Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

4cyl vs. 6cyl

Hey everybody.
I’m about to buy a Toyota Highlander. I’m a bit reluctant to buy the 6 cyl model because of the city mpg. The 4 cyl gets better city mpg (just a couple miles below the hybrid). However, the salesman is telling me that the 4 cyl. has to work harder to haul around the same weight so the mpg isn’t that much better than the 6.
What do you think? True or False?


This is a very old debate, but it boils down to whether you plan to do heavy duty towing/hauling and the kind of terrain on which you will be driving.

Chances are, the salesman just wants to sell you the more expensive vehicle. Test drive both vehicles, and if the four cylinder engine has enough power for you, that is what you’d be better off with.

It comes down to how you’ll use your Highlander. How many people? How much of a load? Have you taken a test drive with the 4 loaded up, and see how it does?

I’ve switched from a 6 to a 4, no problems. I found I only used the 6’s extra power to ‘have fun’, not because I needed it. But this was in a sedan, not a SUV with 7 seats.

There are many factors at play here, some opposing.
The 6 cyl has more weight, moving parts and friction.
Gas engines are more efficient at medium loads vs light or very heavy loads, so the 4 cyl will be more efficient under light duty conditions.
Insurance may be less for the 4 cyl.

I should add that the Highlander is not supposed to be a heavy truck-based SUV. It’s supposed to be a crossover SUV.

I’m more concerned with displacement than the number of cylinders, and the difference between the two engines is only 0.8 liters.

A third option you might not have considered is the hybrid version. It might also be worth considering. If I were in your shoes, I’d test drive all three versions.

I disagree with nearly everyone…but hear me out

I just picked up a used 2013 Venza 4cylinder. The Venza is built on the Highlander/Camry chassis but scaled down to 5 passenger Camry wagon size. Because we have a larger SUV for heavier loads, a 4 cylinder seems adaquate for this car. The Highlander is a LARGE vehicle with third row 7passenegr seating. The salesman is absolutely right. If you carry much for loads or have the Awd, you will miss not having the 3.5 six which is nearly if not more economical as the four in real life use.

I would never get a vehicle as large as a Hylander with just a four. If you don’t plan on loading up the Highlander and it’s fwd, get a Venza or RAV. IMHO, there is no need for the Highlander four.

Though there is only .8 L difference in displacement, there is a HUGE difference in actual output and very little in mileage…if at all. This 3.5 in the previous gen RAV only lost one mpg to a 2.5 four they used as well. Get the 6. People who have in the Highlander are much more satisfied according to CR. It’s a total no brainer ! Huge regrets if you don’t !!! The Venza with the 2.7 four is quite adaquate. The Highlander with the same motor is an absolute DOG . It carries nearly 4 to 600 lbs more depending on it’s options ! The 3.5 is recomended in every vehicle it is offered in by everyone who reviews Toyotas. It is a great motor.

Lastly. Don’t just trust my opinion alone. Go on a Toyota or Hylander forum and ask those who have lived with these 4300 lb vehicles.

When I bought a 2011 Toyota Sienna, both 4 cylinder and cylinder versions were offered. I bought the 6 cylinder because my wife does not like 4 cylinder cars after having owned a Ford Tempo. Now I know that 4 cylinder engines are better than the 1985 Tempo’s engine, but after I bought the 6 cylinder Sienna and read road tests, the gas mileage between the two was identical.

@dagosa - I agree with you, now that I think about it. If a 4 in a Highlander is enough, they don’t need the Highlander’s extra capacity and weight. So either get the Highlander with a 6, or a fwd Venza with a 4 (or a 6 if they don’t need 3 rows), or a Rav-4.

The Toyota V6 is one of the best engines out there, bar none.

The 2.7 in a Venza Is a smooth, reasonably quiet and potent motor and seems fine for just my wife and I for trips. BUT, though I am a cheap skate, I would have jumped all over the six had the price been right. But, I also would have gotten more then my share of speeding tickets.

If the 6 cylinder version does not cost much more than the 4 cylinder then buy it. If you need more power from the 4 cylinder…it probably will not be there. The 6 cylinder is a smarter choice overall. I found this out when my wife and I took a trip to California some years ago. We owned a 4 cylinder vehicle at the time and it was adequate in the flatlands but when we got to the Rocky mountains…all bets were off. We stayed in the right lane and let everyone and his brother pass us by.

I don’t think you can go wrong with a 6 cyl. Like I said before with my little G6 with a 6, I was behind three pick ups going about 50 on a two lane. I had an opportunity to go around then so I punched it down and the car took off. When I looked at the speedometer a few seconds later, I was up to 90 and didn’t even realize it. Lots of extra power when you need it and a lot less strain on the engine during normal use.

Unless squeezing every possible mpg out of the vehicle is the prime concern for the OP, I agree that he will likely be happier with the larger engine.

When he is accelerating onto an interstate highway, or when he is climbing hills, he will almost surely regret settling for the 4-cylinder engine, instead of paying a bit more for the six. Yes, the larger engine will provide more…fun…but there is no denying that there are instances where having superior acceleration is a safety factor.

And, if noise levels in the car are of any concern to the OP, he should be aware that, because the six engine is turning at lower RPMs at highway speeds, the cabin will be much quieter than with the 4-cylinder engine.

Many years ago, I decided to apply my mother’s wisdom (“There are no pockets in burial shrouds”), and to enjoy my money while I still can. Thus, I spent the extra money for the larger engine on my last two cars, and I have never regretted it.

The salesman is trying to make a bigger commission. He doesn’t care, of know, if the 4-banger will actually work harder or what that would mean if anything. And if you have to pay more for him to get a bigger commission, he couldn’t care less.

Ignore the salesman. Get the one you want. It’s your money.

Im gonna go against the grain and say go for the 4-cylinder.

I’m not much of a fan of transversely-mounted V-engines. They are a nightmare to work on…which translates to “expensive to work on” if you don’t DIY.

I’m not sure what the big issue is, 30 seconds of research

suggests that there is only a 1MPG difference between the V6 and I4 in the 2WD models. And if you want AWD, you’re going to have to get the V6 anyway.

I hear you but it depends on the make and the design. Everything on my Toyotas, including the sixes were easy to get to for filters and all fluids as everything is lead right to easy access to the front or sides, except for plugs. And, the plugs are a 100k item on these cars in question. I remember too a certain GM model that required moving the motor to replace the plugs back in the 70s.

One thing is for sure, the four banger has to move a 4200 plus lbs car around. There is no other make I can think of off hand in this category that asks so much of a non turbo four cylinder.

It’s like when I bought my automatic generator and the salesman said I should get the 10k watt over the 8k, even though I didn’t need the extra wattage. He said the motor had and extra cylinder and was way quieter not having to work as much or as hard. After hearing both in operation, it was a no brainer. There are lot’s of times when bigger is better and more efficient. This is often true with wood stoves, outboard motors, sail area on a sail boat, lawn mowers, generators and motors for larger SUVs. The Highlander is BIG.

Contrary to what others are saying salesman are not all liars and are not totally ignorant of their product. Listen to what they have to say and then you do your own research.

For the MPG difference, the money and the power difference I’d go with the six. But you need to do your homework on this.

Dag, I see your point, but remember that six cylinders are all that’s needed to move 40 tons successfully in a semi. It ain’t the number of cylinders that matters. It’s the whole design.

Joe, I thought of that but then realized that the Highlander V6 is longitudinally mounted. Granted, 4-bangesr are still easier to work on, but the difference in this case I don’t think is significant.

The OP should get the one he/she wants. Often 4-bangers are the better option.

Absolutely few cylinders can successfully move great weight. But they have much better gearing and their acceleration and hill climbing leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, they are seldom 2.7 or 3.5L in displacement. When you spend well in access of $30k for a seven passenger vehicle and worry about one less mpg at the loss of nearly 50% of your power on a vehicle, it is definitely worthwhile to take advantage of everyone’s advice as asked. In use the mileage will be will be worse, not better with the four cylinder if the vehical space is filled. If it is not, he is better off with a RAV if mpgs are a concerned. Mileage figures are given “unloaded” and donot in this vehicle, give a good indication of practical mileage between the two motors when the vehical is even partially loaded. The salesman is right. I am on my 8th Toyota (10 if you count clones) and half were sixes and half were fours. This distinction has been true in all of them when dealing with vehicals Toyota offers both 4 and 6 clinder motors in.

Though there is but a few hundred dollars difference in price between the two motors and little difference in mileage, being drawn into a model with leather and sunroof and etc. just to get the bigger motor is the biggest concern. But, OP will (may) not have an opportunity to load up each of the 4 and 6 versions, then drive around enough to empty half a tank and check the mileage. He has to go by those with related experience including a Higlander forum.

The Highlander is a Camry/Venza platform with the same engine mounting as their fwd brethren in both four and six configuration as are nearly all fwd cars.

While an 18 wheeler might indeed only have six cylinders, it’s very likely that the engine also has 2.7+ liters in each and every cylinder. Displacement counts too.