Should Your Next Pickup Truck Have A V6 Or V8 Engine?

Light-duty pickup trucks like the Chevy Silverado have always offered their buyers a choice between six-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines. In an age where just about every engine offering has seen vast improvements in power and fuel economy, you'd have to wonder if two cylinders still make a difference. The following takes a look at the latest V6 and V8 engines, as well as the question of which should be under the hood of your next pickup truck.

V8: The Traditional Option

When you think "pickup truck," chances are you'll think "V8 engine". It's a buyer preference that's lasted for several decades. Of the approximately 1.4 million pickup trucks sold in 2013, the majority of them were equipped with eight-cylinder engines.

There are plenty of reasons why V8 engines remain the go-to for many pickup truck buyers. For starters, V8 pickup trucks have traditionally been able to haul and tow heavier loads than their V6 counterparts, thanks in large part to the V8 engine's extra muscle. In many cases, the tow and haul rating on the V6 version of a pickup truck was always rated lower than its V8 counterpart, under the assumption that the engine wouldn't be able to handle the same type of load without undue strain.  

The choice of a V8 over a V6 also comes down to audial aesthetics — many buyers enjoy the deep, burly burble of a V8 engine, along with the seemingly sedate and effortless takeoff it offers. There are also those who believe that a proper pickup truck should always have a V8 engine, regardless of what would actually suffice.

V6: Smaller and More Economical

Traditionally, V6 engines have been the province of fleet sales and misers looking to squeeze every penny they could out of their trucks. However, recent improvements in power output and fuel efficiency have made today's V6 pickup trucks a compelling purchase for many buyers. V6 engines also represent a slight savings in fuel economy, although the difference is usually only 1 to 2 mpg when compared to a typical V8 engine.

One competitor has turned the concept of the V6 engine playing second-fiddle to its bigger V8 counterpart on its head by introducing a twin-turbocharged variant of its V6 engine in its best-selling light-duty pickup truck offering. The twin-turbocharged setup not only gives the engine more horsepower than its V8 counterpart, but buyers also benefit from an increased tow and payload rating. The company's turbocharged and naturally aspirated V6 engines made up nearly 40 percent of its truck sales volume in 2011.

With mainstream sedans moving away from naturally aspirated V6 and V8 engines in favor of boosted four- and six-cylinder powerplants, one has to wonder if the same fate is in store for the full-size light-duty pickup truck in general. Automotive expert Tim Esterdahl speculates that the major pickup truck manufacturers will have turbocharged engines as a standard option by 2025, displacing traditional V6 and V8 engines that currently fulfill that role.

Which Should You Choose?

At this point, choosing between a V6 and V8 engine is mainly a matter of preference — the slight difference in fuel economy is usually not much of a concern to prospective buyers. Instead it's the power and overall performance that's often the deal breaker when it comes to such choices. As V6 engines lose their stigma of being underpowered fleet specials, it's likely that the V6 engine will displace and even supplant V8 powerplants to a degree.

If you're looking for a new pickup truck, then you should probably ask yourself which option you would feel more comfortable with. While today's V6 engines offer improved performance and minor improvements in fuel economy, V8 engines still offer a slight overall advantage in performance, payload and towing capacity when properly equipped.