Which is better, a V6 or a V8? This question may seem outdated to some in this era of turbochargers, hybrids and electric vehicles. However, it is still relevant, especially when shopping for a truck or SUV. In addition, with gas costs escalating with no end in sight, fuel economy is once again very important to us.
In the end, we can’t tell you which is better because it all comes down to your specific needs. What you want to achieve with your vehicle should determine whether a V8 or a V6 is right for you.
We strive to arm you with enough knowledge to make the best choice for your needs. Since this is not a general discussion of powertrains, we will focus on the V8 and V6, excluding the 4-cylinder engines and electric powertrains. We will also ignore V10s and V12s.
Motor Anatomy: What is the “V”?
The basic function of an internal combustion engine (ICE) relies on the movement of pistons to turn a crankshaft, which in turn drives the wheels through a gearbox. Pistons can be of different sizes, but each accomplishes its task within the confines of a cylinder. Simply put, the more pistons, the greater the power potential. So when we talk about the number of cylinders in an engine, it’s really about the number of pistons.
Engine designers can place the cylinders in a straight line (inline) or divide them into two parallel rows with an equal number of cylinders. When the cylinders are divided into two rows, they must be tilted inward at their base to attach the pistons to the crankshaft that runs along the bottom center of the engine. In other words, the parallel rows of cylinders form a “V” shape.
While you could find inline-8 engines in a few models 60 or 70 years ago, today the inline lineup is limited to engines with six or fewer cylinders. Those with eight or more cylinders and most with six cylinders are in the V configuration.
The pros and cons of inline vs. V is another story for another time.
What is a V8 engine?
Two rows of four cylinders each contain a V8 engine. In general, V8s are bigger, heavier, thirstier and more powerful than V6s.
Why you need a V8
The reasons for choosing a V8 differ depending on whether it is a car rather than a truck or SUV.
At least for now, a V8 is the choice for most drivers looking for high-performance or horsepower and torque from a car. Whether it’s a coupe, sedan, exotic car or sports car, the V8 often remains the engine of choice. Automakers that offer V8s usually reserve them for their top end models.
Well suited to performance cars, V8s not only offer a higher power ceiling, but they deliver that power in a smooth, linear progression. Plus, they emit a fierce growl that engines with fewer cylinders just can’t duplicate.
Cars with a V8 are a rapidly dwindling part of the car pie. Muscle cars and high-performance sports cars are some of the last V8-equipped cars standing.
Check out these examples of powerful V8 cars:
2022 Chevrolet Corvette: 6.2-liter V8 – 490 hp/465 lb-ft . torque
2022 BMW Alpina B7: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 – 600 hp/590 lb-ft of torque
2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 – 797 hp/707 lb-ft of torque
2022 Ford Mustang GT500: 5.2-liter supercharged V8 – 760 hp/625 lb-ft torque
2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Sedan: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 – 603 hp/627 lb-ft of torque
Trucks and SUVs
While the V8 vs. V6 debate for cars mainly revolves around performance, it is more about payload and maximum towing limits in trucks and SUVs.
In general, V8s bring a higher capacity for power (power ceiling). A V8 is more capable if you need your truck often and for long periods of time to pull or transport heavy loads. Those extra two cylinders sharing the workload means the stress of pulling a heavy load for long periods of time is reduced for all cylinders.
Although V6 engines are gaining ground, V8s still reign supreme among large trucks and SUVs. This is especially true when used for work and towing.
Check out these examples of trucks and SUVs with V8s:
2022 Ford F-150: 5.0-liter V8 – 400 hp/410 lb-ft of torque
2022 Ram 1500: 5.7-liter V8 – 395 hp/410 lb-ft . torque
2022 GMC Sierra 1500: 6.2-liter V8 – 420 hp/460 lb-ft . torque
2022 Nissan Armada: 5.6-liter V8 – 400 hp/413 lb-ft of torque
2022 Lexus GX: 4.6-liter V8 – 301 hp/329 lb-ft . torque
2022 Mercedes-Benz G550: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 – 416 hp/450 lb-ft of torque
2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer: 6.4-liter V8 – 471 hp/455 lb-ft . torque
What is a V6 engine?
Unlike a 6-cylinder inline engine with all six cylinders in a single row, a V6 offers two rows of cylinders, three in a row. In general, a V6 is lighter, more economical, cheaper and offers better handling than a V8.
Why you need a V6
Admittedly, the V6 just doesn’t have the cachet of the V8. However, in terms of usability and efficiency, the V6 wins the day. Today’s V6s, especially turbocharged, are not only a sensible V8 alternative, but can rival V8s in performance and work ethic.
So it’s less about why you need a V6 and more about why you should buy a V8? In most applications, a V6 can provide equal performance at a lower cost, both in terms of purchase price and fuel costs.
For many models, a V6 provides the thrust for the top trim level. The V8 has all but disappeared from the engine arsenal of cars for most mainstream brands, making the V8 supreme for muscle cars and some luxury models.
Plus, some form of a V6 is even paving the way for a growing number of performance cars.
Check out these cars with a V6 at the top of their motorcycle food chain:
2022 Nissan GT-R T-Spec: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 – 565 hp/467 lb-ft torque
2022 Audi A5 RS 5 Sportback: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 – 444 hp/442 lb-ft torque
2022 Kia Stinger GT: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 – 368 hp/376 lb-ft of torque
2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing: 3.6-liter turbo V6 – 472 hp/445 lb-ft torque
2022 Toyota Camry XSE: 3.5-liter V6 – 301 hp/267 lb-ft . torque
2022 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 – 400 hp/350 lb-ft of torque
2022 Genesis G80 3.5T: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 – 375 hp/391 lb-ft of torque
Trucks and SUVs
Often there is little difference in output between a V6 and a V8. For example, the 5.0-liter V8 of the Ford F-150 produces 400 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 generates 400 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque.
In terms of towing, the V6 outperforms the V8 in the example above. The V6 can tow up to 14,000 pounds, while the maximum towing capacity of the V8 is 13,000 pounds. However, the increased size and weight of the V8 brings us back to that sustained power advantage that V8s generally offer over V6s.
So, unless your truck or SUV becomes a real workhorse, you’ll probably appreciate the lower running and repair costs of a V6. You also almost always pay less when purchasing a V6.
Check out these examples of trucks and SUVs with a V6 engine:
2022 Ford Explorer Platinum: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 – 400 hp/415 lb-ft of torque
2022 Ram 1500: 3.6-liter V6 – 305 hp/269 lb-ft of torque
2022 Acura MDX Type S: 3.0-liter turbo V6 – 355 hp/354 lb-ft of torque
2022 Buick Enclave: 3.6-liter V6 – 310 hp/266 lb-ft . torque
2022 Hyundai Palisade: 3.8-liter V6 – 291 hp/262 lb-ft . torque
2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee: 3.6-liter V6 – 293 hp/260 lb-ft of torque
2022 Lincoln Navigator: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 – 440 hp/510 lb-ft of torque
V8 vs. Q6: Differences Roundup
Summarizing the differences, we generally see that, relative to V6s, V8s cost a little more when purchased, consume more fuel, weigh more and can usually tow and carry more, with less stress.
By comparison, V6s cost less to buy, use less fuel, weigh less, and carry and tow less.
Do you really need a V8 or can you buy a V6?
The essential half of the above question is: do you really need a V8? Save up for buying a muscle car or other high-performance vehicle, eight times out of ten the answer is no. No you will not do that need a V8. With all the advancements in engine technology, including the advancements in turbocharging, a V6 will usually meet your needs.
When heavy towing or towing is required, a V8 brings a slight edge. However, a V6 will be more than adequate for most truck and SUV applications.
With ever-tightening government tenders for mileage, the V8’s days are probably numbered. This seems counterintuitive as the market is relentlessly marching towards trucks and SUVs. Even in these segments, however, the V6 has made huge strides.
No, unless you’re looking for a powerful vehicle or a towing and hauling workhorse, you can find a V6 powered car, truck or SUV that will do everything you need.