Do you need four or six? Tom and Ray chime in on the Great Cylinder Debate.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am in the process of buying a new Subaru Outback. My question is: Do I need to get the six-cylinder model, or does the four-cylinder engine in this year's models have enough get-up-and-go to be sufficient? I hate to spend the extra money for gasoline -- plus, it is supposed to be fed premium gasoline, so the cost continues after the purchase. Thanks. -- Anne

TOM: Anne, don't do it! It's a scam.

RAY: Carmakers keep trying to convince us that we need more power. Why? Well, they say, what if you need to pass someone on the highway? OK, when's the last time you drove a car that had trouble passing someone on the highway? 1973? In your Datsun 210?

TOM: The fact is, most cars are obscenely over-powered nowadays. It costs you money (to buy the bigger engine), it costs you more in fuel (because we have to feed the bigger, thirstier engine AND we have to carry that bigger engine around with us every time we drive), and it costs our country in blood and treasure because it makes us more dependent on foreign oil.

RAY: Now, if we had a NEED for bigger engines, that would be one thing. But we don't. Most of us commute every day. Or we take our kids to piano lessons and baseball practice. We pick up our spouse at the train station, and take a trip to Grandma's once or twice a year. And none of that stuff requires a minivan with 275 horsepower.

RAY: Now, in terms of the Outback, Anne, there's even one more reason to avoid the bigger engine. It's a pain in the tuchus to work on.

TOM: It's shoehorned into the engine compartment, and you have to be Flat-armed Frank to reach anything that's not right on top. That costs you money, because mechanics charge by the hour. And the longer it takes them to get to a faulty part, the more money you pay in labor.

RAY: And we won't even get into the additional weight of the engine over the front wheels, which makes the handling worse, or the premium-fuel requirement, which is a good reason in itself not to buy a car, in our humble opinion.

TOM: What you want is the RIGHT amount of power for the car you drive, considering your normal, everyday driving. And for almost all driving conditions, the four-cylinder, double overhead cam engine in the Outback is perfect for this car. It's got 175 horsepower, which is plenty for a 3,300-pound vehicle.

RAY: Unless you're pulling a horse trailer. In which case, you should be looking at a Ford F-250 pickup truck. And even then, I'd get a smaller engine and put the horses in the front ... and let them pull the F-250 AND the horse trailer.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One