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Shuffling Cylinders

October 6, 2011 by Matt

Engine Blocks Motor V8 V6

Inspired by the recent hullabaloo over the possible phase-out of BMW’s longstanding “no V6s” philosophy, I thought it might be interesting to ponder which marques have been most closely associated with various engine configurations throughout automotive history. Enjoy:

  • Inline 6: A number of automakers have had great success with this configuration, notably Mercedes, Nissan (with their L- and RB-series) and Jaguar (XK engine), but the cylinder layout has to be most closely linked with BMW, not only for the various sizes of the engine they produced over the years, but also for their persistence with the configuration long after their competitors abandoned it in favor of V6s and V8s.
  • Inline 5: Less than 6, but more than 4? Who comes to mind when a fellow car geek says “inline 5-cylinder?” Acura and Volvo have used this layout, and Mercedes has made 5-cylinder diesels, but undoubtedly the company joined at the hip with the straight 5 is Audi after their fire-breathing quattro-equipped monsters dominated Group B rally racing during the mid-’80s. After ditching the inline 5 in the mid-’90s, I’m pleased to see it’s been making a bit of a comeback Ingolstadt-way, fitted in transverse form to the ridiculously quick TT RS.
  • Inline 4: Even more than the inline 6, the straight 4 has been developed to a very high level by a myriad of car companies. That said, the manufacturer that springs most quickly to mind when pondering the 4-cylinder engine is Honda. They’ve created some truly great 4-bangers over the years, including the Prelude’s H22A and the S2000’s F20C. Unfortunately, the association with Honda is further cemented by the legions of high schoolers who throw fart-can mufflers on their moms’ Accords and drone down the main drag any given Friday night. It’s sad, but noise of an uncorked Civic 4-cylinder is something any car buff can immediately conjure to mind. Sorry, Honda.
  • V8: This one’s a bit tricky, as essentially the entire American automotive industry is connected to the layout. The classic small-block Chevy engine will always be the prototypical V8, though, still in production after more than 50 years. Chevrolet wins this one.
  • V6: Again, another engine configuration associated with a number of automakers. Alfa Romeo pioneered the layout in the early ’70s, and Buick developed a great V6 in the latter part of that decade, but Nissan was the first manufacturer to roll out a modern version with their ’83 VG engine, a variation of which they subsequently installed in just about every vehicle they made, from pickups to family sedans to sports cars. Give the nod to the Japanese automaker.
  • V12: Here’s an easy one, for a change. Which manufacturer is world-famous for their legendary and unbroken line of V12-engined sports cars? Ferrari, of course. Of all other automakers, Lamborghini comes closest to displacing its rival as the “champion of the V12,” but is still a significant ways back with respect to the association.

On a related note, allow me to plug an article which I’ve greatly enjoyed and learned a lot from: The Autozine Technical School discussion of engine layouts and the impact cylinder arrangement has on engine smoothness.

Filed under: Miscellaneous, Technical


  1. Shawn says:

    Good reference points, all. Also should mention that thoughts of the Boxer 4 belong to Subaru and the Boxer 6 to Porsche.

    • Matt says:

      Forgot those! It was late; that’s my excuse. :)

      Could also add straight 8 arguably for Bugatti, but that engine configuration is a bit archaic. Rotary and Mazda too—although that’s a little too obvious, if you ask me.

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