The humble 4-cylinder engine is so common it is often easy to overlook how good it actually can sometimes be.
While the V8 gets all the glory when it comes to performance there have been some utterly brilliant 4-cylinder power plants over the many years the car has been in our lives. We celebrate the five best performance 4-cylinder engines here.
The Toyota 4A-GE
You know that when the supply of new performance parts far outlasts the manufacture of an engine that was in production for more than ten years anyway, it is clearly popular. And the 4A-GE is certainly that.
Tough, reliable and more than happy to rev, the 4A-GE had its legend helped immensely by first appearing in the Corolla AE86 and, as such, becoming instrumental in the birth of drifting in Japan.
While originally producing 94kW in 1983 (impressive for the time) the 4A-GE’s ability to be wound up beyond what most normal people would consider to be reasonable is what made it great.
The Fiat Twin Cam
Introduced in 1966, the venerable Fiat Twin Cam engine stayed in production for a startling 34 years!
Built in a variety of displacements ranging from 1,297cc up to 1,995cc, the Twin Cam was two things that Fiats would go on to prove most resolutely NOT to be - advanced and reliable.
Well, maybe reliable is a strong word, but the Twin Cam would go on to not only power some of the greatest Fiat and Lancia road cars of modern times (and some Alfa Romeos...), but would also power the Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo to two consecutive World Sportswear Championships (1980/81) and pretty much dominate the World Rally Championship for 15 years with three championships in the Fiat 131 Abarth (1977,1978 and 1980), one in the Lancia 037 (1983) and a staggering six consecutive titles in the Lancia Delta HF 4WD and the Delta Integrale (1987 through to 1992).
The Cosworth BDA
The BDA is about as legendary as it is possible for an engine to get. While Bosworth’s Keith Duckworth was busy beavering away on the equally legendary DFV Formula One V8, Mike Hall was working on the BDA that was conceived for rallying and touring car use.
Of course, something as good as the BDA was never going to stay in one or two categories for long and, aside from powering many, many Escorts to rally wins and championships in the 1970s, it was also eventually used in Formula 2, Formula Pacific, Formula Atlantic, SCCA Formula C and sports car racing.
As well, obviously, as appearing in road cars including various performance versions of the Escort and the Caterham Super Seven.
The Honda B16
No list of best 4-cylinder engines could be complete without mentioning VTEC and the B16A is where VTEC all started. Well, in cars, that is. Honda DID first introduce it on the CBR400 motorbike in 1983...
Basically Honda had no interest in forced induction (turbos or superchargers) or rotary engines, but wanted to get around Japan’s strict levies applied to engine displacement. In other words, it needed a small, very powerful engine for its sports cars. And, by God, did it make one with the B series.
The B16 quickly found its way into pretty much everything smallish that Honda made (Civic, Integra, CRX and all their variants) and quickly made Honda one of the most exciting manufacturers in the world.
No one could argue with that addictive turbo-like punch when the second cam lobe came into play. Except then Honda went and refined the hell out of it and got all boring...
The AMG M133
Everyone knows AMG make some of the finest V8s on the planet. From the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre monsters of yore to the twin-turbo 4.0-litre in the current C 63 and GT, there are few finer examples of bent eight currently on the planet.
But when it was announced that they were turning their attention to a 2.0-litre four, eyebrows were raised. How, most people thought, could a tiny four-cylinder engine ever come close to upholding what AMG had come to mean?
Well the M133 that first appeared in the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG not only proved that it could easily uphold the performance red of AMG, it could also do it with a banging, howling ferocity that just shouldn’t be possible in a car that is also actually driveable.
Pumping out a massive 265kW through the A 45’s (and the CLA 45 and GLA 45) 4WD system , the M133 is the most powerful 4-cylinder production engine in the world, yet it is so remarkably flexible and docile when not at maximum attack that it defies belief.
It is an engine that screams out to be unleashed in motorsport. If Mercedes do that, it will almost certainly seal its legendary status like the other engines on this list...