Six-cylinder engines have had an interesting history that sometimes was overshadowed by the bigger eight-cylinder engines. Perhaps, in more recent times, they have certainly picked up in popularity and for good reason. This is not to say that only the more recent six-cylinder engines are the “good” ones, as there are certainly lots of options to choose from. When considering a six-cylinder engine, you generally are either looking at an inline-six engine or a V6 engine. There isn’t necessarily a better way, although the inline-six engines have had more success.
Nissan RB26DETT 2.6L Inline-Six Engine
Nissan produced the RB26DETT engine, a 2.6L inline-six engine for use in the legendary Nissan Skyline GT-R from 1989 to 2002. The cylinder head of the RB26DETT engine is constructed of an aluminium alloy and has a DOHC arrangement with four valves per cylinder (a total of 24 valves). The engine block is built of cast iron. The RB26DETT has a different intake than other RB-series motors since it has six separate (3 sets of 2 throttle assemblies that are paired together) throttle assemblies rather than a single throttle body.
Nissan estimated the initial 2.6 L RB26DETT to have 276 horsepower and 260lb feet. Power levels increased to around 316 hp and 289lb feet by the end of production, not only due to advancements and modifications made to the engine, but also due to the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” reached between automakers to cap the “advertised” horsepower of any vehicle at 276 bhp. Due to its iron block and forged internals, the RB26 is well recognised and has gained a lot of popularity for its strength and power potential, making it a platform that is friendly to modifications for tuners and aftermarket modifications in general.
Buick-McLaren 3.8L V6 Engine
The Buick-McLaren 3.8L V6 Engine was really a motor developed by Buick and McLaren to out power bigger engines and Japanese competitors. It was so spectacular that we covered it a while ago as one of the mightiest muscle car motors. The partnership turned out to be a big hit as Buick-McLaren tested it out on the Buick GNX. Keep in mind, that in 1987, Buick-McLaren were able to put out a V6 engine that made 300 horsepower and 420lb feet of torque. Although originally, Buick underrated the motor saying it made 276 horsepower and 360lb feet of torque, which would still be impressive numbers for the time period.
Toyota 2JZ-GTE 3.0L Inline-Six Engine
The Fast and Furious series certainly made the Toyota 2JZ-GTE a popular engine before everyone really knew its potential. The 2JZ-GTE 3.0L inline-six engine was produced from 1991 to 2002 and was featured primarily, and most popularly, in Toyota’s Supra. It was essentially the same as the 2JZ-GE but featured sequential twin turbochargers and an air-to-air side-mounted intercooler. It produced 276 horsepower and 320lb feet of torque. In 1997, these numbers were bumped up to 320 horsepower and 315lb feet of torque. This is an engine that is capable of 2,000 horsepower and has a bulletproof cast-iron block. Even the main stock components such as the timing belt, oil pump and cooling system are easily capable of 1,000 horsepower.
BMW S54 3.2L Inline-Six Engine
The BMW S54 3.2L inline-six engine was the more modern and superior engine to the original M-series engine, the BMW M88. The S54 was advertised as the high-performance alternative to the M54, but in reality, it is more of an advancement of the BMW S50 and only shares a small number of components with the M54. The S54 features distinct throttle bodies for each cylinder, as do the majority of M engines, and it adds electronic throttle control to the throttle function. The engine block is built of cast iron in the S50 (unlike the aluminium engine block used by the M54). Redline is 8,000 rpm. It produced 338 horsepower and 269lb feet of torque.
Cummins 6BT 5.9L Inline-Six Engine
While not producing anywhere near the horsepower as the other options on this list, the Cummins 6BT 5.9L inline-six engine is still equally great and just as important. Sometimes it is simply referred to as the “12-Valve” and it ranged in use in everything from pickup trucks to tractors. It debuted in the 1989–1998 Dodge Ram pickup vehicle and quickly gained popularity as a viable substitute for the massive gasoline V8 engines typically found in full-size pickup trucks due to its ability to generate torque at low engine RPM and much superior fuel economy. Due to indirect fueling at the time, only the Dodge RAM diesel truck was capable of starting in cold weather without the use of glow plugs. The 6BT would produce 230 horsepower and 440lb feet of torque in its prime. However, it would become most known for its reliability as it proved to be one of the most reliable engines ever made.