Once upon a time, there was a horsepower mark that not all cars could crack: 300. Today, however, it seems like most, if not all performance cars can hit that range and more, even those that hide four cylinders under their hoods. This was has been made possible by turbocharging, variable valve timing, and/or direct fuel injection that have allowed engineers to extract huge amounts of power from engines that are smaller, more than they could before. You can actually get more performance from a modern four-banger than you could back in the day.
In fact, the movement to smaller engines, which at first saw the 6-cylinder motors replace the V8s, then the 4-cylinder came along and displaced the sixes, has seen the four cylinder types becoming common even in the luxury car arena. These turbo fours have reigned supreme for years, and are both efficient and powerful, eclipsing their 6-cylinder and V8 naturally aspirated engine counterparts. They used to be the runts when it came to engine range, the type you had to get if you couldn't afford a good V6, but for performance. But with turbocharging going mainstream, power and torque levels went up, and fuel economy remained the same as long as you didn't use the added power.
Also, they no longer have the reliability issues they did in the past. We've picked 20 class-leading turbo fours that give V8s a run for their money, and what follows is a curated list of these cars.
20 Porsche 718
If you thought cars with V8 engines are the only ones that deliver an exceptional performance, then Porsche 718 is here to prove you wrong. One huge step that Porsche made back in the 1996 was the introduction of the Boxter back in 1996. Its four-cylinder 944/964 series was replaced by a mid-engine six cylinder sports car that produced amazing handling ability. After almost two decades, Porsche brought a new generation of Boxters that came with both a new name and engine – Porsche 718. 718 was fully restyled and given a new design. The car came fitted with either a 2.0 or 2.5-liter four- cylinder engine.
The smaller version of this engine produced 300 horsepower while the bigger one produced 350 horsepower with the aid of turbocharging.
The power produced by this engine pushes 718 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and take it further to achieve a top speed of 170 mph.
19 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Before you dismiss the 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost you should flash back to the early 1980’s Fox Mustangs that had the same engine and gave a decent performance. During that time though, turbocharging was a state of art technology. Thirty years later the current EcoBoost has a small cylinder four that gives out massive power. Before the introduction of a Camaro with 2.0-litre engine, Mustang had already produced the 2.3-liter EcoBoost unit that produced 315-hp together with amazing performance. Ford boasts for being the first major producer to bring a downsized turbocharged engine at the beginning of the global economic recession. The move influenced the production of the early muscle car such as Mustang. When the 2.3-liter EcoBoost was introduced it had a place in the Ford’s engine line up. It accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and had a top of around 150 mph.
18 Subaru BRZ
Despite their spike in power, the four cylinder engines never gained performance credentials compared to other engines. Most sport car lovers never accepted it as a proper engine for a performance car. But Subaru BRZ is one of the cars with four-cylinder engines that proves them wrong. This sport coupe is fitted with a signature flat four engine that produces 205-hp out 2.0-liter. What makes this car light and nimble coupe is the positioning of its engine. Since this car was fitted with a flat four engine, its center of gravity is quite lower than those of regular inline four cylinder cars.
The low center of gravity makes the car plant to the ground hence leading to improved driving dynamics hence making the BRZ easy to handle.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual that helps the car produce a lively performance and engaged drive. The car sprints to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and has a top speed of 145 mph.
17 Chevrolet Camaro
With the changing times of technological advancement, the introduction of some legendary motors happened during such times and one of them is the Chevrolet Camaro. The power of the Chevy came from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. This might have led to the muscle car purists wonder why Chevy would produce a Camaro with that engine. However this car is great and delivers a performance rate that is better than the V8 powered models. The engine delivers 275 horsepower that was enough to propel the heavy coupe from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds and doesn’t stop till it reaches a maximum speed of 155 mph. compared to the Camaros with the V8, this car lacked a glorious soundtrack, performance and fuel economy.
16 Ford Focus RS
The first generation models of the Ford Focus were fitted with a powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 220-hp, but they had a limited production. However the second generation together with the third model were powered by a five cylinder engine. This car is considered to be one of the most powerful four cylinder cars that are available in the market and for the first time it entered the US market.
The new model of the RS is powered by a 2.3-liter turbocharged unit that makes 345-hp to all the four-wheels hence making it a speed star.
The RS has an outstanding performance. It sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and has a top speed of 165 mph.
15 Fiat 124 Abarth Spider
Fiat 124 Spider is one is the most stylish roadsters present in the market today. The first 124 Spider was introduced in 1966 but over 50 years later, Fiat has brought an amazing retro-futuristic stylish car bearing many interesting features and a chassis taken from Mazda Miata/MX- 5. Despite the fact that the Spider has a lot of mechanical resemblance with Mazda, it bares its own engine inform of a small 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder. The engine has a small displacement but produces massive power – 164 horsepower. The power launches the Spider from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. The car has a top speed of 130 mph. When a top down has been put into use while driving this car you will receive open air feel that exaggerates the feeling of speeding and you might think you are travelling twice faster than the normal speed.
14 BMW M3 E30
The moment you think of a performance car then BMW M class should ring in your mind. As much as there are many M class cars there is one that came out to be the most iconic one and that was the E30. The German automakers produced E30 from 1985 to 1992. This car was unique and was designed to compete in the European Touring Car Championship. At the beginiing BMW never saw the performance side of the E30 £-series but when Mercedes brought in the 190E 2.3-16 model, BMW reacted in style and introduced M3. The power of the M3 was from the S14 straight four engine with 2.3-liter of displacement and 195 and later 215 horsepower. With light bodyweight, great performance and road holding ability this car came to be a success in the touring car racing segment.
13 Porsche 944
Porsche is here to disprove those who thought that it was only BMW that produced the popular four-cylinder engines in Germany. Porsche 944 was introduced in 1983 and one of the main features of this car was its 2.5-liter four cylinder that produced 170-hp at first. That power might not have been that great today but it was potent during its time. With continuous changes on the 944 the displacement was increased to 3.0-liter which made 211-hp in S2 form.
However, the fascinating model was the 944 Turbo S that was fitted with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that produced 250-hp.
With great power, light weight, solid transmission and aerodynamics the 944 Turbo S was super-fast. The car came up from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and had a top speed of 162 mph.
12 Honda Civic Type R
The fifth generation Honda Civic Type R is also one of those cars that come with the powerful four cylinder engine. From the looks, the Type R - every racer’s dream - is fitted with a lot of spoilers, scoops and air vents all of its body. What makes Type R valuable is its aggressive design, excellent performance and JDM appeal. After avoiding to turbocharge its performance for a long time, Honda introduced it to the Type R. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbo four that produces 306-hp and can push the car from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Type R has a top speed of 170 mph. Compared to its competitors, this car’s acceleration at the time is this car is a front wheel and not 4WD like most of its competitors. The absence of the 4WD also works best for the car since it makes it a light and nimble car.
11 Subaru WRX STI
Subaru WRX boasts for being among the street racing and rally legends. Subaru holds the mark of being one of the most powerful four cylinder cars in the market for decades. To maintain the legacy, its latest generation hasn’t disappointed either. This car is powered by a flat four cylinder engine with 2.5-liter of displacement together with a turbocharger.
This combination produces 305-hp that is taken to all four wheels through a six-speed manual.
WRX STI is a great car fitted with excellent transmission, enough power to make it fly and has an amazing road holding ability. This car also delivers an exceptional performance. It comes up from 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 160 mph. The four door-car car is practical and can accommodate five people and also has a spacious trunk.
10 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C
Alfa Romeo 4C is a very special model to the Italian automaker since it marked the return of the company in the mass market. Coming as a coupe, this car is expected to serve as the thin end wedge for the rest of the brand. The car was considered a junior supercar featuring a carbon fiber tub, lightweight construction, a cramped interior and a four cylinder turbocharged power plant. The 4C is fitted with a tiny 1.75-liter 4-cylinder engine that is placed behind the driver and it uses turbocharger that allows it produce 237-hp and 258 lb-ft of twist from its modest displacement. The power produced by the engine is more than enough to get make the lightweight, carbon-fiber tub of this car move with authority and its 6-speed automated manual gearbox allows it to move from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and goes up to a maximum speed of 160 mph.
9 2016 Audi S3
If you have ever doubted a performance car fitted with a four-cylinder engine then this hot version of Audi will prove you otherwise. This luxury sedan is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder motor that produces a massive 292-hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The power produced by the engine is transmitted to its standard Quattro all-wheel drive system through a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (the only gearbox available for the S3 model). Despite the fact that it has no other option of transmission, the car is fitted with a launch control mode that allows for repeatable drag strip glory night in, night out. With all this features, the performance of S3 is exceptional. The power produced by the engine is enough to scoot this compact car to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds.
8 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG
When it comes to delivering great performance, German automotives have never disappointed and the 2016 Mercedes- Benz CLA45 AMG is here to maintain that. The CLA45 AMG boast for being the first turbocharged 4-cylinder car from German.
This car is powered by a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo four cylinder that produces a massive 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
The power from the engine is taken to all the four wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The car comes down for 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and that is ideologically quite quick for a compact.
7 Volkswagen Golf R
With the power that Volkswagen Golf R comes with, it overtakes the Golf GTI as the most powerful Volkswagen hot hatch. Golf R is fitted with a four cylinder turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive and also offers an exceptional performance. This car is considered as the derivative of the R32 Golfs from the 2000s that came with 3.2-liter naturally inspired V6 power plant but its latest version had a smaller but more powerful 2.0-liter turbo four under their hood and produced 292-hp. The performance of this family compact is quiet brutal. It comes up from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph. compared to BRZ or Focus, Golf R is powerless but has almost equal speed at the same time being stylish stealthy in looks.
6 BMW Z4
The production of the Z4 was stopped recently by BMW however if you are interested in it there are many dealers who still have them in stock. This beautiful roadster comes fitted with either four or six cylinder engines. The two engines come with different characteristics but both deliver an excellent performance. Under the hood of this car is a 2.0-liter four pot engine that produce 240-hp that guarantees good performance and economy.
The Z4 comes down from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph which is impressive for such a small engine.
The other advantage is that this 2.0-liter engine has is the weight distribution that leads to great driving dynamics and neutral road holding.
5 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
This car still remains a legend among performance car lovers even if it had been discontinued. This four door sedan came with a four wheel drive and a powerful four cylinder turbocharged engine. The success of the Evo X in the rally stages and brutally fast acceleration times did not reflect as expected in the general market. The latest version of this car comes with 2.0-liter turbo engine that produces 291 horsepower. Its performance figures are amazing. Evo X comes up from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 160 mph. For the looks, this car is a performer, and it comes with fancy side skirts, large fenders and a big front air dam.
4 Audi TT
When it was first introduced by Audi in 2016, it immediately established itself as one of the most advanced dynamic four cylinder sport car in the market at that time. According to junkie.com, since its introduction, this compact sports coupe has redefined the “tiny package, big fun” mantra. The 2017 model for the U.S market is fitted with signature Audi TFSI technology. It carries 2.0-liter displacement and an advanced turbocharger that produce 220 hp to all of the car’s wheels. The four cylinder engine is popular in the VW-Audi range and can produce from 200 to 300 horsepower in regards to the engine tune. Some of the qualities that makes this car deliver a good performance are its lightweight and efficient and impressive updated unit. It takes only 5.7 seconds to come from 0 to 60 mph. the speed of this car has been electronically limited to 130 mph due to safety and regulatory reasons but without the limiter it is said TT has a top of 150 mph.
3 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The redesigned 2016 model of Mazda MX- Miata is a long shinning indicator of the fun that a modest 4-cylinder engine come with. Under the hood of this car is fitted with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 155-horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque.
The power produced might be great, though slightly less than the previous generation.
However, there is more torque that helps in making up for the lost power. The car comes down from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. To offer a fantastic performance, Miata comes with either a six-speed manual transmission which is standard or a 6-speed automatic. Miata offers one of the most intimate driving experiences – when driving the Miata, you will feel part of the car that is melding with the road. Its steering provide an immediate turn-in response as it the car remains predictable even when you press the limits of the tires.
2 Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo is an emotional hot-blooded Italian Sedan that sets pulses racing before you get behind the wheels. Still Giulia twin cam 4-cylinder engines that are from the 1960s and 1970s were great in the 156 and 159 therefore a turbocharger on the latest Giulia isn’t a bad option. The latest version is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four that produces 280-hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. The power from the engine is transferred to either the rear wheel or the all the wheels through an eight-speed automatic. With this features Giulia provide an exceptional performance in fact it is even quicker than most of the German 4-cylinder sedans. It sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Giulia’s dynamic handling and thrilling performance helps it be among the best cars in luxury small cars ranking.
1 Jaguar F-Type
Jaguar F-Type is a slinky stunner featuring a long hood and wider rear haunches. This descendant of the iconic E-type sports car of the ‘60s and ‘70s drives almost as good as good as its appearance and styling with sharp handling. This car is new to the range and with its 44hp it would drop 44 hp on the next engine up, though it is just 0.3 seconds drift at the 60 mph point. This car comes as either a coupe or a convertible with an engine choice of either a turbocharged inline-four or three supercharged V-6s.it car is quick and hold the drivers attention through the curving back roads. One can get a 400-hp supercharged V6 model not a naturally aspirated one but if it is a matter of money then the base turbo 4 would be the best choice.
Sources: motor-junkie.com, autobytel.com, carbuzz.com, caranddriver.com