RE: Six of the best | Four-cylinder engines

RE: Six of the best | Four-cylinder engines

Sunday 15th March

Six of the best | Four-cylinder engines

30 years ago the 190E Evo II stunned the world with its engine. Which got us thinking...



At the Geneva motor show in March 1990, Mercedes-Benz showed the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II to the world, the culmination of seven years' work to create the best racing saloon possible. What had begun as the fairly humble (by comparison) 2.3-16v had evolved into a homologation monster, Mercedes desperate to beat the E30 M3 on road and track.

The engine was a work of art, a further refinement of the Evo I 2.5. An even shorter stroke of 82.8mm and a larger bore of 97.3 made it revvier again, howling all the way to 7,700rpm, with lighter con-rods to withstand the speed. In race spec the M102 was making 373hp, and is notable for being the last Mercedes-designed DTM engine - AMG taking the task on after then. In its most successful season, the Evo II racer won 16 out of 24 races - job jobbed.

Which got us thinking. What are the greatest four-cylinder engines ever? We're not going to get any more without forced induction or hybrid assistance, so time for a trip down memory lane for six more to join that incredible Mercedes 2.5 in the hallowed pantheon of four-cylinder greats. Rest assured, keeping it to just the half dozen wasn't easy...



  • Honda B18

Where else could we start than with a Honda VTEC? The B-series was notable for being the first Honda engine to use the fabled variable valve timing technology, and that's what gets it in the list. The numbers back then promised much for the future: the 1989 CRX SiR made 162hp from 1,595cc at 7,600rpm, and would go all the way to 8,200.

And the best was yet to come: In B16B form, it powered the first Civic Type R, making a mesmerising 185hp from 1.6 litres - a specific output record at the time. Then the B-series arguably reached its zenith as the B18 that powered the DC2 Integra Type R; for UK-spec cars that meant 190hp at 7,900rpm on the way to a dizzying 8,600 cut-out and a noise to die for. Light, tough, impossibly exciting and also available in a Civic VTI Aerodeck, the Honda B-series is a four-cylinder icon.


  • Cosworth BDA

No list like this would be complete without the legendary Belt Driven A Type engine. Devised more than 50 years ago for FIA Group 2 and Group 4 racing in Ford Escorts, the humble Kent block was given dual overhead cams by Cosworth. The engine first appeared in an Escort in 1970, replacing the Lotus Twin cam unit, but nobody could have foreseen the success from then on...

The BDA won rallies, races, and more; it was used to power some truly memorable road cars; it was immensely adaptable - the BD series stretching from 1.1 Formula C spec to Group B engine - and that Cosworth link made it exceptionally cool. But perhaps more than anything else, it was the BDA's sound that secured it hero status. Instantly recognisable for miles down a stage, the combination of low-rev gurgle with a top end shriek has had rally fans bewitched for generations - long may it continue.


  • Subaru EJ20

So we've had one Japanese engine in the list, and one with a reputation forged most successfully on the world's rally stages - how about combining the two?

The EJ20 is the storied 2.0-litre boxer four from Subaru; having originally debuted in 125hp, naturally-aspirated form powering a Legacy in 1989, the engine only went out of production this year with the last Final Edition WRX STI made. Over those three decades it's made fans around the globe, the EJ's combination of turbocharged performance, boxer rumble - thank the 1-3-2-4 firing order, too - and motorsport success a pretty formidable combination.

Think, moreover, of the cars powered by an EJ20 over the years, and their legendary status: RB5, P1, STI, GT-B the S20x cars and so on - they wouldn't have been the same without that engine. We could include the 22B as well, though as that used the EJ22G evolution it's probably not quite cricket... And we'll leave the Subaru EJ debate just there, thanks very much!


  • Alfa Twin Cam

Another shoo-in for this list, the difficulty really being which motor to select from Alfa's illustrious four-cylinder back catalogue. The twin spark technology actually has its motorsport roots way back in 1914, only then reintroduced to the Twin Cam engine in the 1960s and then as a road car in the 1987 75 2.0 Twin Spark. Later 16-valve four-cylinder Alfas, cars like the 156 and 147, also used Twin Spark badging, but they were Fiat-derived engines with the technology rather than Alfa's own units.

It's that Busso-designed - yes, him again - original that's the real star of the show, the Alfa Twin Cam powering various Spiders, GTVs and Giuliettas for 40 years. Even at launch in 1954 it featured double overhead cams, an aluminium alloy block and a forged steel crank. The Twin Cam's high point, arguably, was in powering the GTA coupes of the late 1960s, making for some of the most memorable road and track Alfas ever made.


  • Toyota 4A-GE

Another one from Japan, but then they have shown the world a thing or two about engines over the years. The 4A-GE was another cut from the same cloth: exotic, thrilling and light, yet also tough and immensely dependable. It's those sorts of characteristics that have earned the 4A-GE such a rep over the past four decades.

Introduced in 1983, with development by Yamaha and some inspiration said to come from the BDA, the 4A-GE was another revved little scamp: it would go all the way to 7,600rpm, which was stratospheric back then. Peak power of 130hp was made at 6,600rpm, the little 1.6 fizzing and snarling all the way.

Toyota knew it was on to something good, so dropped the 4A-GE in everywhere: the AE86s, of course, though also the first MR2 and then the later front-drive Corollas. So that's versatility to add to its long list of favourable traits...


  • Mercedes-AMG M139

Bringing things right up to date for the four-cylinder superstars is the latest AMG A45 engine. Yes, more than 400hp had been made from 2.0-litres before this M139 - we're looking at you, Evo fans - but never had it been done in such a cohesive and efficient way. You simply wouldn't know such potency lurks under the bonnet of an A-Class, such is the docile and mild-mannered way it can be driven normally.

Go looking for it, however, and there's no doubt about the M139's 421hp potential - it's a monstrous power unit. There's incredible response for something so heavily boosted, a mighty mid-range and the kind of top end enthusiasm that embarrasses rivals. Mercedes made much of the technology that went into the M139, with Nanoslide-coated cylinders, huge 160-bar combustion pressures and a twin-scroll turbo, and the results are mind-blowing. It's undoubtedly a four-cylinder engine we'll be talking about in another 30 years' time.


No, this list is not comprehensive. Yes, we've made some big calls. Tell us why we're wrong below...

Author
Discussion

virgilio

Original Poster:

190 posts

100 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Good choices, congratulations!

Other ideas would be:
bmw e30 m3 and 2002tii
bugatti brescia
coventry climax fp (lotus elite)
lotus-ford dohc (elan, cortina)
ferrari 500-750 lampredi dohc engine
fiat lampredi dohc (124 spider to lancia integrale)
lancia’s narrow v4s (from lambda to fulvia)
porsche 356 (fuhrmann 547 carrera engine)

and the most poweful ever:


Pothole

30,107 posts

237 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
No look in for the A-series? Surely powered more models than any other 4 pot.

49 year production run. Petrol and diesel versions. Carbed and injected, Supercharged and turboed...


outspan

99 posts

51 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
If one modern engine had to make the list, I would have expected the EA888 ?

But better to just keep the whole list old-school and drop the AMG soulless four-pot for the 500hp monster in the Lancia Delta S4.

Twig62

538 posts

51 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Pothole said:
No look in for the A-series? Surely powered more models than any other 4 pot.

49 year production run. Petrol and diesel versions. Carbed and injected, Supercharged and turboed...
Diesel version ? I knew that there was a 1.5 diesel of the B Series, but have never heard of a diesel A Series.

Pothole

30,107 posts

237 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Twig62 said:
Pothole said:
No look in for the A-series? Surely powered more models than any other 4 pot.

49 year production run. Petrol and diesel versions. Carbed and injected, Supercharged and turboed...
Diesel version ? I knew that there was a 1.5 diesel of the B Series, but have never heard of a diesel A Series.
Developed by Riccardo for the BMC Mini tractor

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/BMC:_Mini_(Tractor)

9k rpm

215 posts

165 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Honda F20C (S2000) should be on here over the B18 no question. 120bhp per litre from a n/a for goodness sake!

richthebike

800 posts

92 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Got to be the 1.3 litre 8 Valve TU2J2 from the 106 and 205 Rallyes. Such a sweet little ripper of an engine, and a perfect fit for the car.

ruggedscotty

1,952 posts

164 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Saab with its storming 4 pot, that was an engine that was, 2.3 High output turbo..... 2.3 HOT. they names it well.

and this big power small engine was well before all the current downsized offerings.

Marvin Trill

24 posts

86 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
No Peugeot Mi16,
No A series,
No YB,
No C20/Redtop,
No Duratec/Mazda MZ
No M13/M12.
The list could to on and on.

Deadlysub

237 posts

113 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
outspan said:
If one modern engine had to make the list, I would have expected the EA888 ?

But better to just keep the whole list old-school and drop the AMG soulless four-pot for the 500hp monster in the Lancia Delta S4.
The EA888 is a good engine no doubt buts it’s not that exciting. I have driven them in various states of tune up to the Golf R and they are highly effective but they don’t get under your skin.

Plate spinner

14,267 posts

155 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
I’ve always thought the Rover K series a 4-pot unsung hero.
Great power for its weight and rev hungry. Sounded good as well in a caterham.

gruffalo

6,190 posts

181 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Dolly Sprint engine should get a mention, early 16 valve motor widely used in race series.

cerb4.5lee

15,220 posts

135 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
I know that it is probably unfair but I do really struggle to get excited by a 4 cylinder engine. But after a few tweaks the SR20DET engine I had did put a smile on my face for sure. Once fettled I even enjoyed the noise the decatted stainless exhaust made too. driving


V8fan

3,426 posts

223 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
No mention of the Lotus Esprit 2.2 litre 910 engine? By the time of the S4s in 1994, it had 301 bhp. smile Is it because you can't see it and only front-engined cars are counted?

As quoted in Pretty Woman by Julia Roberts, "can you believe this car has only 4 cylinders?"

Tickle

3,805 posts

159 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
VHPD K-series

cerb4.5lee

15,220 posts

135 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Marvin Trill said:
No C20/Redtop,
Forgot about this one and I am a big fan of it. thumbup

Zag_a_muffin

5 posts

61 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Lotus 910 and versions of it was used in Jenson Healy, Lotus Sunbeam and the Elite, Eclat and Excel. Is that sufficient front engine applications?

Jazoli

7,657 posts

205 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
No mention of any bike engines?

200bhp/Litre is not uncommon for a n/a 4 cyl nowadays.

Yamaha's CP4/CP3 engines

Kawasaki's Supercharged H2

I could go on...

drw7571

5 posts

103 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
What about the Fiat twin cam
How many rallies did that engine win

Pothole

30,107 posts

237 months

Sunday 15th March
quotequote all
Jazoli said:
No mention of any bike engines?

200bhp/Litre is not uncommon for a n/a 4 cyl nowadays.

Yamaha's CP4/CP3 engines

Kawasaki's Supercharged H2

I could go on...
Triples are better, though...