What does it take for a car to go very fast? Obviously, a great engine, but is a great and big engine all that a car needs? Frankly, if you look at the track record of cars, it’s not always the bigger engines that have scored higher in terms of performance and speed. While the V8s are powerful, the V6s, on the other hand, have sometimes been overshadowed by V4s and even inline-fours for that matter.
It’s not just the size of the engine that matters, because big isn’t always better. The skill of the driver, the power-to-weight ratio of the car, the wind shear and resistance, the punchy or weak acceleration and the tuning of the engine all work in tandem to make the car zippy fast. Or inversely, is a drag to drive. Most of us look at a car with a small engine and automatically assume it’s a slowpoke, till it revs and leaves us in the dust – pretty much eating our hats. Smaller engines fitted into smaller cars can give you the same performance as does a big car fitted with a big engine. Ultimately, it all boils down to mass and tuning.
So in case you thought these cars were slow, think again – for these are 20 insanely fast rides with tiny, nonsensical engines.
20 1978 Mazda RX-7
The Mazda RX-7 was a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car that used a tiny lightweight Wankel engine to power itself. These engines were a part of Mazda’s pistonless rotary engine family and used rotors instead of pistons to thrash out power.
These power-churning mills were neither the first ones nor the last jewels to be fit into these speedy crowns.
Nonetheless they were definitely one of the best we have ever come across. The first generation RX-7 came equipped with a 1.1-liter unit that pumped out a necessary 100 horsepower – sufficient enough for it to earn a respectable sports car tag in that era.
19 2014 Volkswagen Jetta
The new generation of downsized-engines has proved to be more lucrative for Volkswagen than a million other gigantic V6s. The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta’s 1.8-liter is the finest yardstick for downscaling at its best. The underrated engine may give a modest torque output of 184 ft-lb but the Jetta accelerates quickly because the torque is readily available and spontaneous. Volkswagen also added nifty features such as water-cooled exhaust manifold that cools off the catalytic converter – it is a blessing especially when the catalytic converter is overheated. Also, Jetta’s fuel pump is vented in a way that saves gas and achieves a better fuel economy. Undoubtedly, this Jetta is quite spicy and hot.
18 1991 Suzuki Cappuccino
The Suzuki Cappuccino was powered by a 0.66-liter 12-valve DOHC engine tied to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. These inline-triple engines were turbocharged and inter-cooled.
The engine churned out a healthy 63 horsepower that is good enough for this small, two-door 1598lb minicar.
The best thing about it is the three-piece detachable roof panels. So one could alter the fully convertible Cappuccino according to his or her mood and turn the car into a closed coupe, a Targa-top or an open-top roadster. Undoubtedly this triple-whammy rear-wheel-drive was a favourite among the first timers in the Gran Turismo scene back in the 90s.
17 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST runs on a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that cranks out up to 197 horsepower and 177 ft-lb of torque. This hot hatch is dubbed as Ford’s most thrilling car. Although it doesn’t sport a pony on the front grille it definitely is a great benchmark for successfully-downsized engines that have proved beneficial in the long run. Its engine features Ti-VCT, Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing, for an improved performance, and better fuel economy. The Fiesta ST achieves 0-60mph acceleration time under 7 seconds and a top speed of 136 mph. Clearly, this is a $22,195 Ford and not a Lamborghini. And worth each penny.
16 2014 Cadillac CTS
Well, this Caddy hides a teensy 2-liter all-aluminum turbocharged inline-four under its hood that is very potent. This 2014 Caddy’s mill jets out a massive 272 horsepower and an equally immense 295 ft-lb worth of torque.
The Cadillac CTS’s gasoline unit comes from the GM’s Ecotec engine family and it is tied to a six-speed automatic transmission.
This third generation Cadillac CTS was named “Car Of The Year 2014” by Motor Trend – an American automobile magazine. The car also featured in the list of Car and Driver 10Best in the same year. According to US News & World Reports, it was the best upscale mid-size car of 2014. The CTS was applauded for its driving dynamics and overall reliability.
15 2011 Audi A6
This Audi A6’s 2-liter TFSI turbocharged inline-four engine delivers an output of 208 horsepower and 258 ft-lb of torque. This may not be very big in terms of power, but works to give this car a decent punch. Currently in its fifth generation, the car also comes equipped with a more powerful 3.0-litre V6 engine but in no way does it overshadow the 2.0-liter inline-four. It is available both as a sedan and in a wagon configuration, the latter of which is branded as Avant. While A7 and A8 Audis have also been launched, the A6 remains a favoured with many.
14 1980 Renault 5 Turbo
The Renault 5 Turbo is one of the best high-performance hatches from all angles. Also known as R5 Turbo, this car was initially designed for participating in motor rallies. And it was an overnight success and became one of the most ferocious rally monsters ever born.
Following the success, it was soon launched as a street-legal car in 1980, its debut year.
The 5 Turbo hides a 1.4-liter turbo inline-four workhorse under its hood that was tied to a five-speed manual transmission. And the hot hatch’s mill coughed up a substantial 158 horsepower and 163 ft-lb of torque. It won four WRC titles in its career spanning six years from 1980 to 1986.
13 1959 BMW 700
The BMW 700 is a small rear-engined car and was the first BMW to built on a monocoque frame. It carried a 0.7-liter flat-twin engine under its hood that produced 30 horsepower, more than enough for a lightweight two-door. The rear-mounted engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission which gave powerful enough performance. Because of this, several racing enthusiasts used it to compete in motorsport in the early 60s. Many of them won titles leaving behind the 700's arch-rivals such as Abarth, that too on home grounds. The 700 was launched in 1959 and was well received before it left the market in 1965.
12 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
The Chevrolet Malibu 1LT is worth mentioning as it carries an engine so tiny that even a carton full of milk might have more displacement than this Chevy’s. But what is more important is the output, comfort and performance.
The 2016 Malibu 1LT uses a teeny 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four workhorse to put out 163 horsepower and 184 ft-lb worth of torque.
The 1LT’s engine belongs to GM’s Small Gasoline Engine family called LFV Ecotec. Also, its engine is paired with a six-speed transversely-mounted automatic transmission. And the best outcome of this configuration is a wonderful combined (city and highway) fuel economy of 37 mpg.
11 2015 Volvo XC90
The second-generation Volvo XC90 carries a punchy 2-liter turbocharged inline-four under its belly. This "Vo" uses Volvo’s matchless DRIVE-E powertrain that reduces CO2 up to 30% and increases the engine’s power output, effectively giving a low fuel economy. The result is a whopping 320 horsepower strong enough to give a reasonable pace to this animal that weighs between 4581 and 5165lb. Plus the XC90 is loaded with Volvo’s elitism, be it the interior or the exterior, of this high-performance car. This luxury SUV may be carrying a smaller engine as compared to its rivals but it certainly is a lot more effective.
10 1957 Lotus Seven
The Lotus Seven or the Caterham Seven is a small open-top sports car that was powered by a 1.2-liter Ford flathead inline-four engine thrashing out 40 horsepower. These figures were good enough for this lightweight, about 1100 lb, ride to be a part of club racing events on short tracks. The Seven may not be carrying a hard-hitting engine but it surely is a delight to drive when on empty roads. Its fingertip steering is as light as its weight and when you’re cruising it gives you a feel of a cool sports car. The drive is so effortless that one doesn’t have to work hard to extract the maximum out of it.
9 Saab Monte Carlo 850
The Saab Monte Carlo was another avatar of the Saab 96. It was armed with a 0.85-liter longitudinally-mounted Saab-two-stroke three-carburetor engine to produce a respectable 60 horsepower. The engine expressed itself like a group of howling wolves on a hunt. Undoubtedly this small engine was utmost fun, especially when cruising on highways. The Monte Carlo carried two chrome strips along its rocker panel and it made it stand apart from the standard Saab 96. Back in 1963, all its devotees celebrated Monte Carlo’s astounding victory in the Monte Carlo Rally. Enough reasons to put this car on the Saab’s performance car lineup.
8 2015 Ford F-150
The Ford F-150 has been carrying its legacy into the next generation for years.
For its massive size, it uses only a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 warhorse to power itself.
And the result is an outstanding 325 horsepower, enough for its unconventional truck buyers. This 2015 F-150 uses GM’s all-aluminum EcoBoost engine that is mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. It was also the first pickup in the trucking world that came with adaptive cruise control. That means it is capable of altering the speed of the pickup for safety whenever needed, automatically. And it features best-in-class towing capabilities and can carry heavy payloads.
7 1964 Mini Cooper S
The Mini was initially sold under the Austin and Morris names as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor respectively until it became a brand of its own in 1969. The 1964 Cooper S, its sports variant, was a 1.3-liter warrior that was a successful rally car of that era. The Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally from 1964 till 1967, back to back. Although in 1966 this car was disqualified for using an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights. This four-time Monte Carlo titleholder has undeniably lived up to its reputation, time and again. The Mini was voted as the second-most-influential car of the 20th century (COTC) in 1999.
6 2016 Mercedes GLE 300d
Unlike other Mercs, this Mercedes GLE 300d is propelled by a teeny 2.1-liter BlueTech twin-turbo diesel engine. It has four cylinders, can manage a peak of 201 horsepower and an expectedly high 369 ft-lb torque. The four-door midsize SUV’s aluminum cylinder block is paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission. Plus this all-wheel-drive has an option of air suspension to make life easier. In terms of performance, it exhibits a maximum trailering capacity of 6600 lb that is contrary to its small size engine. It is capable of doing a 0-60 mph sprint in brisk 8.9 seconds. Well, it may not be an AMG but it is certainly apposite for its class.
5 2016 BMW 528i
The 2016 BMW 528i carries a courageous 2.0-liter inter-cooled turbocharged mill hidden under it long nose, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 528i’s uses a naturally aspirated inline-four engine that can produce 240 horsepower and 260 ft-lb of torque.
This gasoline-fueled sedan gives a combined economy of 27 mpg. The engine may appear small but the luxury sedan has all the comfort and convenience of a typical BMW class.
It is not an exaggeration when we say that the 5 Series has certainly set the standard for premium sports sedans in the auto industry, ever since it was floored in the domestic market in 1972.
4 2016 Mercedes-Benz E200
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class in indisputably one of the most advanced production cars in the auto industry. When it comes to engineering and technology they are among the bests in the world. Be it their active-safety feature or a driver-assistance interface, Mercedes manages to lead the way always. And the best thing is it applies to each and every model across its entire range. The top-end trims may be furnished with luxury and other bling, but the automated technology remains standard across all its variants. The E200 uses a 2-liter turbocharged gasoline engine powerful enough to crank out a sizeable 181 horsepower and 220 ft-lb of torque.
3 1956 Berkeley SA322
The Berkeley SA322 was birthed in England in the mid-50s and at the time, this compact roadster came fitted with a British Anzani two-stroke 322-cc motorcycle engine under its hood! The 322cc may not sound terribly powerful but it made this two-seater rocket because of its really light curb weight of 274kg. It was launched one year ahead of the Lotus Elite and some 300 of these were produced before the engine was made slightly more powerful and replaced with a 328cc one. This model, the SE328 could reach a decent and zippy speed of 70mph and was a darling of many.
2 1969 Honda N600
The N600 was the larger engine variant Honda’s original tiny car, the N360 that came to the domestic shores in 1969. It was called the N600 because of a 600cc engine, the performance of which rivaled a 1.1-liter one with ease. The car could reach a top speed of 77 mph and managed a respectable run from 0-60mph in 19 seconds. It was easy to maintain, cost about the same as a Mini and also gave a decent mileage of 30mpg. It may have been noisy but its awesome power-to-weight ratio made it a fun drive that many favoured over other cumbersome buys. Of course, we like big things so imports finally ceased in 1972 owing to less than stellar sales.
1 1960 Fiat Abarth Zagato 750
The Fiat Abarth cars, on the whole, were basically built using Fiat bodies and Abarth engines. The Abarth Zagato versions roped in designer Zagato to cars looked even more beautiful than they ran.
One notable model has to be the rather aerodynamic Abarth Zagato 750 that boasts a single-cam engine.
A slightly more luxurious variant of this was dubbed “America” and was meant strictly to be sold in domestic shores. The tuned Abarth “derivazione” engine gave out 42 horsepower and yet managed a top speed of 130mph plus. Different models often managed different speeds so this was one very peppy and powerful set of cars to drive.