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Buying a Car: Should You Go for the Bigger Engine?

If you’re interested in buying a car, you’ve probably realized the majority of vehicles on sale today are offered with multiple engine choices. And while you may not pay much attention to technical differences between powertrains, everyone knows that larger engines tend to make more power — and more power means more fun. So should you upgrade to the larger engine for your next car? We’ve rounded up the benefits and drawbacks of that decision.

More Power, More Fun

It’s true: A larger engine brings more power, and more power brings more fun. Take, for instance, the recently redesigned Chevy Malibu, which is offered with a base-level 160-horsepower engine or an optional 250-hp engine. Choose the 250-hp engine, and you’ll see a 0-to-60 mile-per-hour time of around 6.2 seconds, which is a huge upgrade from the 160-hp engine’s 8.5-second 0-to-60 time.

It’s the same story with, for example, the Lexus RC, a sporty new coupe offered by the high-end automaker. V6-powered RC 350 models tout a 306-hp 3.5-liter V6, which does the 0-to-60 run in a respectable 5.9 seconds. But the high-performance RC F boasts a whopping 467 hp from its 5.0-liter V8, dropping 0-to-60 figures to just 4.7 seconds. Summed up succinctly, more power means more speed — and more excitement.

More Power, More Price

Unfortunately, opting for more power also means spending more money. Want to upgrade the Chevy Malibu from that base-level 1.5-liter engine to the sporty 2.0-liter? While the base model starts around $22,500 with shipping, a 2.0-liter version starts from $29,500 — a big jump. It’s the same story with the Lexus RC, which jumps from $43,800 with shipping for a 306-hp RC 350 variant to a whopping $63,800 for a high-performance RC F — a $20,000 price boost for 161 horses. That might make the added acceleration seem a little less exciting.

Fuel Economy Suffers, Too

You’ll spend more money even after you’ve signed the papers, too. While a base-level Malibu returns up to 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, the 250-hp engine drops those numbers to 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy — a decrease in gas mileage that will add up over time. It’s the same story with the Lexus RC. While the V6-powered version returns 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy, the V8-powered RC F drops gas mileage numbers to a meager 16 mpg city/25 mpg hwy.

Our Take

When it comes to more power, we generally think you should avoid it unless you really, really want it. In other words, the next time you’re buying a car, think about whether you want to fork over the extra cost up front or spend the extra money at the pump in order to get better acceleration and performance. If you don’t mind paying for it, a big engine can be a blast. But if you’re on a tight budget, skip it and go with a more efficient powertrain.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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