Types of Car Engines

Image showing a car's image

The exterior of a car defines its beauty while the interior tells what the car can do for us. Very seldom do we pay attention to the most important part of a car – the engine. The engine is the first thing on the minds of car enthusiasts, but for the common man, it is probably the last! Before you assume that power and mileage figures are the only facts that matter, knowing a little more about the engine in your car can be the difference between choosing the right car and saving on servicing costs.

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Engine Layouts

In the simplest of terms, an engine layout refers to the arrangement and number of cylinders in an engine. There are many types of engine layouts, however, three kinds of car engine layouts are popularly used.

Straight or Inline Engine Layout

Image showing Straight/Inline Engine Layout

The most commonly used layout is the Straight or the Inline engine layout. As the name suggests, the cylinders are placed vertically in line, i.e. one behind the other. This kind of engine can be placed parallel or perpendicularly in the car depending on the number of cylinders. When placed parallel to the car, the engine layout is known as Straight and when placed perpendicular to the car, it is an Inline layout.

Straight/inline engines are used widely due to their easy and inexpensive manufacturing and installation process. Inline engines can be seen on entry level family cars like hatchbacks due to their compact build and ability to accommodate other car components around it. Straight engines on the other hand can have more cylinders and as a result have more power. Luxury sedans like those from the house of BMW or Mercedes have straight engines under their hood.

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Flat Engine Layout

Image showing Flat engine layout

Unlike the straight engine, a Flat engine has its cylinders placed horizontally. It is also known as the Boxer engine due to the piston movement mimicking pugilists punching their gloves before a fight. The boxer engine is a balanced engine and by balance we mean low vibrations due to the force created by the movement of the pistons.

Another aspect of the Flat Engine is its low centre of mass which improves the handling of the car. Also, due to the large surface area, all cylinders are air cooled equally. Compared to straight engines, Flat engines are expensive to manufacture and due to their wide shape are not preferred by many automotive manufacturers. The only carmakers that feature the boxer engine in their lineups are Porsche and Subaru.

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V-Engine Layout

Ilustration showing V engine layout

The V-engine is a very popular engine layout and can be seen on almost all high performance vehicles. The cylinder banks, i.e. the chamber in which the pistons move, are arranged in such a way that they represent a V when the engine is viewed from the front.

The feature that sets this layout apart from other engines is the fact that more cylinders can be accommodated in lesser space. Meaning more power while still maintaining the aesthetic look of the car. The V Engine is more prone to vibrations than a straight engine, and are more complicated in their build, hence expensive to repair. However, this kind of layout produces more power as all pistons achieve their power stroke at a lesser time interval.

Almost all high performance car makers like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes Benz opt for the V-engine layout, due to its compact size and high power output capabilities.

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Engine Cylinder Configurations

The power and performance of a vehicle used to be determined by the no. of cylinders it possessed. Today however, due to high tech fuel injection systems and other efficient engine components even smaller engines give higher outputs matching larger engines. Additionally, an engine’s fuel efficiency, its sound and power output varies due to cylinder configuration and engine layout.

Let’s take a look at the standard engine configurations used commonly.

Twin Cylinder

Image showing a 2 cylinder engine

Twin cylinder engines are rarely found on cars, the reason being low power output. However, you will find this configuration on a lot of motorcycles, like the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 and Kawasaki Ninja 300. On cars, the famed Tata Nano has the twin cylinder engine under its hood.

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Three Cylinder

Image showing a 3-cylinder engine

Three cylinders are better known for their gurgle-like sound. This happens due to the odd firing sequence and vibration they produce. Nevertheless they are more powerful than two cylinder engines and with the inclusion of turbochargers give increased power output while maintaining efficiency. Three cylinder engines are used on hatchbacks and even on compact SUVs like the Maruti Suzuki Celerio and the Tata Nexon.

Four Cylinder

Illustration showing a 4-Cylinder engine

Four cylinders are the most commonly used configuration for cars due to increased power and efficiency. This kind of configuration is mostly found with an Inline layout which combined with a turbocharger make a powerful engine. Cars like Honda City, Maruti Suzuki Swift, and Hyundai Elantra are examples of cars that use the 4-cylinder configuration.

Five Cylinder

Another rarely seen configuration, the 5-cylinder engines are seen on luxury car manufacturers like Audi and Volvo. Due to the odd number of cylinders the 5-cylinder configuration emits a peculiar sound, which is known as warbling.

Six Cylinder

Illustration showing 6 cylinder engine

The six cylinder configuration is used in most sports cars and are known for their high-pitched sound. The six cylinder configuration can use a straight layout or a V-engine layout depending on the car. Luxury sedans like the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes Benz C-Class use the 6-Cylinder configuration. Majorly the 6-Cylinder engines are paired with a turbocharger or a supercharger to give them awe-invoking power.

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Eight Cylinders and Above

Illustration showing V12 Engine

If six cylinders were not enough then 8-cylinder configuration brings you to the supercar category. Configuration of 8 cylinders and above are used mostly in a V-engine layout. Supercars like the Bugatti Chiron have a W16 engine, i.e, 16-cylinders in W layout, the Ferrari F8 Tributo a V8 and Lamborghini Aventador a V12. Cars with such configuration are capable of high speeds and have tremendous torque, the sounds of these engines vary from a roar to a high pitched squeal emanating due to the super charger.


Which engine layout is the most economical?

Economy and efficiency of an engine depends on both the layout and cylinder configuration of the engine. The Inline 4 cylinder and the 3 cylinder configuration engines do well as they have both power and efficiency. So, taking kids to school or going on a family trip won’t pose a problem.

Why are Turbo/Superchargers used on already powerful engines?

Supercars with superchargers or turbochargers are meant for on-demand performance and people who generally buy these kinds of cars are mostly car enthusiasts who want to push their cars to the limit. So, what cannot be achieved by a ‘normally’ powerful engine, can be made possible via the installation of a Turbo/Supercharger.

How many cylinders does the Bugatti Chiron have?

GIF illustration showing a W Engine

The Bugatti Chiron has a jaw dropping 16 cylinders under its belt, but in the very rarely used W engine layout (checkout the image). The Chiron boasts of 1479 HP and 0-400Kmph in 32.6 seconds.

Which cars in India have the V6 engine?

Cars with the V6 engine are less common in India due to low demand and are restricted to the luxury segment only. Some of the cars with V6 engines in India are: Honda Accord Toyota Camry Skoda Superb Maserati Quattroporte

Why buy a car with a powerful engine?

A powerful engine doesn't mean that you’ve to go for a supercar, a normal engine with 4 cylinders will conform to all your needs and give you enough power to go out with family or drop the kids to school. On the other hand if you buy a car with less power to extract more mileage works well if you’re single and use the car for commuting purposes, but if you have a family then a car with less power will hamper the efficiency and also strain the engine.

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