They were common, once. Most cars – ordinary family cars – usually had one under the hood. High school kids drove V8-powered used cars. Anyone Gen X or older will remember.
And then they were gone.
Well, not entirely.
V8s are still around – but they’re no longer common. They are found under the hoods of expensive luxury cars, mostly.
GM’s Chevrolet division – which once included or at least offered a V8 in almost every car it sold – today offers one in just three models, all of them specialty high-performance cars and only one of them (the Chevy SS sedan) having four doors and the ability to carry more than two people.
The SS stickers for $46,575 to start.
Even Cadillac – GM’s luxury line – which was once defined by its big V8s (bigger than anything you could get in a mere Chevy or Buick) now sells just one passenger car with a V8, the $85k CTS-V.
Now comes the next cleaving.
Just as V8s were purged from the engine compartments of the family sedans and (and station wagons) Gen Xers like me grew up in, so also the V6-powered family cars Millennials grew up riding in are quietly doing the fade-away.
You may have noticed.
Mazda doesn’t even offer a six in its mid-sized family sedan (the Mazda6) or for that matter in any passenger car it currently sells. Most of Hyundai’s current car lineup is four cylinder-only, including its mid-sized family sedan, the Sonata.
V6s are still available in a small (and dwindling) handful of family sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but they are optional – and expensive. While a four cylinder-powered Camry can be bought for $23,070 – to get one with a V6, the starting price climbs to $31,370. A V6-equipped Honda Accord is slightly more accessible – base price $30,895 (vs. $22,355 for the base Accord with a four cylinder engine).
But $30k in today’s Fed Funy Money has the same buying power as $5k did back in 1970. And back in 1970, five grand was almost enough cash to buy a brand-new Corvette (MSRP $5,192) which was Chevy’s most expensive car at the time – and almost enough to buy two brand-new Chevy Impala full-size family sedans (MSRP $3,021) with V8s in each of them.
Every car Cadillac sold back in 1970 came standard with a V8 – and they did not cost $85k in 1970 dollars, either. The base price of a 1970 Calais sedan, for example, was $5,813 – about $800 less, in today’s worth-less dollars, to about what you’d pay to get your hands on a V6-powered Accord ($4,973 in 1970 dollars).
V6-powered cars are expensive to sell today for the same reason V8s became expensive to sell in the ‘70s.
Not to build.
There is nothing inherently expensive about either type of engine. In fact, V8s – traditional overhead valve/pushrod V8s – are less expensive to build than modern turbocharged/intercooled (and direct-injected) fours. Just as a V6 without a turbo/intercooler is less expensive to manufacture than the turbo’d/intercooled fours now becoming pretty much standard equipment in every car with a sticker price under $30k.
No, the expense isn’t building them.
It is selling them.
V6s use more fuel than a four – at least on paper (bear with, I’ll get to that). Just as a V8 uses more fuel than a V6. Ordinarily this would matter to the buyer only. But for 40-something years, the government has interposed itself between buyers and the car companies, dictating to them a certain mandatory minimum MPG “fleet average” its cars, taken together, must achieve. If they do not achieve it, the government imposes “gas guzzler” fines, which are passed on to buyers in the form of higher sticker prices.
But buyers do not have unlimited means, especially buyers of modest means (that’s middle and working class people). So they don’t buy the cars. Which puts pressure on the car companies to build other cars – that is, cars without bigger engines. Which don’t lower the car company’s “fleet average” MPG – and incur “gas guzzler” penalties.
This is why V8s disappeared as mass-market engines.
And it is why V6s are disappearing today, as mass-market engines.
The original “fleet average” mandatory minimum was just under 20 MPG; this was raised to 27.5 MPG for passenger cars in the ’90s. The current mandatory minimum is 35.5 MPG – and it’s no longer just for passenger cars, either. All vehicles excepting heavy-duty (2500 series and larger pick-up trucks, vans and so on) will henceforth have to meet the mandatory minimum – schedule to almost double from the current standard to 54.5 MPG by 2025 – or the company trying to sell them will be hit with fines, which it must pass on to buyers. Which makes selling its cars tougher, vs. rival brands whose cars are priced lower because they don’t have the gas guzzler fines rolled into their sticker prices.
Just as a fly in the soup ruins dinner, it only take one “gas hog” to hurt a car company’s “fleet average” MPG number. Hence, fewer and fewer “gas hogs,” except as low-volume (and high price) luxury/performance models.
Which is why Millennials, in their turn, will remember V6s as fondly 20 years from now as Gen Xers lament the dearly departed (for the most part) V8.
PS: The sad thing is that the new crop of micro-sized and heavily turbocharged fours don’t deliver much better mileage in real-world driving than the non-turbocharged V6s they are replacing. On paper – on the government tests that measure MPGs – the fours do better (though not by all that much) because they are set up to do well on the tests. But in the real world, in everyday driving, their actual mileage is often disappointing. Why? Because to get anything out of them, acceleration-wise, it is usually necessary to wick up the boost – turbochargers being a replacement for displacement, on demand.
Because the engine is (typically) too small for the car (and its weight), the additional “displacement” provided by turbo boost is often demanded. And a bigger engine – whether in terms of physical displacement (cubic inches or liters, take your pick) or airflow (boost, the turbocharger force-feeding the engine) uses more fuel.
Try it yourself and see.
This is what happens when non-engineer politicians and bureaucrats dictate car design. Rube Goldberg-esque “solutions” to problems that only exist because of the politicians and bureaucrats.
I dunno about you, but I’d rather have a V8.
Or even a V6.
Will you help us?
EPautos stickers – new design, larger and magnetic! – are free to those who send in $10 or more to support the site.
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079