They say that 40 is the new 30. I dunno about that.
But the modern high-ouptut/high-efficiency V-6 is arguably the new V-8. And you can make a case that the modern four – with direct injection, variable valve timing and all the rest of it – is the new V-6.
I just got done test-driving a new 2011 Ford F-150 pick-up. Its standard engine was a 4.6 liter V-8 that made 248 hp. Its new standard engine is a 3.7 liter V-6 that produces 302 hp, 54 more hp than the V-8 it replaced.
It also delivers several MPGs more gas mileage.
The three revived muscle cars – Chevy’s Camaro, the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger – all now have standard six cylinders that are in the 300-plus hp range. That’s more hp than all but the highest-performance V-8 versions of those cars were putting down during their heyday in the late 1960s/early ’70s.
A startling example is the original (1967-’69) Camaro Z-28. Its engine was a 5 liter V-8, equipped with a very aggressive camshaft (so aggressive that GM only sold the car with a manual transmission and without air conditioning) and numerous other specialty/high-performance components. It made 290 hp. The car did 0-60 in about 6.7 seconds.
The 2011 base (note: not the Z28) Camaro’s engine is a 3.6 liter V-6 that produces 312 hp. It propels the car to 60 MPH in 6 seconds flat – as quick or even quicker than the ’67-’69 V-8 powered Z-28. And it is capable of 28 MPG on the highway – easily 10 MPG better than the original, V-8 powered Z-28 could achieve.
It’s a similar story with the Mustang and Challenger.
And it’s not just performance cars that perform with less than a V-8 under their hoods. Most current family sedans either come with or offer as options V-6s that are in the 250-270 hp range. This is more power than all but a small handful of V-8s made in the ’70s and ’80s.
As a case in point: The early-mid 1980s Corvette came equipped with a 5.7 liter V-8 that made 245 hp. At the time, it was about the most powerful car on the road, excepting exotics.
Today, the Toyota Camry – a car that’s as vanilla as vanilla gets – has a 268 hp 3.5 liter V-6 engine.
What does it mean to you?
It means that you don’t need eight cylinders to get V-8 performance. Or more accurately, the kind of performance that most of us associate with having a V-8.
In the current Camaro or Mustang, for instance, the standard car gets to 60 PDQ (six seconds is quicker than nearly all the V-8 versions of classic-era muscle cars with V-8s managed) and has a top speed that’s more than high enough to get you locked up for a year. The V-8s that are available in these models make even that performance look a little soft, of course. But the point is the standard V-6s are no longer what they were Back in the Day – that is, gimpy loose-toothed embarrassments. Back in the Day, if you wanted decent acceleration (let alone performance) you had to get the optional V-8. Today, you get performance – damn good performance – with the “base” engine.
The optional V-8 just ups the ante from damn good to incredibly good.
Before about five years ago 200 hp was not a four cylinder number; it was a six-cylinder number. As it was with the V-8 vs. V-6 paradigm, people knew (back then) that you pretty much had to upgrade to the optional engine, unless you could live with a terminal case of The Slows.
People, though, haven’t updated their hard drives. Many still reflexively think of four cylinder engines as underpowered and under-performing, which just ain’t so.
Not anymore, anyhow.
Here’s an interesting fact: The slowest new cars – like the Prius hybrid – need just over 11 seconds to get to 60 MPH. That’s the exception. Most new cars – even subcompact economy cars – get to 60 in less than 10 seconds. The average is around 8 seconds. That’s more than twice as quick as an old Beetle – and easily 4-5 seconds quicker than the typical econobox of the ’80s.
So, here’s the beef: Don’t assume you need to go big guns and buy the optionally available V-8 (or V-6). Take a test drive in the V-6 (or four cylinder) powered version of the car you’re thinking about buying.
You might be pleasantly surprised to discover what you don’t need anymore.
Throw it in the Woods?