Engine Layouts Explained

Engines come in all different shapes and sizes, but when referring to them, you often only hear about the capacity and the cylinder layout. While anybody who works on engines understands the differences, most normal car owners are completely unaware of the differences and why they exist.

The Layouts

There is a shockingly large amount of engine layouts around, with some being a lot rarer than others. Radial engines, W engines, narrow banked V and a lot of other styles have fallen into relative obscurity, for the most part in today’s auto market, the styles are limited to straight, v and flat.

  • Straight – The straight layout is the most common layout of engines on the market today. The word “straight” refers to all the cylinders being in a straight line with each other.
  • V – V engines are still relatively common in the higher capacity engines, V6 and V8 being the most notable of the lot. The V indicates that there are two banks of cylinders in a V pattern. A v8 would have two banks of four cylinders each. While the angle of the v can change, most v engines subscribe to a 72° or a 90° arch. Whenever there is a space which is less than 180° between the banks, we refer to the motor as a V
  • Flat – Flat engines are on the less common side, today only being produced by Subaru and Porsche, they are still very relevant motors. The “flat” refers to the flat looking layout, with the cylinders being perfectly opposed either side of the centralized crankshaft. Less common than they used to be, flat motors are still very relevant and have an avid group of passionate fans.

Those are the most common layouts around today, used in more than 99% of cars that are currently on the roads.

Why The Differences

All the engines run on internal combustion, so it can be a bit confusing as to why all the different layouts exist. All have the same parts, after all. There are some advantages to each layout, making them better for different particular applications.

  • Straight engine – Straight engines are pretty much the industry standard because they are cheap and easy. Unlike a V or flat where you need to have separate heads, camshafts, fuel rails and other items, on a straight motor it’s just the one set. This saves money in production just like when you play casino crypto currency games and don’t pay hefty transfer fees. Another big advantage of straight motors is the smoothness. Unlike a v which has forces in odd directions translated into rotational force onto the cranks, a straight motor only has one direction of force which is translated into the crank’s rotational movement.
  • V – The biggest advantage of a v layout is the length. It may not sound important, but when the stresses of internals are considered, the length of a motor can be detrimental. In a high capacity straight 6 or 8, the crankshaft often needs to be so long that it cannot survive the additional force. V motors enable a larger capacity while keeping the engine length to a minimum. This is why higher capacity engines are typically made in a v format.
  • Flat – Flat motors are a bit of the odd ball of the family. Considered difficult to work on, and in some cases unreliable, flat motors still have benefits to give. Lower centre of gravity makes for a more stable driving experience, and the counteracting torque on the internals allows flat motors to generally put out more power for a certain type of internal component. Flat motors may not be to everybody’s preference, but when used properly they can produce incredible results.

None of the layouts are inherently bad or better than one another. It all depends on the specific motor design and application.