In the age of downsizing, 4 cylinder performance cars are becoming a frequent occurrence. Though they often lack the compelling soundtrack of their 6 and 8 cylinder counterparts, through the magic of turbocharging there is little compromise in terms of performance. The pursuit of efficiency is more than just fuel economy, but economy of power, economy of weight, and all-round efficiency – making the most from the least available displacement and cylinder count.
These 8 vehicles prove that even a 4 cylinder engine can produce not only impressive outputs, but provide swift and effective acceleration in the process.The quickest 4 cylinder cars on sale in the United States today, by manufacturer claimed acceleration times, are as follows.Mercedes-AMG CLA45 - 4.1 seconds
Powered by a 375-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo 4 banger, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the world’s most powerful production 4 cylinder vehicle. Paired with a dual-clutch automatic transmission and a Haldex-based all-wheel drive system, the CLA45 is capable of an immensely quick 0-60 mph sprint of 4.1 seconds. It might be quite an anodyne thing to drive, but it offers point and shoot performance like no other – enabling almost any driver to achieve maximum potential. The fact that the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 can hold a candle to the Audi RS3 and BMW M2 is testament to the potency of this mega 4 cylinder engine.Alfa Romeo 4C - 4.1 seconds
Alfa Romeo is in the midst of a renaissance, but the Giulia and Stelvio overshadow the hardcore pocket rocket that is the 4C. Available in coupe and convertible variants, the 4C is best described as Spartan. It’s a visceral, raw driving experience with a carbon fiber tub and a mid-mounted 1.75-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder at its heart. Outputs of 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque seem meager, but with a curb weight of around just 2 300 pounds, power to weight is absolutely mega, enabling a 0-60 mph sprint of 4.1 seconds.
It’s an uncompromising car to drive though, with no power steering, next to no ground clearance, and a rock hard suspension setup. Horrible to drive daily, the rear-wheel drive sports car comes to life when the planets align and a smooth, winding road appears.Mercedes-AMG GLA45 – 4.3 seconds
Based on the same front-drive architecture as the AMG CLA45, and packing the same all-wheel drive system and potent 375-hp 2.0T 4-pot as its sibling, the AMG GLA45 records a 0-60 time 0.2 seconds off the pace – due to the raised ride height and slightly softer suspension setup. Still, at 4.3 seconds it’s one of the quickest on the market, and it offers greater practicality and more comfort than almost all other speedsters on this list.Porsche 718 Boxster S - 4.4 seconds
The sprint time for the Porsche 718 Boxster S is identical to both the hard topped Cayman and the more hardcore GTS derivative at 4.4 seconds. The 718 range has drawn criticism from the masses for downsizing from 6 to 4 cylinder engines – with many citing the perfect chassis is now let down by a poor soundtrack. Regardless, the 2.5-liter turbo flat 4 develops 350 hp, channeled to the rear wheels to enable rapid acceleration. But the Boxster entertains far beyond the 60 mph mark with sublime chassis dynamics that make any drive an entertaining one. But for all the performance, it could sound just a little better.Volkswagen Golf R - 4.5 seconds
Volkswagen makes a surprise entrance on this list thanks to its hottest hatch on sale. The VW Golf R makes use of all-wheel drive and a 292-hp 2.0-liter turbo motor to crank out a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds – when equipped with the quick-shifting DSG dual clutch gearbox. Against its chief rival, the Ford Focus RS, the Golf R provides a more composed, comfortable alternative, while matching and even outgunning the Ford in performance numbers. But it comes at a price, and the Golf R isn’t the most involving until you push it to its limits – even then, it feels more CGI than analog involvementAudi S3 Sedan / Audi TT S - 4.6 seconds
Forgive the double entry in 5th slot, but both these Audi’s share the same MQB underpinnings, the same 2.0-liter turbo motor, the same all-wheel drive system, and the same dual clutch gearbox. In fact they’re mechanically identical to the VW Golf R above – despite the 0.1 second deficit in claimed 0-60 mph times. Go figure. Both the Audi S3 Sedan and TT S offer potent performance in a stylish and luxurious premium package – while offering comfort, and point and shoot ease of use. Though the 2.0-liter motor may only output 292 hp, they’re strong ponies that kick hard and never give up. The 4.6 second 0-60 mph time is testament to that.Ford Focus RS – 4.7 seconds
The Ford Focus RS appears surprisingly far down on this list, and it’s down to one simple reason. The 4.7 second claimed sprint time is actually for the 0-62 mph sprint, as nowhere does Ford make any official claims for the 0-60 mph time. Now 2 mph might seem insignificant, but when it’s a matter of a shift from 2nd to 3rd to get the extra speed, several tenths of a second can be shaved. The all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS may be best known for its ‘drift mode’, but its 2.3-liter turbo-four produces 350 hp and 350 lb-ft resulting in some impressive sprint times too – largely thanks to the trick all-wheel drive system though that manages torque exceptionally well.BMW 230i xDrive – 5.2 seconds
In the 2 Series line-up, the meager 230i is often overlooked in favor of its 6-cylinder M240i brother. But the 2.0-liter turbo-four in the 230i is equally as impressive, and arguably nimbler through the corners. With 248 hp though, it’s no slouch, and when paired with the 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, it achieves a claimed sprint time of 5.2 seconds – 0.1 seconds quicker than its rear-wheel drive counterpart.
The eight models we’ve listed (alright, nine), prove that compromising on cylinders doesn’t mean you have to compromise on performance. It is worth noting though that these are only manufacturer claims, and that real world results may vary. It’s also worth noting that while the 0-60 mph sprints are impressive, there’s more to life than 0-60 mph.