A W engine is a type of internal combustion engine which mimics the V engine commonly found in modern cars, with the exception that its shape resembles the letter "W" instead of the letter "V." It uses pistons to compress an air and fuel mixture which then ignites and moves the car forward. What's unique about the W engine is its ability to create lots of power while keeping its parts relatively compact so they take up less space. Whereas a typical V engine houses two groups of cylinders connected to one crankshaft, the W engine can house from three to four groups of cylinders connected to one or two crankshafts. In the automotive world, more cylinders equal more power.
Typical internal combustion engines use compression to power the car forward. Air and fuel enters each cylinder and the piston inside presses the mixture into a tiny space. A spark from the spark plug ignites the fuel and air in the cylinder, causing an explosion that turns the crankshaft, which in turn rotates the car's wheels. Each cylinder gives the car more power, so a V6 engine, which contains six cylinders, creates more power than a V4 engine, which contains only four cylinders.
In theory, a manufacturer could fill an engine with lots of extra cylinders for more power. In reality, this often proves impractical because the cylinders take up too much space. The W engine provides one solution to this problem with its shape. It provides an efficient way to create more power without adding too much bulk to the engine or taking up too much room under the hood.
The first W engine was created by the engine manufacturing company Anzani in 1906 and used in Anzani motorbikes. It contained three cylinders that formed the three legs of the W shape. The W engine has advanced over time to hold more cylinders and can go up to a W16 or higher.
Volkswagon Group produced the first working W engine for use in automobiles, known as the W12. The W12 includes 12 cylinders divided into two groups of six, all connected to a single crankshaft. The engine is made from two VR6 engines connected to one crankshaft and is also referred to as a VV or VR engine, which more accurately describes it than the term W engine. Many of today's modern W engines contain multiple cylinders on either side. The modern versions look less like the original W shape than the first W3 engine did but still hold the advantage of packing more power than a V shaped engine without taking up too much extra space.