Goodbye, V6: The reasons why six-cylinder engines are on their way out in most new cars

There are fewer and fewer cars these days. And they have fewer and fewer powerful engines.

As automakers increasingly abandon passenger cars in favour of SUVs and pickups, they’re also abandoning the once-dominant six-cylinder engine, dubbed the V6 by many due to its form.

In its place is the once-feared four-cylinder engine, which is shedding its slow reputation thanks to innovative technologies that boost performance while preserving decent fuel economy.

According to auto industry data source J.D. Power, just one midsize car that isn’t a premium model still has a V6 engine – the Toyota Camry.

You’ll need to buy a Mercedes-Benz, a huge car like the Toyota Avalon, or a muscle car like the Dodge Challenger if you want a V6 in your automobile.

But Forrest Jewel, who works in Oklahoma City, sees V6s on a daily basis. He works as a valet and gets to drive a variety of new autos on the job.

He claims that the V6s are “definitely more fun.” “They have a little more power, and the exhaust sound is a little better.”

Nonetheless, he is seeing fewer and fewer people these days. And he realises why.

He explains, “They’re putting the smaller engine in.” “Technology has improved.”

Stewart Westlake, for one, isn’t happy with the adjustment.

The addictions counsellor from Manitoba, Canada, drives a Chrysler 300 big automobile with a six-cylinder engine that gets him 30 miles per gallon. He’s pleased with his performance and mileage, but dreads the chance that V6 engines will be phased out entirely.

He says, “I don’t like tiny automobiles, and I especially don’t like four-cylinders.” “I’ve owned a four-cylinder vehicle. There’s no point to it.”

To be sure, four-cylinder engines have seen tremendous advancements in recent years. They’re often delivering turbocharged four-cylinder engines with direct fuel injection, which can produce more power than many V6 engines from the past.

According to Tyson Jominy, vice president of statistics and analytics at J.D. Power, “V8s became V6s, and V6s became four cylinders.” “You receive the same quality of work. We can have our cake and eat it, too, thanks to these engines’ fuel efficiency.”

A piston in a typical engine goes up and down within each cylinder, compressing the gasoline and causing combustion and exhaust to rotate the crankshaft, which drives the wheels. The car’s power increases as the number of cylinders increases.

According to Cooper Ericksen, Toyota’s head of product planning, the ordinary consumer doesn’t notice much of a difference in engine cylinder count, focusing instead on price, performance, fuel economy, and other variables.

In an email, Ericksen stated, “Today people listen to friends and drive the vehicle and make judgments based on how they like it rather than the prestige or desire to have more cylinders/larger displacement.”

Many consumers, at the very least. Not all of them.

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Westlake says, “I wouldn’t settle for a turbo four-cylinder.” “I’d most likely opt for a truck or an SUV.”

Sean Dale, a V6 and V8 enthusiast from Belton, Missouri, is equally doubtful about four-cylinder potential.

“I believe that if you work harder at something, you will not work as long,” he says. “That four-cylinder is going to have to work a lot harder than a bigger engine to drive that same automobile, and I’m not sure it would survive as long.”

As cars die, V6 engines idle.

The V6 engine’s decline in vehicles is further explained by the industrywide transition from cars to SUVs and pickups. V6 engines are still widely used in full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, where their enhanced capability gives considerable performance.

However, as automobile sales have decreased – cars now account for roughly 1 in every 5 new-vehicle retail sales, down from nearly half a decade ago – automakers are reducing the number of powertrain options available.

According to J.D. Power, V6 engines accounted for only 2% of retail sales in the mainstream midsize car market in 2020, down from 35% in 2005.

“It’s gone from a third to gone in 15 years,” Jominy says. “It’s essentially all four-cylinders now.”

V6 engines accounted for 27% of retail sales in 2020, compared to 40% in 2005, across all vehicles, including SUVs and pickups. According to J.D. Power, the four-cylinder engine has taken control, accounting for 54 percent of total retail sales in 2020, up from 30 percent in 2005.

Despite performance models accounting for a larger percentage of the sector, four-cylinder engines accounted for more than three out of four passenger car sales last year.

First, there’s Detroit’s rich history. The majority of passenger automobiles were phased out by three brands: Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler. Foreign automakers such as Honda and Nissan have simplified their lineups by eliminating the V6 engine option in the majority of their vehicles.

“For cars, it’s virtually death by a thousand cuts,” Jominy says.

Electric cars are the newest threat

Electric vehicles may prove to be the final straw for the V6.

“I believe everything will be electrified before long,” Dale of Missouri predicts. “It’s almost as though the auto business is compelling individuals to go in the direction they want.”

To be sure, proponents of fuel efficiency point out that V6 cars use more gasoline than four-cylinder cars, resulting in higher carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. It is said that moving away from large engines is required just for this reason.

Michelle Krebs, an analyst with car-buying site Autotrader, says, “We’ve altered our priorities to focus more on fuel efficiency and emissions.”

Regardless, there is no turning back for automakers, who must adjust to higher fuel economy rules around the world while while meeting consumer demand for larger vehicles.

“Automakers are really cutting those lines because car segments are decreasing to begin with,” Krebs says. “They are reducing their offerings even if they stay in cars.”

Even Toyota, whose Camry still has a V6 engine, admits that the six-cylinder engine’s days are numbered, claiming that it currently accounts for only approximately 5% of Camry sales.

“There will undoubtedly come a time when we need to move away from a traditional V6, but that choice has not yet been made,” Toyota’s Ericksen adds, noting that the company’s hybrid options are becoming increasingly popular.

V6 enthusiasts are loving every moment with their favourite powertrain until then.