Audi celebrates 40 years of five-cylinder engine

Five-cylinder engines have been a large part of Audi’s history for quite some time, forty years in fact. What is possibly the most famous Audi of all time, the car that put the four-ringed brand on the performance map, is the UR Audi Quattro. And now, 40 years later, the five-cylinder is still going strong in Audi’s lineup.

The very first Audi to pack an inline five-cylinder engine was the second-generation Audi 100, back in 1976. With the second-gen 100, Audi needed an engine that was a bit more impressive, powerful and luxurious than the previous-generation’s four-cylinder engines. Audi brass was toying with the idea of inline five and inline six-cylinder engines, but the latter was too long to fit in the engine bay. So the 2.1 liter I5 engine was born. It had a modern fuel injection system, which allowed it to develop 136 hp and also had impressive fuel economy. While 136 hp doesn’t sound impressive now, it was very much so in 1976.

1978: five-cylinder carbureted engine: In April 1978, the five-cylinder carbureted version with an output of 85 kW (115 hp) replaces the basic twoliter four-cylinder version in the Audi 100 (C2). The new 1.9-liter unit produces maximum power at 5,400 revs and delivers 154 newton meters (113.58 lb-ft) of torque to the crankshaft at 3,700 rpm. The engine is used in the Audi 100 5 (C2), the Audi 80 CD (B2), the Audi Coupé GT 5S (B2) and in the Audi 100 (C3).
1978: five-cylinder carbureted engine

In 1978, Audi continued to build on the success of the 100’s five-cylinder engine. So it developed a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, which developed a whopping 170 hp and 196 lb-ft of torque, in the Audi 200 5T.

But it was in 1980 where Audi really go into its five-cylinder groove. Audi developed the original “UR” Quattro, which packed 2.1 liter turbocharged and intercooled 200 hp five-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual and permanent all-wheel drive. With that engine and the first iteration of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive, driver Finn Hannu Mikkola won the driver’s title in the World Rally Championshipin 1983.

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Following that, Audi developed the wide-track Sport Quattro, which packed a new all-aluminum, four-valve variant of the turbocharged five-cylinder engine and it developed a massive 306 hp. At the time, it was the most powerful German car for public roads in the world. This model was the basis for the fire-spitting famous Group B Rally Car Audi Quattro, whose five-cyldiner engine developed a monstrous 450 hp.

Audi quattro A2, Group B, model year 1983

In 1986, after Audi finished rally racing, the legendary Walter Röhrl won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in the Audi Sport Quattro S1. That car developed 598 hp from its five-cylinder engine which was frankly ridiculous for its time and still crazy powerful today. The IMSA GTO variant was even more powerful, creating 750 hp, which is insane, considering it came from just barely over 2.0 liters.

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At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1989, Audi debuted the world’s first turbocharged inline-five diesel engine with direct injection and fully electronic control, in the Audi 100 TDI. It displaced 2.5 liters and developed 120 hp. This was a huge milestone for Audi diesels.

But 1994 was an even bigger year for the Audi inline-five. With some help from Porsche, the Audi RS 2 was born. The Audi RS 2 Avant created an entirely new segment of wagons that could take on supercars. With a 2.2 liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine, with a sprinkle of Porsche magic, the Audi RS 2 Avant developed 315 hp and was capable of 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds. And, thanks to its six-speed manual transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive, it was capable of 0-30 mph in 1.5 seconds, faster than a McLaren F1.

Audi RS 2 Avant
Audi RS 2 Avant

In the mid-late ’90s, Audi started to slowly phase out the five-cylinder engine in favor of new V6 engines. The V6s had better power and fuel economy, buy lacked the character and sound of the classic five-cylinder engine.

However, in 2009, Audi brought the five-cylinder back to life in the Audi TT RS. Although, in the TT RS, Audi went with a transverse setup (horizontally) as opposed to its predecessors’ longitudinal (front-to-back) setup. The Audi TT RS had a 2.5 liter turbocharged I5 engine that made 340 hp and was mated to a six-speed manual, powering all four wheels. Audi is also currently working on releasing a successor to the TT RS, which will use an all-new, all-aluminum 2.5 liter turbocharged I5 engine that will make 400 hp.

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2016 Audi TT RS Coupe
2016 Audi TT RS Coupe

To see the history of the Audi five-cylinder engine, one must visit the Audi Forum in Neckarsulm, where one can see the “Zero to 100” exhibit, showing the history of the famous model. In this exhibit, visitors can see the original Audi five-cylinder engine and original five-cylinder diesel. The exhibit will be running until November 6, 2016.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.