You no longer need a V8 to make more than 300 horsepower.
Once upon a time, it was a big deal when any car cracked the 300-horsepower mark. Now it seems like almost every performance car can hit that range – even ones with just four cylinders under the hood. The miracles of turbocharging, direct fuel injection, and variable valve timing allow engineers to extract massive amounts of power from smaller engines than ever before. And as the Honda Civic Type R’s record-setting Nürburgring lap showed us, you can get plenty of performance from a modern four-banger. Not convinced? Here are the ten most powerful four-cylinder cars available in the U.S. market.
1. Mercedes-AMG CLA45 / GLA45: 2.0L turbocharged I4, 375 hp, 350 pound-feet of torque
These AMG models pack the world’s most powerful production four-cylinder engine; if you’re in Europe, you can also get this powerplant in the A45 hatchback. When the AMG 45 cars launched, they made an already impressive 355 hp and 332 lb-ft, but the engineers turned up the wick when they refreshed the cars. And we are certainly not complaining.
2. Volvo S60 / V60 Polestar: 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged I4, 362 hp, 347 lb-ft
Painted in the brand’s signature blue, the Polestar versions of the S60 and V60 instantly stand out. Most of the time, though, they’re a blue flash, tearing to 60 miles per hour in as little as 4.4 seconds. Rare on the ground, brutally quick, and hugely capable thanks to Öhlins adjustable dampers and Brembo brakes, the Polestar twins are among our favorite sleeper performance cars.
3. Ford Focus RS: 2.3L turbocharged I4, 350 hp, 350 lb-ft
Ford’s all-wheel-drive terror is the first Focus RS to be officially sold in the U.S., and we’re glad it’s hear. Aggressive suspension, that feisty turbocharged engine, and even a Drift Mode provide huge thrills everywhere we go. Just be sure to pay for that killer Nitrous Blue paint color.
4. Porsche 718 Cayman S / Boxster S: 2.5L turbocharged H4, 350 hp, 309 lb-ft
Here’s what you need to know about the 718 Cayman S’s new turbo engine: It makes 25 hp and 72 lb-ft more than the outgoing, naturally aspirated S. It still sounds like a sports car, and it still provides shocking acceleration – four seconds flat to 60 mph in the Cayman S with PDK. All that out of just 2.5 liters of displacement? Color us impressed.
5. Volvo XC90 / S90 / V90 / V90 Cross Country / 2018 XC60: 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged I4, 316 hp, 295 lb-ft
While not quite as wild as the aforementioned Polestar versions, the T6 engine in Volvo’s newest models extracts lots of power from just four cylinders. A turbocharged and a supercharger work together to deliver lots of boost and thus 316 hp from the relatively small engine. That means that the Volvo that lines up next to you, by the way, could have more power than your Subaru WRX STI.
6. Ford Mustang EcoBoost: 2.3L turbocharged I4, 310 hp, 320 lb-ft
Ford’s turbocharged pony car easily outpowers its main rival, the Chevy Camaro Turbo, by 35 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque. The EcoBoost engine isn’t as thrilling, in terms of power delivery and sound, as the 5.0-liter V8, but it’s plenty powerful to serve as the Mustang’s base engine. Yes, that’s right: For 2018, the Mustang will no longer offer its 3.7-liter V6. Then again, Ford data show that the EcoBoost mill already accounted for 38 percent of U.S. and Canada Mustang sales, compared to just 22 percent for the V6 and 40 percent for the V8.
7. Honda Civic Type R: 2.0L turbocharged I4, 306 hp, 295 lb-ft
Not only can it run a wicked-fast lap around the Nordschleife, but the Civic Type R is in the 300-hp club. Its 2.0-liter turbo engine directs power to the front wheels by way of a six-speed manual transmission, and other racy upgrades include a triple-tip exhaust, adaptive dampers, performance brakes, and an upgraded interior with lots of carbon fiber accents. It should cost “in the mid-$30K range” when it goes on sale later this spring. We can wait to put it up against some of the other hot hatches on this list as soon as it’s available.
8. Subaru WRX STI: 2.5L turbocharged H4, 305 hp, 290 lb-ft
Whether sliding through snow, grinding through gravel roads, or tearing up tracks, the Subaru WRX STI is always a car-enthusiast favorite. Its burbly boxer engine cranks out 305 hp, far more than the 268 hp on offer in the regular WRX’s 2.0-liter engine. For 2018, the WRX STI receives updates to its all-wheel-drive system, improved brakes, and new 19-inch wheels. That bumps the car’s prices up by a modest $940.
9. Porsche 718 Cayman / Boxster: 2.0L turbocharged H4, 300 hp, 280 lb-ft
Yes, yes, the purists whined when Porsche announced it would turbocharge its engines. But when even the “base” Cayman and Boxster produce more than 300 hp, is there much to quibble about? After all, these engines produce far more torque than the previous naturally aspirated versions, and Porsche’s mid-engined cars remains an absolute joy to drive, turbo or not.
10. Volkswagen Golf R / Audi S3 / Audi TT S: 2.0L turbocharged I4, 292 hp, 280 lb-ft
The tenth place on this list is no bad place to be, and in fact there’s nothing we’d complain about with the 2.0-liter engine in these sporty cars. Smooth, punchy, and able to deliver big thrills when the boost hits, the engine may not exceed 300 hp but is plenty for these small, all-wheel-drive performance cars.