The 4-cylinder engine was used for most of the automobile’s life. That’s partly down to the relatively simplistic engineering and power efficiency, but mostly down to the packaging. A 4-cylinder engine can fit most small cars – that’s exactly what most European manufacturers have been doing for over 40 years.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, American manufacturers used the 4-cylinder engine to keep their most popular models alive due to the oil crisis. This strategy has worked well, as we still have models such as the Ford Mustang – one of the most iconic cars in the automotive world. In the late 1990s, automakers began creating performance 4-cylinder engines, some of which could outperform many 6-cylinders. In the 2000s, the 4-cylinder hot hatch dominated the sports car world with 4-cylinders adopted in racing cars such as the Subaru Impreza WRC – eventually leading to an engine class of its own.
The 2000s gave us car enthusiasts many great 4-cylinder cars which eventually led to cars such as the latest Ford Focus RS, the current Honda Civic Type R and the impressive Mercedes-AMG 45S. As a reminder, here are 10 of the fastest sports cars of the 2000s.
ten Ford Focus RS Mk1 (144mph)
The Ford Focus RS Mk1 was only on sale for one year between October 2002 and November 2003. It was Ford’s return Sport Rally name since the tuned Escorts of the 80s and 90s. The Focus RS was sold in several countries, but the UK was the biggest buyer during production, moving over 2,100 units. The Focus RS was equipped with a modified version of the Ford one Zeta 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, which in this application produced 212 hp.
The car was fitted with a 5-speed manual gearbox, through an improved limited-slip differential to the front wheels only. The RS was only available in Imperial Blue. Performance of the Focus RS was equal to or better than most of its rivals, with straight-line speed compromised in favor of handling. As a result, the Focus RS Mk1 had a top speed of just 144 mph but was faster on a track than an all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza WRX.
9 Honda Civic Type R FN2 (146mph)
The Honda Civic Type R FN2 was the 3rd generation Type R but was based on the 8th generation Civic. It was available between 2007 and 2011 and was the last of the naturally aspirated Type Rs. the FN2 was equipped with the famous K20 2.0-liter inline-4, producing 198 hp and 142 lb-ft or torque – almost identical to the previous generation.
The R-type FN2 was criticized for its extra weight over the previous generation, resulting in a slower car on a track. The gearing has been modified for better fuel efficiency, resulting in a top speed of 146mph – 5mph faster than the EP3 generation. the FN2 was also praised for its spaceship style – a design that is still debated today.
8 Lotus Exige S (148mph)
The 2007 Lotus Exige S was by far the best-handling car on the market. The car was praised for its lightness, driving dynamics and liveliness. The Exige S featured a 1.8-liter supercharged Toyota engine 2ZZ-GE i4 developing 220 hp. The Exige was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Thanks to the extra power, the Exige S could sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds, which was 0.6 seconds faster than the non-supercharged version. The increase punch also added 1 mph to top speed, which stood at 148 mph. Not bad for a 2,000lb, winged, widebody race car for the road.
7 Mazda6 MPS (149 mph)
The Mazda6 MPS was the Japanese answer to the British Ford Mondeo ST220. It was a compact sports sedan manufactured between 2005 and 2007, fitted with a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-4, producing 274 hp and 280 lb-ft. The car was equipped with Mazda Active torque distribution all-wheel-drive system, which could send up to 50% of engine power to the rear wheels if needed. The rear axle was also equipped with a limited slip differential.
The MPS was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds and up to a top speed of 149 mph. The Mazda6 MPS was an exciting, fast, safe, comfortable and cheap car to have fun with – or to use as a daily driver.
6 Honda S2000 (240 km/h)
The Honda S2000 has become a legendary piece of Japanese sports car history – not only because it was a brilliant car in its own right, but also because it featured in the wildly popular fast furious movies. The S2000, like the Lotus Exige, was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, with power going to the rear wheels.
The car was fitted with the large F20 2.0 liters and F22 2.2-liter naturally aspirated inline 4-cylinder engines. The 2.0-liter version of the AP1 S2000 produced 237 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque, while the 2.2-liter AP2 produced the same power, but 163 lb-ft of torque. The official top speed for both versions was 150 mph, although owners were able to go slightly faster.
5 VW Golf GTi Mk6 “Edition 35” (153 mph)
The VW Golf GTi is the queen of the hatchback segment. It’s the car that all other hatchbacks are built to beat and be judged on. The Mk6 Golf GTi was a fantastic car that built on the astonishing success of the Mk5. The normal GTi featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 producing 207 hp.
During the production of the Mk6, VW celebrated 35 years of the Golf GTi, so they created a special edition version, called Edition 35. The GTi Edition 35 had special badging on the interior, unique wheels and an improved engine that produced 232 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque – just 34 hp and 36 lb-ft of torque compared to the Golf R. The GTi Edition 35 was also faster than the normal Golf, with a speed of peak of 153 mph.
4 Dodge Neon SRT-4 (153 mph)
The Dodge Neon was a totally uninteresting car with one of the most boring interiors in automotive history. Dodge did something unexpected and developed a sporty version, called SRT-4. This model featured a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-4, which officially produced 230 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque.
After dynamic testing, it was revealed that the Neon SRT-4 actually produced more power than expected. The SRT-4’s 0-60 mph time was a blistering 5.3 seconds, and the car topped out at 153 mph. This performance made the Dodge Neon SRT-4 one of the fastest sedans on the planet at the time of its production.
3 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (240 km/h)
The Mitsubishi Lancer is one half of a fierce automotive battle for rally supremacy. The Lancer Evolution is the top-of-the-line production version of the race-ready rally cars. The Lancer Evolution X was the last generation of this legendary line – in production between 2007 and 2016.
As with previous Lancer Evolution generations, the Evo X had a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. In this application, it produced approximately 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through either a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Other 4-cylinder powered cars with the same 155mph top speed include the Audi S3, Audi TTS and Renault Megane RS.
2 Subaru Impreza WRX STI (250 km/h)
The other half of the Mitsubishi Lancer’s rival Japanese-production rally car battle was the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. The third-generation Impreza WRX STi was available in a hatchback body style and featured a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-4, producing 300 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque.
While the Subaru Impreza WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X were very similar in terms of performance, handling and top speed, the Subaru was 1 mile per hour faster. Official figures said 155.1 mph, but testing by reviewers found it to be 156 mph.
1 Chevrolet Cobalt SS (250 km/h)
Like the Dodge Neon, the Chevrolet Cobalt is a relatively boring coupe with a drab exterior and generic interior. Chevrolet livened it up a bit by offering the car with a supercharged 2.0-liter i4 engine, which was later turbocharged to meet new emissions regulations. The supercharged version with Stage 3 dealer upgrades installed, produced 260 hp.
The later turbocharged Cobalt SS produced 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, still available with the Stage 1 dealer upgrade that bumped power up to 290 hp. Despite having more power, the turbocharged SS was limited to 155 mph, while the supercharged SS could officially reach 158 mph – although many owners were able to exceed 160 mph without modifications. This official top speed figure made the Chevrolet Cobalt SS the fastest 4-cylinder sports car of the 2000s.
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