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3-Cylinder vs 4-Cylinder Car Engines

22 June 2020 AutoMarket, Tips & Advice

The cylinder is the powerhouse that runs the engine. It’s where fuel is burned, creating the energy that drives the car forward. The cylinder is made of strong, durable metal and is sealed shut. It contains a piston that motions up and down, causing combustion. Engines can have different numbers of cylinders - the most common of which are 3-cylinder and 4-cylinders.

The 3-cylinder vs 4-cylinder debate began when the 3-cylinder showed signs of poor performance in its early development stage. People began to notice issues with excessive noise, as well as with the balancing and tuning of the engine. There is also an axiom that odd-numbered cylinders generally tend to be less balanced, and generate more vibrations than their even-numbered counterpart.

But is the notion that 3-cylinder engines are inferior justified? Keep reading to find out.

The difference

The primary (and most obvious) distinction between the two engines is their number of cylinders – 3 and 4 respectively. What also sets them apart is the power they produce. A 4-cylinder engine generates power every 90-degree rotation of the crankshaft, whereas a 3-cylinder engine does so every 120 degrees. 

These key differences have significant implications in terms of performance, fuel consumption, and other variables. Let’s compare each to find out which engine is best.

3-cylinder engine


The good

1. Fuel efficiency Less cylinders require less fuel – a win for both your pocket and the environment.

2. Cost 3-cylinder engines are cheaper to manufacture, as they require less parts.

3. Interiors Smaller engine = smaller engine bay = more leg room. Simples!

4. Frictional losses One less cylinder means less metal-on-metal contact. This reduced friction reduces fuel consumption, and improved motion.


The not-so-good

1. Engine response 3-cylinder engines can have a delayed engine response. For some drivers, this may go unnoticed. However, for those that are accustomed to a 4-cylinder engine, this may be an issue.

2. Noise 3-cylinder engines must work harder to generate power. Unfortunately for your eardrums, this can make the engine a tad noisier.


4-cylinder engine


The good

1. Power distribution The even-numbered 4-cylinder engine tends to distribute its power more consistently. This means they can perform well at both high and low RPM.

2. Engine response 4-cylinder engines respond significantly faster. This is because there is no lag in their firing order.

3. Refined engine These engines work continuously and are highly refined. When paired with a 4-stroke engine, the balance is perfect and the engine can run lag-free.


The not-so-good

1. Cost The extra cylinder is one extra manufacturing cost. This makes this engine pricier.

2. Fuel consumption Due to their heavy weight, 4-cylinder engines consume more fuel. If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, you might want to rethink this one.



As with most things in life, each engine has its pros and cons. The engine that suits you best will depend on your driving style and needs. One thing is certain: there is a time and a place for both.

In brief, if you prioritise power and performance, choose a 4-cylinder engine.

If you’re a novice driver on a tight budget who wants an environmentally-friendly car, a 3-cylinder will do the trick nicely.

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