It’s a fair bet to say that each of us, at one point or another, has been truly touched by a virtuoso musician’s craft. No matter the genre, the best music cuts through to the core and brings emotion – whether high or low – to the forefront. And if it makes you feel something, it has done its job.

Transfer that artistry to the mires of forested Wales. You’re stood beside a gravel road as the early morning sunlight filters through the trees, though it does nothing to raise the temperature, which is so chilling that your fingers fail to complete even the simple task of lighting a match.

Off in the distance, a harmonic resonance begins to echo through the treetops. It sounds like nothing else on earth.

Forgetting the frost as the noise amplifies, you naturally look in the direction of the sound. Though you still can’t see its origin, the audible intensity constantly shifts, ranging from a gravelly undercurrent through to the heights of harmony.

Then, you see it: Quattro!

You’d heard about this revolutionary Audi, how its all-wheel drive system allowed Hannu Mikkola to overtake a Lancia Stratos on-stage at the Monte to redefine rallying. But right now, as the virtuoso Mikkola plays throttle and brake against each other, your senses are absorbed by the off-beat blare emanating from the Quattro’s exhaust. Against the shrill cry of a Stratos or the manic punch of an Escort’s BDA, the five-cylinder, turbocharged Audi is purely orchestral. It went on to win the 1981 RAC by 11 minutes, incidentally.

Beyond Quattro, Audi’s association with the five-cylinder engine layout is legendary, from IMSA racing to Pikes Peak. And today, it’s the four-ringed Germans who persist with the awkward (on-paper, at least) cylinder layout. Indeed, the forthcoming Audi RS3 houses perhaps the best-yet example of the genre. It might also be the last…

With that in mind we felt the time was right to pay tribute to the five-pot.

Audi Quattro

The Car That Started It All.

Audi Ur-Quattro

The Quattro redefined just what was possible in a road car, offering never-before-seen traction and sonorous power in the same package. Conceived to win rally championships, the Quattro formed a template for others to follow when it arrived in 1980, and we can thank Audi for creating the all-wheel drive performance car culture we enjoy today.

Initially the straight-five displaced 2144cc and had two valves per cylinder. Turbocharged and intercooled, it employed an early form of electronic management and could adjust ignition timing based on boost pressure, crank position and inlet temperature. The result was 147kW at 5500rpm and 285Nm at 3500rpm.

In late 1983 the engine was updated to 2226cc and given a new turbocharger designed to fill out the torque curve. Peak figures remained identical, though peak torque was now produced at 3000rpm.

The wildest Quattro of all was the short-wheelbase Sport Quattro. Conceived to satisfy WRC homologation rules, the road-going Sport Quattro smashed out 225kW at 6750rpm and 350Nm at 3700rpm.

For its final fling the Quattro received a DOHC head in 1988, fitted with four valves per cylinder. The ‘20v’ produced 162kW at 5500rpm as a result, with a robust 310Nm available at only 1950rpm.

Audi RS2

Moving into the 1990s, Audi performance had shifted out of the limelight as other manufacturers caught up. It decided on a show of strength by introducing a new, specific performance sub-brand: RS.

Audi RS2

The first Audi RS was based on the S2 Avant (wagon, itself based on the pedestrian Audi 80). Utilising the 2.2-litre five-pot and six-speed manual gearbox from its donor, Audi enlisted Porsche to wave its wand over the RS2’s power plant, as well as suspension and braking systems; hence the Porsche lettering on the calipers, which were taken from a 968 Sport.

While the S2 was no slouch with 172kW, the RS2 was insane, producing 232kW at 6500rpm along with 410Nm at 3000rpm. With its modernised quattro drivetrain legend suggests the RS2 could beat out a McLaren F1 to 50km/h. Now there’s a test we want to conduct.

(Okay, so it’s somewhat modified!)

Fiat Coupe 20V Turbo

While we could fill this list with Audis, we figure you’d rather see a more eclectic selection… and eclectic best describes this feisty little Fiat.

Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo LE

Although introduced in 1993 with a four-pot turbo derived from the Lancia Delta integrale, the under-bonnet fun commenced in 1996 when two 1998cc five-cylinder engines became available.

The naturally-aspirated version delivered 108kW and 186Nm, but of particular interest was the stonking 162kW turbocharged version. It delivered that peak at a low 5750rpm, with 310Nm on-tap at only 2500rpm.

For 1998 a Limited Edition variant was released, adding Brembo brakes and a six-speed manual to increase top speed from 240km/h to 250km/h.

From its turbo five-pot to its front-wheel drive layout, the distinctively-styled Fiat turns up its nose at conformity. And if you think all that grunt would be disastrous through the front hoops, a limited-slip differential and MacPherson strut/wishbone front suspension helps keep the torque in check. It’s just a pity they never came to Australia.

Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS 2010

It was early-on in my career, and I still couldn’t believe that manufacturers actually gave people keys to brand new cars, topped up and perfectly clean, before saying, “Go and enjoy it.”

The sheer lunacy of this bright green, bewinged Ford Focus RS made me laugh out loud on first sight, but it was the all-consuming warble that entered the cabin under throttle that had me hooked. The rest of the car could have been diabolical and I wouldn’t have cared. Thankfully, though, the 2010 Focus RS was a lovable beast on the road.

Powered by a Volvo-sourced 2497cc ‘big-block’ turbo-fiver, the German-built, three-door-only Focus RS smashed out 224kW at 6500rpm and a mammoth 440Nm at 2300rpm, making a mockery of the Lancer Evolution X and Impreza WRX STi in the power race, though it ‘lacked’ all-wheel drive; though in practice the combination of Ford’s RevoKnuckle independent-axis front suspension and aggressive limited-slip differential gave the Focus astounding traction and grip, as long as you trusted the diff would hook you into each apex. With only 300 arriving in Australia, they remain true head-turners today.


Volvo 850R

Anyone remember when Channel Nine’s Wide World of Sports would show re-run highlights of the British Touring Car Championship?

Volvo 850R

In-between the dicing BMW 3 Series, Ford Mondeos and Renault Lagunas, there was a brick on wheels: Volvo’s 850 Wagon, its five-pot shrunk to 2.0 litres and revving comfortably to 8500rpm. It wasn’t a true front-runner, though the TWR-run team would go on to success with the sedan variant in subsequent years.

The exercise did spawn an interesting road car project, however, with the Porsche-fettled 850 T5-R limited edition. It was followed by the wild 850R, a 2319cc turbocharged five-cylinder engine providing propulsion. It built on the T5-R specification with a larger turbo, improved fuelling and better intercooling, increasing output to 186kW at 5400rpm (up from 180kw) but importantly adding 50Nm, to a 350Nm total from 2400-5000rpm; just remember to grab the five-speed manual, as the automatic missed out on the big turbo. A Torsen differential attempted to shove the power through the front wheels, but it did so in rather rudimentary fashion, the stiffened suspension not helping straight-line proceedings.

Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments, or on the Trailing Throttle Facebook page.

About The Author


From childhood stories of my Dad's Phase 2 XW GT-HO, I have always loved cars. That passion was nurtured via epic road trip stories read in magazines, undertaken in wonderfully evocative machinery. It was inspirational, and there was no longer a choice: I was going to make a career in motoring journalism. At Trailing Throttle, we want to recreate that feeling of behind-the-wheel immersion. We hope you enjoy the ride.

  • FirthFactor

    I feel the Volvo 850R was always underrated. You guys touched on the departure of the 5 cylinder in S60 review, do you see much uitilistation in any cars in the future? Focus RS going 4 cylinder too…

    • Yeah, the five-pot’s departure from Volvo was done almost imperceptibly; suddenly the V40 was a turbo-four. Ford has nailed its future to EcoBoost fours, too.
      Audi seems to be the only one interested in continuing to blaze the trail, but they too have shown with a couple of concepts that big power, less weight and more efficiency can be found with one less cylinder these days. I think packaging-wise, manufacturers these days believe anything larger than a four has to be in V-formation.