Pros: Superior fuel economy; affordable; new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine designs offer great power as well as miles per gallon

Cons: Modest acceleration (except turbo 4-cylinders); V6s are typically smoother and quieter

Summary: The 4-cylinder is a relatively small and simple engine, designed to maximize fuel economy while providing adequate power. These engines have had issues with noise and vibration, but they've improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade.

Not surprisingly, the 4-cylinder is the most popular engine type among today's top sellers, powering stalwart sedans such as the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima, as well as crossovers such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

Until recently, it was standard practice for mainstream 4-cylinder vehicles to feature an optional, extra-cost V6. But with fuel economy taking center stage, many automakers have replaced those V6s with turbocharged 4-cylinders that make V6-like power but get more miles per gallon. Hyundai started this trend with the current Sonata; others have followed suit, including Chevrolet with the new Malibu.

Notably, turbo 4-cylinders are spreading to luxury cars, as well. Even BMW has dropped the 328i's iconic 6-cylinder engine in favor of a turbo 4-cylinder.

What it means to you: For most car shoppers, a nonturbo 4-cylinder engine will be just fine. People consistently rank fuel economy as a higher priority than acceleration, and a regular 4-cylinder will certainly minimize the amount of fuel you use. Fortunately, most new 4-cylinder vehicles also have enough power to get out of their own way, which hasn't always been the case.

If you want more get up and go, check out the latest crop of turbo 4-cylinders, as well as the swift and surprisingly fuel-efficient V6s in cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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