Which is better, a V6 or a V8? This question may seem outdated to some in this age of turbocharging, hybrids, and electric vehicles. However, it’s still relevant, particularly when shopping for a truck or SUV. Moreover, with gas costs escalating with no end in sight, fuel economy is again on our minds in a very big way.
Ultimately, we can’t tell you which is better because it all boils down to your specific needs. What you want to accomplish with your vehicle should determine whether a V8 or a V6 is suitable for you.
We aim to arm you with enough knowledge to make the best choice for your needs. Since this isn’t a general discussion of powertrains, we will concentrate on the V8 and V6, leaving out 4-cylinder engines and electric powertrains. We will ignore V10s and V12s, as well.
Engine Anatomy: What is the “V”?
The basic function of an internal combustion engine (ICE) depends upon the motion of pistons to rotate a crankshaft, which in turn powers the wheels via a gearbox. Pistons can be of various sizes, but each accomplishes its task within the confines of a cylinder. In simple terms, the more pistons, the greater the power potential. Consequently, when we refer to the number of cylinders in an engine, it’s really about the number of pistons.
Engine designers can arrange the cylinders in a straight line (inline) or divide them into two parallel rows with an equal number of cylinders. When divided into two rows, the cylinders must be angled inward at their base to attach the pistons to the crankshaft running along the bottom center of the engine. In other words, the parallel rows of cylinders form a “V” shape.
Although you could find inline-8 engines in a few models 60 or 70 years ago, today, the inline arrangement is confined to engines with six or fewer cylinders. Those with eight or more cylinders and most with six cylinders are in the V configuration.
The advantages and disadvantages of inline versus V is another story for another time.
What is a V8 Engine?
Two rows of four cylinders each comprise a V8 engine. Generally, V8 engines are larger, heavier, more fuel-thirsty, and more powerful than V6 engines.
Why You Need a V8
The reasons for choosing a V8 differ depending on whether it is a car instead of a truck or SUV.
At least for the time being, a V8 is the choice for most drivers looking for high-performance or horsepower and torque from a car. Whether a coupe, sedan, exotic, or sports car, the V8 often remains the go-to engine. Carmakers offering V8s typically reserve them for their top-end models.
Well suited for performance cars, V8s not only offer a higher power ceiling, but they deliver that power in a smooth, linear progression. What’s more, they emit a fierce growl that engines with fewer cylinders simply can’t duplicate.
Cars offering a V8 are a rapidly shrinking slice of the automotive pie. Muscle cars and high-performance sports cars are some of the last V8-equipped cars standing.
Check out these examples of high-performance 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 torque
2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 – 797 hp/707 lb-ft 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 torque
Trucks and SUVs
Whereas the V8 vs. V6 debate for cars primarily revolves around performance, it’s more about cargo-carrying capacity and maximum towing limits in trucks and SUVs.
In general terms, V8s bring a higher capacity for power (power ceiling). A V8 is more capable if you need your truck to pull or haul heavy loads often and for extended periods. Those additional two cylinders sharing the workload means the stress of pulling a heavy load over long periods gets lessened for all the cylinders.
Although V6 engines are gaining ground, V8s still rule among full-size trucks and SUVs. This is particularly true when used for work and towing.
Check out these examples of trucks and SUVs offering V8 engines:
2022 Ford F-150: 5.0-liter V8 – 400 hp/410 lb-ft 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 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 torque
2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer: 6.4-liter V8 – 471 hp/455 lb-ft torque
What is a V6 Engine?
Unlike an inline-6-cylinder engine with all six cylinders in a single row, a V6 offers two rows of cylinders, three to a row. Generally, a V6 is lighter, more fuel-efficient, less pricey, and provides better handling than a V8.
Why You Need a V6
Granted, the V6 simply doesn’t have the cachet of the V8. However, in terms of practicality and efficiency, the V6 wins the day. Today’s V6s, especially with turbocharging, are not just a sensible V8 alternative but can rival V8s in performance and work ethic.
Consequently, the issue is less about why you need a V6 and more about why would you buy a V8? In most applications, a V6 can deliver equal performance at a lower cost — both in terms of the purchase price and fuel costs.
For many models, a V6 supplies the thrust for the top-end trim level. The V8 has all but disappeared from the engine arsenal of cars for most mainstream brands, leaving the V8 to reign supreme for muscle cars and some luxury models.
Moreover, some form of a V6 even supplies the go for a growing number of performance cars.
Check out these cars with a V6 at the top of their engine 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 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 torque
2022 Genesis G80 3.5T: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 – 375 hp/391 lb-ft torque
Trucks and SUVs
Often, there is little output difference between a V6 and a V8. For example, the Ford F-150’s 5.0-liter V8 produces 400 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 generates 400 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque.
As for towing, the V6 outshines the V8 in the above example. The V6 can tug up to 14,000 pounds, while the V8’s maximum towing capacity is 13,000 pounds. However, due to the V8’s greater size and weight, we’re back to that sustained power advantage V8s generally offer over V6s.
So, unless your truck or SUV is going to be a real workhorse, you’ll probably appreciate the lower operating and repair costs of a V6. You will also almost always pay less at purchase for 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 torque
2022 Ram 1500: 3.6-liter V6 – 305 hp/269 lb-ft torque
2022 Acura MDX Type S: 3.0-liter turbo V6 – 355 hp/354 lb-ft 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 torque
2022 Lincoln Navigator: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 – 440 hp/510 lb-ft torque
V8 vs. V6: Differences Roundup
In summarizing the differences, we generally find that V8s, in relation to V6s, cost a little more at purchase, burn more fuel, weigh more, and usually can tow and haul more, enduring less stress.
In comparison, V6s cost less at purchase, burn less fuel, weigh less, and haul and tow less.
Do You Really Need a V8 or Can You Buy a V6?
The vital half of the above question is, do you really need a V8? Save for buying a muscle car or some other high-performance vehicle, eight out of 10 times, the answer is no. No, you don’t need a V8. With all the engine technology developments, including advances in turbocharging, a V6 will usually fulfill your needs.
When heavy towing or hauling is required, a V8 brings a slight edge. However, for most truck and SUV applications, a V6 will more than get the job done.
With ever-tightening government mileage mandates, the V8’s days are likely numbered. This seems counterintuitive as the market relentlessly marches toward trucks and SUVs. Even in these segments, though, the V6 has made huge inroads.
Nope, unless you’re shopping for a high-performance vehicle or a towing and hauling workhorse, you can find a V6-powered car, truck, or SUV that will do everything you need.