The car engine is the heart of your vehicle. It seems to be the element car-lovers are most passionate about. You often hear gear heads brag about the incredible new engine they’ve installed. They speak so enthusiastically that you’re inspired to upgrade your engine as well. But hold up! Before you go about swapping your inline four for a straight-six, you better be sure that the new engine would actually suit your vehicle and lifestyle.
After all, equipping a vehicle with the finest engine may not be your top priority. If you consider safety and cabin space to be more important, then you may have to forgo some engine power. Needless to say, every driver has different preferences and values.
In the following guide, you’ll learn about different engine types, the role engines play in your everyday commutes and how you can choose the right heart for your vehicle.
Common Engine Types
The most common engine around, the four-cylinder inline-four is compact, which means that it can fit into almost any engine bay. Its anatomy is relatively simple – there is one cylinder bank, one cylinder head, one valve train and only one exhaust manifold.
Four-cylinder inline-four has a low manufacturing cost and has a balanced primary force because of the way the four pistons move up and down (the two outer pistons outside move in the opposite direction of the two inner pistons). On the downside, the secondary forces of the engine is not balanced, which limits the size of the engine to somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 litres. Generally, this engine is built for front-wheel-drive cars.
Horizontally-Opposed (Flat or Boxer)
The performance choice, horizontally-opposed engine is meant for a speedy car. With the primary and secondary forces balanced, the wide engine functions smoothly, but takes up a lot of space. The low centre of gravity offers superior handling. On the downside, performing maintenance may be tough and the design is more complex with two cylinder heads and valve trains.
The engine is often referred to as a “flat” engine because it lies flat under the hood or a “boxer” engine because the pistons resemble a boxer’s fists.
If you add two more cylinders to an inline-four engine, you would have a naturally-balanced straight-six engine. Revered as being one of the smoothest-running engines in the market, the straight-six is the pride of BMW. It’s as simple as the inline-four and as easy to maintain, but it can be troublesome at times due to its size. Compared to horizontally-opposed engines, the straight-six has a higher centre of gravity.
The V6 is a versatile engine capable of offering ample power and torque. Similar to the straight-six in that it has six cylinders, the V6 is a step above the inline-four. It’s commonly found in midsize sedans, luxury sedans, crossover SUVs and even in muscular choices like the Ford Mustang.
Ridged yet compact, the V6 is suitable for both front- and rear-wheel-drive cars. Nevertheless, the two cylinder heads add extra cost and weight, in addition to making the engine more complicated to work on.
Throw two more cylinders into a V6 and you get a powerful V8 engine that’s hefty enough to assist a Ram 1500 with a heavy load. Towing and hauling have been two key reasons to upgrade to a V8 engine, but it’s also renowned as a fixture in American muscle cars. The V8 has a formidable balance, but it’s a complex piece of machinery. Due to its numerous moving parts, the V8 is heavier, larger and more expensive. With its size being a factor, the V8 should be reserved for all- or rear-while-drive vehicles.
The innovative step away from our dependency on fossil fuel has led us to the hybrid powertrain, which is a combination of an electric motor and a traditional internal-combustion engine. The Toyota Prius is one of many vehicles now modelling this newer form of powertrains. Research has shown that a hybrid powertrain has helped reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by over 25 per cent.
While it lacks the punch of many fuel-based engines, the hybrid powertrain is a solid choice for those who want better fuel efficiency and cleaner air.
How an Engine Can Meet Your Needs
To work and back home, and maybe to the supermarket on the weekends – a vehicle that can do all that for an affordable price is what most commuters need. Fuel efficiency becomes a top factor, while speed, power and towing capabilities remain secondary. In this case, a responsible inline-four or a hybrid powertrain may be the preferable option.
The suburban driver demands reliability for their predictable trips. Picking an engine that has some power to carry the weight of your family, but at the same time is not a nuisance or too expensive to maintain is worth taking into consideration.
Transporting your family can mean many things. Perhaps, it means you want a dependable inline-four engine in your family sedan, maybe you want to impress the in-laws with your straight-six engine or have a V6 in your SUV to transport your relatives and their luggage to the airport.
Where are you going, how many people are you taking and what are you bringing with you? After answering those questions, you can identify whether comfort, cabin space or hauling capability becomes a factor.
Finding a powerful engine if you need to do some heavy lifting is paramount. So, if you see yourself as the person making big moves now and then, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to spend a bit more on a V6 or V8 engine.
Freelance Work or Business
The question comes down to the business you are running. If you run a company that does a lot of hauling and towing, then you may want a little torque, which a V6 or V8 can deliver. However, if you have an independent business where a healthy image matters more than anything, then perhaps you want to show that you are environmentally-conscious by employing a hybrid powertrain or classy with a straight-six engine.
The Role of Other Vehicle Aspects
The engine is the heart of your vehicle, but you should not forget the other important elements either. You want an engine that can perform all the tasks you want, but installing a good performance engine may ultimately force you to compromise elsewhere. Is it worth it?
Smaller engines are far less capable than larger engines, but they save on fuel and cost less in general. This may be the deciding factor for many drivers who have a very limited budget.
If you consider safety to be your number-one issue while driving, installing a powerful engine may be counter-intuitive. The heavier the engine, the harder it is to handle. The more powerful the engine, the harder it is to control. For novice drivers, it’s best to start with a simple inline-four cylinder as opposed to one of those boxer engines.
Engine size matters. The larger your engine, the larger your vehicle will be, lest you reduce the cabin size, which can be a problem for your passengers and cargo.
Quality for a price. Having a luxurious interior really doesn’t matter if you cheap out on the engine because a good engine is still a good engine. So, if you want the full feel of opulence, it may be a good idea to pay a bit more for a complete package.
You can take a look at various engines by configuring a vehicle with our free dealer cost report. Your research needs to start somewhere, so why not here?