As an automotive category, six-cylinder coupes runs the gamut from the extraordinarily exciting, like Nissan’s GT-R and Porsche’s 911, to the more tame but still nice Honda Accord. Coupes occupy a special place in the automotive world because of their carefree attitude and what they say about the lifestyle of the driver. In a word, coupes imply a sporty, youthful, happy go lucky lifestyle—free from responsibilities and encumbrances.
Meanwhile, the six-cylinder engine resides in the sweet spot of today’s marketplace, accounting for a significant portion of the annual sales volume. In fact, the only engine selling more than the six-cylinder is the inline four.
Unlike most other internal combustion engines, six cylinder powerplants come in a rather broad variety of configurations; including inline, Vee, and horizontally opposed (or flat). An inline six has all of its pistons arranged single file in the engine block, a V-6 has its pistons situated opposite each other, three to a side, in a right angle or at an acute angle to one another. The horizontally opposed (flat or boxer) six-cylinder engine also has its pistons set three to a side, however they lie flat in the engine block and are mounted to the crankshaft such that the opposing pistons move back and forth in opposite directions at the same time.
Most manufacturers employ the V-6 configuration because it is easiest to package. The block is shorter and more compact than the other arrangements. However, if ultimate smoothness is what a builder is after, the inline six-cylinder engine has but one parallel—the V12. Six cylinders in a row in an internal combustion engine achieve a balance no other configuration can approach.
The primary advantages to a flat-six engine are its compactness and low center of gravity. Because its profile is so shallow, the flat six can be mounted lower in the chassis of its host automobile, placing its weight closer to the ground—thus endowing a given vehicle with more agility than the other engine layouts.
Regardless of configuration however, today’s six-cylinder engines are more than capable of producing power equivalent to, or greater than that of the V8 engines from only five years ago—while also besting them in fuel economy. With the advent of turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, manufacturers are getting as much as 620 reliable horsepower from a six-cylinder engine, making the configuration a paragon of both efficiency and performance.
What follows is our list of the best six-cylinder coupes of 2012.