The second best selling engine configuration on the market today, the six-cylinder powerplant is powerful, versatile, fuel-efficient and light weight—particularly when compared to its V8 and V12 rivals. For these reasons, six is typically the go-to cylinder count when most manufacturers spec their entry-level and increasingly, their primary luxury coupe offerings.
A unique aspect of the six-cylinder engine is the broad variety of configurations in which it is available.
Most manufacturers employ the V-6 configuration (two rows of three cylinders set at a 90 degree angle or less to each other in the engine block) because it is easiest to package. The V-6 block’s main advantage is that it is shorter and therefore more compact than the other arrangements. This gives a stylist a broad variety of options when penning the car.
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. These engines are seductively silken in operation.
However, there’s a reason BMW models tend to feature the long nose/short rear deck styling architecture. That inline six needs more room under the hood to comfortably reside. So, while it is exceptionally smooth, deploying an inline-6 does entail packaging considerations most manufacturers sidestep with the V6 configuration.
Regardless of configuration however, the power produced by six cylinders can be quite prodigious. These days, while most six-cylinder engines produce output in the 300 horsepower range, with turbocharging, variable cam timing and direct fuel injection, builders can reliably get as much as 620 horsepower from it. This offers the potential to endow a given luxury coupe model with more than adequate performance, while avoiding the excessive thirst for fuel imposed by their V8 alternatives.
What follows is our list of the best six-cylinder luxury coupes for 2012.