Momentous year for human transport, 1976. Within a few short months, the Rover SD1 was launched, Concorde made its first test-flight, and Audi quietly introduced an engine into a humdrum family saloon. Said engine would go on to become a legend…
Forty years on, Rover is six feet under and Concorde lives in museums, but Audi is still pumping out five-pot motors: the engine for which the word ‘warble’ was invented.
Who’s joining us for a trip down memory lane, then?
1976 Audi 100
The first road car powered by a five-cylinder petrol engine couldn’t have found a home in a more unassuming body. The 2.1-litre unit developed a heady 134bhp and 136lb ft. And if you thought that was lacking gusto…
1978 Audi 100
…then the later 1.9-litre version with just 113bhp and 114lb ft was unlikely to light your undercrackers on fire either. Was the five-pot consigned to a life of drudgery?
1980 Audi 200 5T
At last we’re getting somewhere. Adding a turbo pumped output to 168bhp and 195lb ft. Figures a modern A4 turbodiesel would scoff at, but just you wait and see what the power-crazed 1980s would do to Audi’s innocent little five-banger…
1980 Audi Ur-quattro
About time this burgeoning performance legend went in a properly sporty car, not a dowdy saloon. The original Quattro was revealed at the 1980 Geneva motor show, and sported 197bhp and 210lb ft. That’s still not as pokey as a modern (four-cylinder) Audi S1, mind you.
1983 Audi Quattro Group B
Obviously bitten by the power bug, Audi used its new five-pot coupe to devastating effect in the 1983 Corsica Rally. The Quattro was powered on its way by a 355bhp, 332lb ft engine, winning the event and eventually, the overall driver’s championship title with Finnish rally great Hannu Mikkola.
1983 Audi Sport Quattro
Four valves per cylinder: commonplace now, but pretty exciting in 1983. And helpful in extracting a monumental 300bhp and 258lb ft from 2.1 litres, in one of Audi’s most brutal, evil-looking road cars to date.
1987 Audi Sport quattro S1
In 10 minutes and 47.8 seconds, Walter Rohl created an even greater legend out of himself and the S1 at Pikes Peak, setting a hillclimb record in the hilariously over-winged S1 quattro. At this point, the 2.1-litre five-pot was developing an astonishing 585bhp and 435lb ft. And it was barely breaking sweat…
1989 Audi 90 quattro IMSA
Audi’s contender for the 1989 IMSA series was probably one of the sexiest tin-top racing cars ever, and packed possibly the silliest five-cylinder engine yet created. Displacing just 2.2 litres, the engine walloped out in excess of 710bhp and 531lb ft, and powered the widebody 90 to seven deafening race victories.
1994 Audi RS2
The original super-estate was Audi’s most powerful road-legal five-pot at the time of its birth, generating 310bhp and 302bhp in a nothing-to-see-here-officer body that few could distinguish from your dentist’s Audi 80 Avant. Still one of the tastiest fast car recipes in TG.com’s book…
After mothballing five cylinders for too long, Audi hit back in 2009 by cramming a 2.5-litre, 333bhp powerplant into the TT, while jamming a bookshelf onto its backside. The result? A diminutive all-wheel drive coupe and roadster easily capable of keeping an R8 honest off the line. Bet management was pleased about that.
Is this the moment the hyper-hatch was invented? Sure, the 2009 Focus RS also delivered over 300bhp, but Audi extracted more power in a more usable AWD package, and the only way was up, later boosting power to a dizzying 355bhp in the RS3 Plus. Its handling was woefully leaden, the ride punishing, but as a drag-racer, this RS3 torched the hot hatch form book.
2015 Audi RSQ3 Performance
Yup, it’s even made its way into crossovers. The current 362bhp iteration of the 2.5-litre engine can be specified in the little Q3, creating one of the most unlikely Porsche 911-baiters you’re ever likely to be dusted by at the traffic lights. Consider yourself warned.
2015 Audi RS3 Sportback
The current RS3 is even quicker, with its breathed-on 2.5-litre five-pot developing 362bhp and 343lb ft. We’ve timed these things at under four seconds from 0-62mph. That fast enough for you?
2016 Audi TT RS
Not likely, because the new TT RS ramps up power even further to nearly 400bhp. Audi claims the lighter internals save 18kg, the entire motor is 26kg less than the old RS3’s, and it’ll hold maximum power until 7,000rpm. Can’t wait to hear how that sounds. A fitting birthday for Audi’s most, well, warbly engine, isn’t it?