Home Cars David vs. Goliath: Cars With Four-Cylinder Engines That Can Destroy V8s

David vs. Goliath: Cars With Four-Cylinder Engines That Can Destroy V8s

Vukasin Herbez August 15, 2023

There are two schools of thought when it comes to building performance cars. The first one is defined by simplicity. This game plan involves putting a massive V8 in a vehicle, turning the power up to 11, and letting it rip. The second school of thought is more sophisticated. It’s based on using modern technology, lightweight construction, precision engineering, and balance. This strategy allows small displacement cars with four-cylinder engines that can match the V8’s power and performance.

So let’s dig into the world of compact cars that pack a mighty punch cane to deliver a unique driving experience sometimes even more exciting than roaring V8 engines. You may already know some of these vehicles, while others may surprise you. Let’s get started.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Volvo V60 Polestar

This V60 Polestar station wagon is one of the best-driving cars in its class. As a spiritual successor to the classic 850 R Wagon, the V60 brings quality craftsmanship, stealth, and performance (via Piston Heads).

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine with 345 hp and intelligent all-wheel drive. This combo is capable of 0 to 60 mph times of just over 5 seconds and still returning decent fuel economy and functioning just as any regular Volvo station wagon.

Ford Mustang EcoBoost HPP

Some dismissed the 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang as just an entry-level model with no real performance potential. However, with the High-Performance Package, this little pony car actually achieved better track times than its bigger brother, the Mustang GT. What’s the secret of the HPP option? It’s all in the engine tune and the 2.3-liter, four-cylinder that delivers 332 hp and 350 lb.-ft of torque. But even more importantly, it’s also because of the reworked chassis and brakes (via Gear Patrol).

Put in the perspective that HPP is about 200 pounds lighter than the GT, and you can see why it can achieve higher cornering speeds and provide even more control. The 2.3-liter Mustang will never have the allure of the 5.0 GT, but in the HPP’s guise, it’s an exciting and surprisingly fast alternative.

Photo Credit: Cnet

Acura Type S

Fans love the Civic Type R for its handling, balance, and power. But recently, Honda introduced a better, more mature car – the 2024 Acura Type S. With the same basic mechanics, Acura offers a more upscale interior, more interior space, and the same fantastic performance. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder is both torquey and high-revving, providing the driver with 320 hp sent to the front wheels (via Acura).

Photo Credit: Auto Blog

This layout somewhat limits the acceleration figures to 5.1 seconds to 60 mph. However, it also keeps the overall weight down, allows the Honda’s engineers to fiddle with the balance, braking, and suspension, and produces a neutral but precise car that is easy to drive fast. Skillful drivers will always notice that heavy AWD system.

Photo Credit: Car Magazine

Mercedes CLA AMG 45

This bonkers Mercedes is quite controversial and unlike anything you expect from this brand. First, even though it’s a small sedan, Mercedes calls it a “coupe.” Second, it has one of the most powerful four-cylinder ever made. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged four delivers a mind-boggling 416 hp, which understandably results in fascinating performance (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Magazine

If you hit that throttle pedal hard enough, you can see 60 mph in 4.0 seconds flat, which is worthy of the AMG nameplate. Of course, that much firepower needs the all-wheel-drive setup and eight-speed dual-clutch transmission to transfer all those horses to the ground. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s also incredibly fun to drive around.

Photo Credit: Car And Driver

Ford Focus RS

The first-generation Focus RS had a powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 220 hp, but it was a limited production model not available in the U.S. The second-generation Ford Focus had a five-cylinder engine. Yet it is the third model that is the most impressive. The RS is one of the most powerful four-cylinder cars on the market. But now for the first time, it’s available as a regular production model to U.S. buyers. The Focus RS has a 2.3-liter turbocharged unit that delivers 345 hp to all four wheels, making it a hot hatch beast (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Al-Ain

Its performance is just incredible. To go from 0 to 60 mph, it takes the RS only 4.7 seconds and its top speed is 165 mph. This kind of performance deserves special packaging, so the Focus RS has a unique front spoiler, bulged fenders, side skirts, and a spoiler. Just looking at this furious compact tells you this is a genuinely fast Ford.

Chevrolet Camaro

Modern times brought modern versions of some legendary cars. The best example of this is the new Chevrolet Camaro. Chevy has equipped it with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Muscle car purists may wonder why Chevy would produce a four-banger Camaro. However, the new Camaro turbo is an excellent car with performance ratings better than those classic V8-powered models from the 1960s (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

Under the hood is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 275 hp. In just 5.1 seconds, it can propel the heavy coupe from 0 to 60 mph. It can reach up to 155 mph for a top speed. Although the new four-cylinder Camaro may not have the glorious soundtrack of a V8, it has the performance and fuel economy that the V8 has always lacked. The motoring press loved the new downsized engine, and this version has proven how far technology has come.

Photo Credit: Road and Track

Audi TT

The Audi TT for the U.S. market comes with the signature TFSI technology. It packs 2.0 liters of displacement and an advanced turbocharger that delivers 220 hp to all four wheels. This four-cylinder engine is common in the VW-Audi range. It can produce from 200 to over 300 hp depending on the engine tune (via US News).

Photo Credit: Cars 4 Race

It’s a lightweight, updated unit that is efficient and impressive. This TT only takes 5.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. Audi has electronically limited the maximum speed to 130 mph for safety and regulatory reasons. Rumors are the TT with this engine will top 150 mph without the electronic limiter. Big things do come in small packages, at least with the current Audi TT.

Photo Credit: Car Magazine

BMW 230i

The car community is full of praise for the newest BMW M2. Yes, it’s fast and powerful, but it is no longer lightweight, small, or affordable. However, there is one model in BMW’s lineup that still possesses all those qualities in a more unassuming package. If you lust after the classic 02 BMW of the old, the 2023 BMW 230i is the one you’ll want (the Drive).

Photo Credit: EN Australia

Powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, this compact coupe has 258 hp on tap and competent 0 to 60 mph times. It looks stealthy, offers signature driving dynamics and a well-appointed interior, and can even get the capable xDrive AWD system. In that case, the 60 mph sprint takes only 5.5 seconds.

Photo Credit: Arabs Auto

Volkswagen Golf R

The R is the top-of-the-line Golf with a powerful four-cylinder turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and brutal performance for a family hatchback. The R version is the derivate of the mighty R32 Golfs from the early 2000s that featured those 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engines (via Volkswagen).

Photo Credit: Arabs Auto

However, the latest versions feature a smaller, more powerful 2.0-liter turbo four, delivering over 300 hp. As you can expect, the performance is quite brutal for what is basically a family compact. To get from 0 to 60 mph takes 4.5 seconds and this car can top 155 mph, which is amazing.

Honda Civic Type R

The latest addition to the powerful four-cylinder car club is the fifth generation Honda Civic Type R. The new performance Civic looks like every JDM fan’s dream with numerous spoilers, scoops, and air vents all over the body. The aggressive design, great performance, and JDM appeal make this Civic a valuable and sought-after addition to the hot hatch class. For a long, Honda has resisted the temptation to turbocharge its performance engines, but now, the Type R has precisely that under the hood (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Almouharrek

The 2.0-liter turbo four delivers 306 hp and can propel the nasty-looking Civic Type R to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds while it tops 170 mph. The acceleration times are somewhat slower than the competitors, and the reason for that is the fact that the Civic is front-wheel drive and not AWD as most other models in the class. On the other hand, the absence of heavy all-wheel-drive hardware makes Civic Type R a light and nimble car, which is something hardcore driving enthusiasts will appreciate.

WRX via Motor Trend
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Subaru Impreza STI

Another street racing and rally legend is the famous Subaru WRX STI. Subaru has been one of the most powerful four-cylinder cars on the market for decades. And the latest generation of WRX STI doesn’t disappoint. Under the hood is a flat-four engine with 2.5 liters of displacement as well as a turbocharger (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Subaru

This combo delivers 305 hp, which goes to all four wheels via a six-speed manual. It’s a true driver’s car with a manual gearbox, excellent road holding, and enough power to make this car fly. The performance numbers are respectable too. It goes from 0 to 60 in just 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 160 mph. Since this is a four-door car, it’s also reasonably practical, seating five people with a good-sized trunk.

Photo Credit: Car Magazine

Alfa Romeo Giulia Competizione

Everybody went crazy when Alfa released the new Giulia Quadriofoglio performance sedan with 510 hp. But what to do if you cannot afford this Italian masterpiece but still want Giulia’s design and some performance? Simply buy a Giulia Turbo with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 280 hp (via Piston Heads).

Photo Credit: Fiat

Despite being an entry-level model, the Giulia Turbo boasts numerous interesting features, convincing performance, and a charming design. The 280 hp engine can propel this sedan to six-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration times, which is more than enough for most drivers.

Photo Credit: GM

Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Although discontinued, the Cobalt SS was one of the best and most powerful four-cylinder cars. Available as a supercharged, turbocharged, or naturally aspirated model, the best SS was the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder introduced in 2008 (via Autopian).

Photo Credit: GM

The engine delivered 260 hp, which was astonishing by the standards of the day and more than any of the competitors. Also, the Cobalt SS had big tuning potential, so it’s relatively easy to get even more power from the engine.

Photo Credit: Jaguar

Jaguar F-Type

The current F-Type sports car from Jaguar is quite a successful model, and everybody seems to adore the crazy 5.0 SVR model with 550 hp and a thundering soundtrack. However, Jaguar introduced an attractive entry-level model in the form of the 2.0-liter turbocharged F-Type (via Car and Driver).

Jaguar F-TYPE
Photo Credit: Jaguar

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 300 hp, which is enough to keep the sports car’s reputation. Unfortunately, it only comes with automatic transmission, so we hope that Jaguar will also introduce a manual option.

Photo Credit: BMW

BMW 330i

BMW got its reputation for putting high-revving straight six engines into compact sedans. But lately, it’s gained a new generation of car enthusiasts by producing highly capable small four-cylinder turbocharged engines. The best example is the current 330i 3-Series sedan (via BMW Blog).

Photo Credit: BMW

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four equipped with twin-turbo technology which helps this small unit produce 258 hp and 258 lb.-ft of torque. Thanks to an intelligent eight-speed automatic transmission and a host of electronic systems, this compact executive sedan can hit 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds.

Photo Credit: Fiat

Fiat 500 Abarth

Even though the 500 Abarth has only 160 hp from its tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, it’s a seriously fast and fun little car due to its small weight and compact dimensions. Also, it is extremely practical in everyday driving, easy to park as well, and the package has a small price (via Abarth).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Be aware of the relatively small power output. Thanks to the tiny dimensions, this car is extremely nimble and can leave a few V8s in the dust.

Porsche Boxster
Photo Credit: Auto World

Porsche 718/Boxster S

This Porsche is one of the best driver’s cars on sale. For those who don’t know, it’s a fully restyled and redesigned Boxter with 2.0 and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines. The smaller engine delivers 300 hp while the bigger option has 350 hp thanks to turbocharging (via Evo).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

This kind of power guarantees brutal performance and the 718 is capable of sprinting to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, topping 170 mph. If you choose the more powerful version, you can see the 60 mph mark in 4.1 seconds and its top speed will stay the same.

Photo Credit: Car Magazine

Ford Focus ST

The third-generation Ford Focus brought us a great economy compact car, but when Ford introduced the ST model in 2012, buyers got an almost perfect hot hatch. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharger and 252 hp (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Ford

The rest of the car is perfectly tuned, representing a fantastic balance between performance and everyday usability. The Focus ST’s popularity lies in the fact that this is a perfect daily commuter car as well as an enthusiasts’ machine on weekends.

Photo Credit: Auto Wp

Mitsubishi Evo X

Despite being discontinued, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X is still a legend amongst performance car enthusiasts. The automotive world misses the long-lasting series of four-door sedans with four-wheel drive and powerful four-cylinder turbocharged engines (via Evo).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The latest version, the Evo X, was equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo engine with 291 hp. Experts say that the engine’s output was more likely around the 320 hp mark, but Mitsubishi chose to market it with 291 hp. The performance figures were astonishing. The 0 to 60 mph time was 4.5 seconds and the Evo X could almost top 160 mph.

Fiat 124 Spider
Photo Credit: Fiat

Fiat 124 Abarth Spider

One of the most stylish roadsters currently on the market is the Fiat 124 Spider. The original 124 Spider arrived in 1966. Now, 50 years later, Fiat has presented the new version with charming retro-futuristic styling, many exciting features, and chassis borrowed from the Mazda Miata/MX-5 (via Abarth).

Fiat 124
Photo Credit: Fiat

Fiat installs its engine as a tiny 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The displacement may be small, but this engine is big in power and produces 164 hp. That is good enough to launch this small roadster from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and it can reach 130 mph in the Abarth trim level.

Photo Credit: Audi

Audi S3 Sedan

Available as a stealth compact sedan, Audi S3 is a rocket disguised as a family car. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 306 hp and all-wheel drive.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

This combo is extremely capable, and S3 Sedan can jump to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph (via Car and Driver). Those numbers were supercar territory just a few years back and show how far four-cylinder engines have come.

Mini John Cooper Works WRC - Mini F56
Photo Credit: BMW

Mini John Cooper Works

Mini was always considered a benchmark car in terms of driving dynamics, precision steering, and pure hot hatch feel. The newest John Cooper Works edition doesn’t disappoint. With a 308 hp four-cylinder engine, it’s one capable urban runabout (via Mini).

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is achievable in just 5.9 seconds, while the top speed is 140 mph, which is more than enough to run away from many V8 engines.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Honda S2000

This model was a true driver’s car with all the essential features like lightweight construction, ideal weight distribution, powerful and rev-happy engine, and razor-sharp handling in an elegant open-top package (via Car Throttle).

Photo Credit: Wiki

Under the hood was a 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 240 hp, which was the car’s main selling point. This little gem of an engine featured a 9000 rpm red line, four valves per cylinder, and the famous Honda V-Tec system, which provided all the power at high rpm and a wonderful screaming sound.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Dodge Neon SRT-4

Introduced in 2003, the SRT4 was one of the best and cheapest performance cars in America at the time. The compact Neon can turn into a pocket rocket with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 230 hp, propelling Neon to 5.4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Of course, almost every owner tuned its Neon SRT4 the minute it left the dealership, and some owners even managed to squeeze over 400 hp from the 2.4-liter engine.

Photo Credit: Driving

Alpine A110

The legendary Renault Alpine A110 was a rally legend and one of the best sports cars in the early ’70s. Now it finally has a modern version. For years, Renault teased performance car fans with concepts and announcements. Finally, they announced a production-ready car. If you’re familiar with the classic Alpine, you’ll instantly recognize the shape and idea behind this fantastic car (via Alpine).

Photo Credit: Arab Motor World

It’s a small, lightweight sports coupe with a rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive. It provides driving excitement and unparalleled road holding. That was the idea behind the new Alpine A110. This small coupe weighs just over a ton and has a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder behind the driver powering the rear wheels. The power is more than adequate at 252 HP running through its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Photo Credit: Auto Car

Kia Stinger GT

One of the biggest surprises for 2018 is the new Stinger, and enthusiasts are already crazy about it. You may wonder, how is it even possible that a boring brand like Kia could generate such hype? Well, Kia introduced a genuinely good-looking, fast, powerful, and affordable sports sedan. Basically, Kia has made the perfect BMW since BMW has moved on to more luxurious, heavier, and more expensive models (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Preprod 2 Eu Kia

The Stinger has rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, which is new for Kia’s non-SUV models. Under the hood, there are two engines. The turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 255 hp and the twin-turbo V6 will pump 365 hp.

Please wait 5 sec.