Let us all take a moment to bow at the altar of the mighty five-cylinder engine. Over the decades there have been some absolute corkers, so we thought we’d put together a list of the best five-cylinder engines ever made.
Mercedes-Benz OM617 – 1974 Mercedes 300D
While not strictly the first five-cylinder engine ever, the OM617, as used in the Mercedes 300D, was the first five-pot to be used in a production vehicle. Introduced with the W115 Mercedes in 1974, it was a 3.0-litre engine developed from the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder OM616 diesel engine, also available in the W115. The engine remained in production until 1991, bowing out as one of the most reliable engines ever made.
Audi EA828 – Audi 100
We’ve covered the first diesel five-cylinder so it would be rude not to cover the first petrol, and it comes from a company that’s very well associated with this particular configuration: Audi. In 1976 the company introduced the second-gen Audi 100, complete with a 2.1-litre five-pot with 136PS (100kW), because engineers had wanted something with a more premium feel compared to a run-of-the-mill four-cylinder. A straight-six was ruled out on weight and packaging grounds, leading to the creation of the EA828.
Audi 90 IMSA-GTO
The inclusion of the Audi 90 IMSA-GTO in this list comes at the exclusion of the Quattro, in all its forms, from the very first to the fire-spitting Group B Sport Quattro S1 E2. I’m fully prepared that some readers will now be out for blood, but the truth is that while the Quattro is iconic, we’re going for the best five-cylinder engines, and the unit in the Quattro was ultimately developed into the powerhouse that took the 90 IMSA-GTO to seven victories in a season of 15 races in the 1989 IMSA-GTO championship. From the original Quattro road car onwards, there were various engine configurations with 2,144cc, 2,133cc, 2,226cc, 2,110cc and 2,190cc five-cylinder turbocharged motors with either 10 valves per cylinder or 20. The 90 IMSA-GTO had a 2.2-litre, and with a huge KKK turbo it produced 720PS (530kW). In a car with a six-speed manual gearbox and weighing just 1,207kg, that sounds like quite a handful. Perhaps more importantly, it made a biblical noise.
Land Rover 10P – Land Rover Discovery II TD5
Another diesel? You bet. In the mid-1990s Land Rover needed a new range of engines to meet incoming Euro3 emission regulations, and so came ‘Project Storm’, surely one of the coolest engine development codenames ever. Eventually a family of engines was created, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, a 2.5-litre five-cylinder and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder, all turbocharged. It was only the 2.5-litre that made it to production, though, debuting in the 1998 Discovery Series II with 136PS (101kW) and 300Nm (221lb ft) of torque. Why have we included it? Quite simply because it sounds good and, after some initial teething problems were ironed out, it was incredibly reliable. Production of the engine ended in Solihull in 2007, when the Defender TD5 received a Ford diesel instead.
Welcome, everyone, to the world of the Volvo Modular Engine. Developed as part of ‘Project Galaxy’ (another insanely cool codename), it was a family of four-, five- and six-cylinder engines that first came to be in 1990. The five-cylinder was known as the B5254F and arrived in the Volvo 850 in June 1991, B standing for ‘Bensin’, or petrol, 5 for the number of cylinders, 25 for the number of decilitres, 4 for the number of valves per cylinder and F for fuel injection with a catalytic converter. Simple, right? The ultimate Volvo five has to be the 2.5-litre turbocharged unit in the C30 Polestar Performance Concept Prototype. Unveiled in 2010, the raucous concept used the B5254T7 engine used in the C30 T5 but with a KKK 26 turbo and modified pistons, conrods and inlet camshaft. The result was 405PS (298kW) and 510Nm (376lb ft) of torque, which, when combined with Quaife differentials, all-wheel-drive, Öhlins dampers and springs, a different steering ratio, and better brakes, tyres and wheels made it an absolute fruit loop. Only one was ever made.
B5254T3 – Ford Focus RS
Another Volvo engine? That can’t be right? Well Ford would tell you it wasn’t, as it was rebranded as a Duratec motor, but like the previous entry it was, fundamentally, from the Volvo Modular family. The B5254T3, ordinarily, had a 220PS (162kW) five-cylinder, but for the Focus RS, and to justify rebranding it as a Duratec, Ford added different pistons, stronger connecting rods, dual camshafts and a larger Borg-Warner K16 turbo. The result was 305PS (224kW) and 440Nm (325lb ft), sending the front-wheel-drive hooligan to 62mph in 5.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 163mph. Fantastic performance, a ludicrous soundtrack and a stunning looking car – a proper Ford hot hatch.
Honda G25A1 – Acura Vigor
Here’s one you almost certainly weren’t expecting: the third generation Acura Vigor. The first-generation Honda Vigor was introduced in 1981 in Japan, the second generation in 1985 and the third generation in 1989. Unlike the first two, the final iteration was sold in the USA under the Acura brand, from 1991 to 1994, and with inline-fives only, a 2.0-litre and a 2.5-litre. The G25A1 2.5-litre, a unit from the G series family of five-cylinder Honda engines, isn’t the most powerful engine on this list, with 190PS (140kW) and 237Nm (175lb ft) of torque. But in retrospect, here was a medium-sized luxury barge with a five-speed manual gearbox and a sumptuous five-cylinder soundtrack. As a no-stress waftmobile today, that sounds utterly delightful.
The newest five-cylinder on this list resides, of course, in the Audi RS3, and it could very well be the last we’ll see from Audi or indeed any manufacturer as the world pushes ahead with electrification. The 8Y A3 was introduced in 2020, followed by the four-cylinder turbocharged S3 later the same year. It took until 2021 for Audi to launch the RS3, complete with a 400PS (294kW) and 500Nm (369lb ft) of torque, an increase of 20Nm (15lb ft). It has one of the best exhaust notes of any car on sale today, with a firing order of 1,2,4,5,3 – in some cases you could even mistake it for the V10 of its Audi sibling, the R8 – and can trace its roots back to the Audi TT RS from 2009, the first modern Audi with an inline-five. Performance? Zero to 62mph in 3.8 seconds. Not too shabby for a five-seat hatchback.