3-cylinder engine vs 4-cylinder engine: what’s better?

Do you know 3 cylinder engines and 4 cylinder engines? Read on to find out which type has an advantage over the other.

The shift to 3-cylinder engines is in full swing when it comes to Indian-made automobiles. But buyers mistakenly think that 3-cylinder cars are disadvantageous compared to 4-cylinder cars because of the lower number of cylinders. Moreover, it is only used in budget sedans. However, whether one type of car is better than the other is quite debatable. Today we are going to dispel all the myths related to this question with a detailed description of the two types of engines.

The basics


In case you were wondering what a cylinder does in an engine, it is a real power unit of the car. This is the chamber where gasoline or diesel is burned and converted into mechanical energy that propels the vehicle forward or backward. As you might guess, a 3-cylinder engine has three cylinders inside and a 4-cylinder engine has four. The power delivered depends on the firing order, or the firing sequence of each of the cylinders present inside the engines, and this is what differentiates these two types of engines.

Advantages of 3 cylinder engines


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  1. Compact size: Having one less cylinder to house gives builders the advantage of having more space in the engine bay. It also means that the remaining space can be used to increase cabin space.
  2. Better energy efficiency: The fewer cylinders, the smaller the metal-to-metal contact area, and the less of that contact, the better the car’s fuel mileage. The same goes for the lower number of gaskets that are part of 3-cylinder engines compared to 4-cylinder engines.
  3. Less use of raw materials: The fewer the cylinders, the less total material is needed to make the engine. This gives a big advantage to the manufacturer in terms of cost savings which it can transfer to lowering the price of the car.
  4. Lighter weight: It’s a pretty simple perk. A three-cylinder engine will obviously weigh less than a four-cylinder engine. This leads to a lower curb weight for the car, which is good news for its fuel efficiency.

Advantages of 4 cylinder engines


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  1. Better refinement: The engines operate on a simple 4-stroke principle which involves intake, compression, power and exhaust. The number of these strokes is equal to the number of cylinders in 4-cylinder engines and hence there is more balance in their operations. While a 4 cylinder engine produces power after every 90 degree rotation of the crankshaft, a 3 cylinder engine produces power after every 120 degree rotation. This discrepancy leads to noisier operations, rarely observed on 4-cylinder engines.
  2. Equal distribution of power: 3-cylinder engines have a non-ignition zone in their cycle when the crankshaft spins on the momentum generated by the flywheel. This means that at lower revs, a 3-cylinder engine cannot generate much power. On the other hand, a 4-cylinder engine does not encounter this problem since there is no offset in the firing order.


So what’s the best engine here? The answer is neither. If you are looking for its fuel efficiency, the three-cylinder engine is the best bet for you. But if you’re looking for engine refinement and punchy performance, then a 4-cylinder engine is for you. However, with some automakers adding turbochargers to their engines, some 3-cylinder engines also deliver somewhat punchy performance.

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