For years, American motorists showed an overwhelming preference for V8s and V6s. However, according to statistics released from J.D. Power and Associates, that’s significantly changed in recent times; more than 50 percent of new vehicles purchased in the U.S. so far this year have been powered by four-cylinder engines – an increase from 36 percent five years ago.
As for the reasoning, it’s likely due to a combination of different factors. Perhaps the most obvious is the perceived improvements in fuel mileage offered by fewer cylinders and smaller displacement, certainly among consumers. Another is the need for auto manufacturers to meet tougher fuel economy standards in coming years.
However, traditionally going with downsized engines and fewer cylinders meant dispensing with that wonderful torque and acceleration Americans crave. But thanks to advances in forced induction technology, notably turbochargers, combined with more efficient fuel delivery, such as direct injection, means it’s now possible to offer four-cylinder economy with the power of a V6 or V8.
In fact, among domestic automakers, long considered as the last bastion for large displacement engines, hyper aspirated four-cylinders are gaining a foothold in larger vehicles and performance applications. Ford is introducing a turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four in its largest car the Taurus (shown above); a machine that not too long ago relied solely on V6s, while its popular Escape SUV is now exclusively four-cylinder powered.
Even at General Motors, four-cylinders are taking hold, Chevy’s Cruze compact only offers small-displacement four-cylinder engines and even premium offerings like the Buick Verano and Regal are emphasizing four-pot motors, where once it was V6s and even V8s. For some foreign automakers, it’s a similar story; Hyundai’s mid-size Sonata currently offers just four-cylinder engines, in normally aspirated, turbocharged and hybrid forms (the previous generation had V6s).
The question is, will four-cylinders continue on the path to become the engine of choice here, much as they have been in Europe for decades? Or will advances in technology, such as stop/start, cylinder deactivation and electrically driven accessories like A/C and power steering, as well as transmission and gearing improvements mean that the V8 will still have a place in American motoring culture?