What is the best engine configuration?


Selecting an engine offers its own set of compromises. While the amount of torque produced won’t vary from one layout to the next because pistons don’t know any better, it can change the characteristics of the car. From physical properties like weight balance to subjective qualities like exhaust note, the engine configuration has a tremendous bearing on the personality of a car.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/04/09/what-is-the-best-engine-configuration


And flat fours and to a slightly lesser extent, flat sixes, sound like they’re miss-firing on one cylinder. Your flatulent comment also fits.


Torque is a product of displacement and volumetric efficiency, the orientation of the cylinders doesn’t matter.


Pistons do care where the rods are connected at the crank. Which IIRC explains, at least in part, why inline engines produce more torque than V configurations…all else equal. There’s also compression ratios isn’t there?


Inline engines don’t produce more torque than V engines. Inline engines are just more likely to be undersquare due to packaging reasons. Undersquare engines aren’t good at revving high because they have small bores with small valves that don’t breathe well at high engine speed. So it’s not that undersquare engines are good at making torque, it’s that they’re bad a making horsepower.


Seems like torque is influenced most by the distance from center, or length of throw on the crank… where that piston is connected. And the positioning of the connections relative of the other pistons. Which is influenced by the engine’s architecture.
Edit…Without trying to explain it myself I think I’m starting to follow what you and the author are saying. I’ll blame the delay on old age. Appreciate your patience. :sunglasses:


Since you’re talking about sound, which is always a noticeable quality if the engine starts, I have three cars that I like to listen to. A 19-year old Volvo V70 with its 5 inline (and beautiful lines, by the way) has a deep, relaxed hum. I like that. My 1968 Morgan 4/4 Competition has an English Ford Cortina inline ( 4 cylinder obviously) with a glass-pack muffler. At idle and low speeds it sounds just like a classic wooden motor launch burbling through the water. Nice. A '76 MGB has a bullish deep hum at speed, with its glass-pack… A fifth car, a '55 Morgan +4 with its Triumph engine (with a longer heritage than the Triumph adoption) just always sounds like a farm tractor, even with a new glass-pack and side tail-pipe. I have to live with that.


“There are also rotary engines.” That’s all you can say about these highly efficient, light, smooth, compact power plants? OK…they burn oil. So does a two-stroke. (Um, I may not be making my case very well here.)

V6 in the NSX sounds pretty sweet. Ditto most air-cooled flat six Porsches. But overall, I prefer my sixes straight for smoothness, ease of maintenance, and reliability. Flat plane V8s sound the best, although there are some pretty sweet sounding cross plane V8s out there. Lookin’ at you Coyote.


I see in the ferrari pic it has Fram filters? Who puts cheap, poor quality filters on a performance engine? Opinion, V8’s sound best.


Rotaries definitely are compact and make huge power out of little displacement. Turbo’d and a few simple mods and it’s common to get well over 400 whp out of 1.3 liters. That’s supercar territory and should place them high on the list of “best configurations”. And they really burn very little oil. In my experience much less than the average Italian or French car. And at least the rotary does it by design.

But while being mechanically efficient (no reciprocal motion) they are thermally inefficient. Hence, they always struggled with CARB and CAFE standards.


The correct answer, by the way, is inline-3! :joy::rofl:


“…Ferrari managed to mount a flat-12 in one of the most beautiful cars to come out of the 1980s, so it can be done…” no argument there! I’ve owned my 1988.5 Testarossa for 25+ years now and the cacophony of music emitting from the engine doesn’t compare to my old Ferrari 360 or current 430 Spider. It has to be the most beautiful engine ever made to view and hear.



Can someone explain why, considering how many moving parts there are , the design cost, build cost, the support systems needed(cooling, electrical) and complexity of the internal combustion engine.

Electric cars/motors are not far cheaper!!?


I think electric motors are relatively inexpensive, lightweight batteries are not.


My favorite engine since I was 8 with a Clinton 4 stroke go-cart is the Toyota/Yahama 1.8 ltr supercharged Lotus Exige engine. Twin cam ,variable valve timing, chain driven valves. Extremely reliable 285 hp all day and night on and off the track. Just check the oil and go like hell!! The dealer said change the oil every 8,000 mi.( I do more often). My local dealer in West Palm gave up the dealership because they said there was very little after sale service, where they make the real money. I’m back to a go-cart!


Yep, that’s pretty much all I had to say. I was trying to stick to the old advice of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” but felt I had to at least mention them.


Any engine will make a lot of power if you turbocharge it, the difference is that most other engines will last!


No…most any engine will make more power, but almost none will do as well as a periferal port rotory. And “last” compared to what? Some of those other glorious engines mentioned above are driven an hour and worked on for two. Plus their relative simplicity makes a rotary relatively inexpensive to rebuild when the time comes.
And unlike the rotary, you can’t just turbocharge most engines without serious internal modifications. Even then their power to displacement ratio isn’t close to a rotary. Rotaries aren’t perfect but then they’ve had a fraction of the piston engine development.
You should have tried harder.


Three Fords come to mind. A flathead running through glasspacks is just sweet, probably because of the four into three ports. Y-blocks also have a unique sound all their own, and nothing beats a small block Ford in an early Mustang. Ford lost that sound for a while, but somehow they were able to get it back with the 4.6L Mustangs. Flatheads and Mustangs top my list!


Horsepower per liter is a metric devised for small engines to feel good about themselves. Besides that, if you’re comparing a two-rotor to a piston engine, it displaces 2.6L when measured similarly.

Maybe Mazda should have tried harder.