increase.

Which is better: 4-cylinder vs. 6-cylinder

So, which type of engine is better?
Cascade Collision
explains that it depends on what you need. If you want a smaller, fuel-efficient car, then you may want to choose a 4-cylinder vehicle. However, if you need to haul lots of people and gear, thereby needing towing capability and more engine power, then you may be in the market for a vehicle with a 6-cylinder engine.
If you want a powerful, high-performing engine, try test driving both a turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 6-cylinder to see which one will best meet your needs. If neither of those options provides enough power, you might consider a turbocharged 6-cylinder. 
One more thing to keep in mind in your car search is that the newer 4-cylinder engines of today can outperform the older 6-cylinder engines in terms of power and fuel economy. That brings us back to our original question. Which engine is better? As with most things, there is no correct answer. It all depends! 

Insurance for your vehicle

This may all seem rather complicated, but
is here to help simplify your car insurance needs, no matter how many cylinders are in your car engine. Download the Jerry app, which will ask you a few short questions and then provide quotes from over 50 big-name insurance providers. You can see how much money you could save, and Jerry will even help you cancel your old policy right through the app. Now that’s service without any complication!
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