For efficiency, it's hard to beat a good six-cylinder engine. You can get decent power out of them with the help of a turbocharger, and they'll still be relatively fuel efficient. As a matter of fact, you can get some good V8 power out of them.
Hailed as one of the most balanced engines, the inline-six has been morphed into a high horsepower producing monster. Inline-sixes, however, has been dropped from several cars in favor of the more fuel-economic inline-four engine, which of course has two fewer cylinders.
V6 engines have their place as well. You’ve probably heard the old adage “no replacement for displacement”, but fortunately because of turbochargers, this is wrong. Formula 1 cars went from 2.4-liter V8s to turbocharged 1.6-liter V6s, and make the same if not more horsepower, roughly 900. Of course, those engines take hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, however, the logic holds true.
These are some of the best cars you can buy today equipped with a six-cylinder engine, followed by some famous six cylinders that have sadly left us:
It's gotten some bad press for feeling like you're driving a boat, but however you want to slice it, the Ford Taurus SHO has more than 360 horsepower out of a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. It's got top marks for safety, very good reliability, and Ford finally did away with that pesky inline-four for the 2018 model year.
Since the M3 now only comes as a sedan, the M2 had to step up and take the helm of sports luxury coupe. It's kind of a tight fit, but the M2 moves under a 3.0-liter inline-six with two turbos and makes the same horsepower as the SHO. It's also got BMW handling on its RWD platform which frankly blows the SHO's AWD out of the water.
There was no way a car with an engine designed by Ferrari wasn't going to make this list. Enter the Alfa Romeo Guilia Quadrifoglio Italiana Extraordinairo. Ok, that last part was made up but we didn't make up the fact that it's got a tiny 2.9-liter V6, and thanks to the help of two turbochargers it makes more than 500 horsepower. Look no further for a proper top of the line V6.
The Legacy earns its place because of its unusual boxer-layout six-cylinder engine. It's 3.6-liters with more than 260 horsepower, and that's without the use of forced induction. The Legacy also retains Subaru's variable-assist 4WD system, which is only active in extreme circumstances.
Toyota Supra Mk. IVs used the 2JZ engine, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that produced 300 horsepower from the factory. What the 2JZ is famous for is being able to handle significant horsepower figures without having its internals changed. Internals refer to pistons, rods, and the crankshaft.
Some Supra owners claim to have reached up to 900, while others have said a more sustainable amount is closer to 600 or so. Either way, the 2JZ is decidedly an over-built engine and was designed to take double the official horsepower rating. The cylinder block itself is known to have taken up to 2,000 horsepower.
BMW’s 335i was, at a time, equipped with a 3.0-liter inline-six engine dubbed the N54. It had two small turbochargers, and for a few months of 2007 came with forged pistons, until BMW decided, presumably, that it was too expensive and went with a cast piston instead. While those cast pistons are still of very high quality, on the forged pistons from early 2007 owners have reported gains of up to around 800 horsepower at the wheels, which means their engine produced closer to 900 at the crank.
The V6 found in the Mitsubishi 3000GT is a great engine that was used in a lot of different cars, including the Dodge Caravan and the Hyundai Sonata (from 1990-98). It was called the 6G7, and in the 3000GT VR-4 it was twin turbocharged and made 300 horsepower.
If you’re looking for one of these be advised, as the engine came in two different forms as having single overhead cam or dual overhead cam. Dual is better for power, single is better for reliability.
One of only two American-made engines on this list, the 4.9-liter inline-six from Ford was used in the F-150 from 1964 until 1996. While not a V8 and, therefore, not extraordinarily powerful, it was renowned for being robust and easy to work on, with decent low-end power.
If you want the most reliable F-150, get one equipped with the 4.9-liter mated to a manual transmission and call it a day. There are some mods for it, but really as long as you leave it stock it’ll last forever with minimal maintenance, which is what you want in a truck.
For a time Chrysler cars used what were called slant six engines, which had its cylinder bank, you guessed it, slanted to the side instead of sitting straight up. These were known for impressive, interstellar durability. You can find them in old Valiants, in some Dodge Rams from 1981-1993, and lots of other cars. They could make a lot of horsepower. Some owners report having more than 400 horsepower out of their slant six.
Used in the king of Japanese muscle, the Nissan R32 GTR Skyline, the RB26DETT was a twin-turbocharged 2.6-liter inline-six engine that made about 300 horsepower from the factory. Nissan made identifying engine specs easy, in that RB denotes inline-six, 26 is 2.6-liters, D for dual overhead cam, E for electronic fuel injection, and TT for twin turbos.
Engine modifiers have reported impressive gains on the RB as well, close to 600 reliable horsepower on the stock internals. For a time the R32 was illegal in the United States, but thanks to the import law of 25 years or older, you can get an R32 as new as 1992 imported. Just be sure to make it carb legal in your state.
Six-cylinder engines, in general, make some of the best engines in the history of the car. There’s a reason BMW has been using them since the 1970s, and there’s a reason they keep making power. While inline-six engines are renowned for being balanced, don’t knock the practicality of a V6.
It’s shorter than an inline because it’s essentially half of the length. You have two cylinder banks separated by 60 or so degrees, each holding only three cylinders, as opposed to six in a line. The V formation allows you to mount the engine farther back towards the center of the car, which helps with keeping the center of gravity under the driver, thereby balancing the car for better handling. In any case, if someone tells you "no replacement for displacement" in defense of their gargantuan V8s, just say, "yes there is", and show them your turbocharged six-cylinder. For performance per dollar, a turbocharged six-cylinder is hard to beat.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.