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For engines, power is a question of cylindres

The advantages and disadvantages of the evolution of engines: performance is linked to the number of cylinders, and preferences change depending on the type of car in different continents

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For engines, power is a question of cylindres

At a time when downsizing – the reduction in the number of cylinders in order to optimise fuel consumption – is a design philosophy adopted by almost all the manufacturers, it is increasingly rare to see new engines with a high number of cylinders. In fact, even sports cars have to take into account the stringent anti-pollution standards and therefore the new generations of a model offer fewer cylinders than the version which they replace, compensating for the resulting loss of power by supercharging or perhaps adopting a V6 format.

However, architectures of 8, 10 or 12 cylinders remain the ultimate expression of top-performing technology: in fact, when a high-displacement engine is designed, these amounts of cylinders are indeed the preferred versions. One isolated case remains - the W16 with 16 cylinders developed by Bugatti for its Veyron and subsequently for its Chiron.

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THE KING OF ENGINES

The 12-cylinder format is traditionally considered to be the king of engines. The prestige which this architecture brings to the design of a new car is yet a further one of the many advantages that the V12 succeeds in securing. This format represents the top of the range for luxury sports car brands and has always constituted an elite apart.

This is the case for most of the hypercars, Grand Tourers or flagships at the very top of their range: the Ferrari FF and F12, Rolls-Royce Ghost and Wraith, Bentley Continental and Flying Spur, Pagani, Lamborghini Aventador and Mercedes 65 AMG. From a technical perspective, the V12 architecture provides an exemplary smooth performance (as do 6 cylinders in line, basically) and the best possible balancing, which translates into an almost total absence of vibrations.

Furthermore, it allows the vehicle to maintain a revolution speed which is lower for the same power output, guaranteeing improved reliability. The disadvantages relate primarily to the complexity of manufacture and the high cost, as well as the high fuel consumption caused by the high levels of internal friction.

THE DISADVANTAGE OF 10 CYLINDERS

The architecture using 10 cylinders is less common in the automotive industry, given that for a high number of cylinders manufacturers prefer to adopt the V12 format. Over recent years, this has been the configuration chosen to equip the BMW M5, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the Audi R8, the Dodge Viper and several American pick-ups such as the Ram SRT-10 and the Ford F-350.

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The principal disadvantage of this engine is its lack of balancing, resulting from the significant vibrations which are generated, especially in the vertical plane. The chosen solution consists of the adoption of a countershaft to balance the engine and the adoption of a suitable bank angle (usually 72 degrees).

AN 8-CYLINDER FORMAT FINDS FAVOUR IN THE USA

The 8-cylinder V-line set-up is widely used in the current car-making industry for supercars. It is heavily utilised for American sports cars, where it is a mark of large-cylinder high-powered sports cars, such as the muscle cars. Some of the most famous are the V8 Hemi engines developed by Dodge (equipped with hemispherical combustion chambers).

The V8 configuration permits the comparatively easy generation of power outputs up to 600 HP, whilst still maintaining compact dimensions, which means these engines can be installed in “normal” car bodies. Fuel consumption is lower compared to the V12 and can be further reduced using partial deactivation systems, whenever high power output is not required.

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