VW V6 engine closeup

Should I get a V6 or a turbocharged four-cylinder engine?

Choosing Between a V6 and a Turbo Four-Cylinder

Some say that a turbocharged inline-four is just as good, if not better, than a V6. Other will say that it’s not even close: the V6 wins every time. Which is right?

Should you get a V6 or a turbocharged four-cylinder engine?

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Turbocharged Four-Cylinder

turbocharger sitting on a metal table

The major upside of a turbo inline-four is that is achieves similar power levels as a V6 while using less fuel, costing less, taking up less space, and weighing less. A turbo works by taking exhaust gases and forcing them back into the cylinders. This makes for bigger “explosions” with each pump of the piston, which results in more power. The problem with this approach is that a turbo requires large amounts of exhaust to function properly, meaning that it takes a little while for the turbo be able to do its job. This is what’s called turbo lag. It means that many turbocharged fours have low power output in the low RPM range. The effects of lag can be reduced by an excellent transmission, though, like with the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG found in the 2020 Golf GTI.

Naturally Aspirated V6

The big advantage of a naturally aspirated V6 six is low RPM torque and more power. This will matter most when it comes to towing or hauling, with low-end power is necessary to overcome inertia. Naturally aspirated means that it uses only the air and fuel that naturally go into the engine to produce power. V6s have more cylinders and more displacement, which translates into more air and bigger “explosions.” Put those together and you get more power. However, the V6 is worse on fuel and is heavier than a turbo four. The V6 doesn’t have to deal with turbo lag, but it is also highly dependent on a refined transmission. A great example of this is the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport V6 with its eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.

Which is better?

It depends on what you want and what type of vehicle you have. For instance, in a smaller, light-weight car, a turbocharged inline four will feel more responsive than it would in a midsize crossover SUV. Similarly, towing the family boat or a trailer with a V6 is easily doable. With a turbo four-cylinder, chances are you wouldn’t be able to pull much more than small cart-sized trailer.