The petrol-powered five-cylinder engine has just turned 40.
First introduced in the 1976 Audi 100, it’s remained one of the rarest engine configurations, but undoubtedly one of the coolest due to its unique and evocative sound.
Its unusual firing arrangement (five firing pulses for every two crankshaft rotations) produces the characteristic warble that is sadly only found in Audi’s RS3 and TT RS. Thankfully, as the brand that introduced the five-pot, Audi is keen for it to continue.
The demure Audi 100 may have introduced the five-cylinder engine, but it’s the Audi Quattro that made it famous, particularly the screaming, fire-spitting Group B rally machines.
Having the relatively heavy 2.1-litre unit slung ahead of the front axle might not have done much for the Quattro’s handling, but it had almost limitless power potential, producing around 600kW in the IMSA 90 and tuners pushing the envelope further still.
Volvo 850 R
Apart from Audi, it’s Volvo that’s been most fond of the five-cylinder layout. It’s powered a variety of its car over the years, everything from the sporty C30 to the XC90 SUV, but its finest moment was in the 1996 850 R.
With a 2.3-litre turbo five producing 190kW/350Nm, the 850 R was a weapon, capable of over 250km/h, and transformed Volvo’s image from ‘boxy but safe’ to something with a bit of a heartbeat.
One of the wildest wagon’s ever, this Porsche-built beast was Audi’s first ‘RS’ model, its 1.5sec 0-48km/h (30mph) sprint time famously faster than a McLaren F1.
Combining a sensible body shell with a 232kW/410Nm 2.2-litre turbo firecracker proved a popular combination, with 2891 of these incredibly expensive machines built, though only 180 in right-hand drive.
Ford Focus RS
The Ford Focus RS has varied wildly in each of its three generations, from the original four-cylinder torque-steering terror to the current all-wheel drive super hatch. The five-pot second-gen, however, was a very special car.
It sounded amazing, with a vicious crack from the exhaust if you timed your upshifts right, handled brilliantly and looked like a rally car which had shaken off its stickers. You sat too high and it torque-steered like mad, but it’s absolutely a modern classic.
It may not be perfect, but you can forgive the RS3 a few foibles thanks to its fantastic 2.5-litre turbo five. It may drag the nose slightly wide in tight corners, but that’s a small price to pay for the awesome soundtrack and huge punch.
It also feels incredibly understressed, even producing 280kW/465Nm. We fluked a 3.95sec 0-100km/h run in one, however private cars with remapped ECUs are dipping deep into the three-second bracket.
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