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 |  Jul 25 2011, 5:00 PM

American consumers are buying more four-cylinder vehicles than ever before. According to research by IHS Automotive, 43 percent of all new cars delivered in the U.S in the first half of 2011, were powered by four-cylinders. In 2005, 43 percent of all new cars in the U.S were powered by sixes. The remaining 57 percent of cars sold in the US  this year were six, eight and twelve cylinder engines.

Just a few years ago when gas was cheaper, four cylinders were destined the domain of economy cars. By contrast, one of every three new cars was powered by a V8 in 2005, but in 2011, that figure fell to one of every six vehicles.

While fuel efficiency is a top priority when consumers buy new cars, that’s only part of the story. As technology improves, four cylinder engines are cheaper, more reliable, and more powerful then ever before. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder in a compact Ford Contour in 1999 produced 120-hp getting 19/28 city/highway mpg. By contrast, the 2011 Ford Focus 160-hp and gets as much as 40 mpg on the highway.