By on February 18, 2019

It wasn’t too long ago that four-cylinder engines were the domain of miserable econoboxes. Look no further than the wretched-but-reliable Iron Duke for proof of four-pot motoring misery.

These days, it’s a very different story. Four-bangers are found in everything from high performance sports cars to burly half-ton pickup trucks. We’re already in the realm of 400 hp examples of the breed (the new AMG A45, et al), so for today’s question let’s go one step further: who’ll be the first to build a 500 hp four-cylinder engine for the general public?

Mercedes is already well on its way, with the boffins from Affalterbach working on the next AMG A45. Whether the thing ever makes it to North America in hatchback form is up for debate, but the lilliputian tri-pointed star is already on this continent in sedan form. Your 6’6″ author sat in one last week and found it surprisingly agreeable. Endowing it with half-a-millennium of horsepower would be more than enough to forgive all sins.

Don’t forget — a 500hp four-banger might not initially appear in a car, either. With market tastes having long (and, in my opinion, permanently) skewed towards SUVs and crossovers, there is logic in predicting the first vehicle with 125 hp/cylinder could be something like the Porsche Macan. Its mostly beastly trim already makes 400 horses out of a twin-turbo V6, so some sort of four-pot infused with the juice of a hybrid system might very well satisfy our criteria.

This is without mentioning the like of the Focus RS (350hp), Silverado 2.7 (310hp), and a car which already resides in Club 400 — the 440hp Mitsu Evo X built for UK rallyheads.

Or perhaps you think I’m bonkers and we’ll never see 500 hp from such an engine. Having said that, it wasn’t too long ago that 400 horses per cylinder was unthinkable.

Vote below!

[Image: Porsche]

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49 Comments on “QOTD: 500-horsepower Four-bangers?...”

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    High HP 4cyl other than a hatchaback application doesn’t move my needle.I don’t know if it’s because I’m older , but the way a car sounds is a big deal for me.Ultimate straight line speed never really interested me anyway.
    I’ve heard the 4cyl 918s at full chat , from the outside it’s not very appealing in the least. I’m sure they’re a blast to drive though.The 14-16 S models have held their value even more so than a 911 of same vintage, most likely because of the boxer 6.

  • avatar

    “It wasn’t too long ago that 400 horses per cylinder was unthinkable”………..Er that would be 1600 hp in a 4 cylinder.

  • avatar

    And of course, in a world where this question is even being asked, there are still plenty of crusty old farts that complain that a turbo 4 pulling 180HP in a grocery-getter is “highly stressed”, and seriously fear it’s just going to self-destruct under regular use.

    Bonus points for complaining how “complicated” a turbo makes the engine.

    • 0 avatar

    • 0 avatar

      @sirwired..Guilty as charged ! I would fall into that “crusty old fart ” demographic. I’m in year four 25K miles with an EB Mustang automatic . I just did Oshawa Ontario to Montreal in 5 hours with the cruise set at 128 KLM’s ( approx 80 MPH.

      The 15 Mustang would eat its stable mate 05 Mustang GT Convertible 4.6 5 speed for breakfast in just about any competition . A guy really good with the stick (not me) might come out on top in 1/4 mile drag race ?

      Yes…I do fear looking in the mirror one day, and witnessing pistons, valves,and bits of crankshaft littering the highway. I will take those offered bonus points for thinking ” wow is this thing ever complicated.”

      I have 18 months of power train warranty left . Part of me says “trade it in”. The “crusty old fart ” part of me says “keep it, and eat the repair cost”..I’m leaning towards the latter.

      Time will tell.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, 180hp in a 1.4 turbo 4-banger is ‘highly stressed’ compared to a 2.0 NA 4-banger, since you have to include turbos, high-pressure fuel pumps, intercoolers etc. And having those included means less reliability, all other variables being equal. I have experienced a car where another person driving it managed to hit a curb with the intercooler busting it and making it lose boost pressure. Everyone knows that turbo problems, though rare enough, are more prevalent than problems with low-stressed NA engines. Everyone knows how some car models have had massive problems with their fuel pumps.

      I’m thinking of buying a 1.4 turbo 4-banger with 170hp and increasing the power to over 220hp and I don’t feel that it’s risky. But that’s only because it’s a pig-iron block that has been tuned to those numbers for over 5 years by hundreds of people without issues. Just because I’m comfortable with that doesn’t mean that I don’t know full well that a 2.3 liter or something NA engine will do the same job more reliably and with less risk points. It’s just that I don’t have that choice.

      And I’m buying new, which is very different to the situation faced by whoever has a 50k miles and more version of both engines.

      It’s easy for me to drive my 2.0 turbo 4-banger with an over 200hp and over 300Nm gasoline engine plus an about 80hp and 300Nm electric engine. Super complicated, will be nerve-racking to own with lots of miles on it, but as I’m driving it around with several years of full warranty left I have no care in the world. Hell yeah it’s going to be risky to own down the line, but right now it’s great. Soon I’ll tune it to a combined power of well over 330hp and 600Nm (gasoline + electric), and there’ll be just about zero risk for me. The next owner? They won’t know.

      Every time you buy a turbocharged used car you have NO IDEA what kind of crazy tune has been on there. There is no way to know what amount of abuse a turbocharged engine has been though for all its life. With NA you know for pretty certain that no-one has bolted on extreme mods and then taken them off before sale. Actually it’s crazy how often people don’t even bother to return their ECU to original before selling their highly tuned car as ‘stock’!! I have several friends who have sold their cars as ‘stock’ (given them to dealerships as trade-ins) even though they had crazy tunes on them.

      • 0 avatar

        LOL at expecting several years of full warranty remaining on a tuned engine.

        • 0 avatar

          It is de facto remaining for sure. If there are any problems then just revert back to original ECU program before having it taken to the dealership.

          Almost any car, you can find good tuners who are able to make untraceable tunes once removed. And even more often you can get the handheld tuning device with which you can put in the tune and remove it as often as you like.

          • 0 avatar

            I wish you luck but my understanding is that most ECU mods are not as undetectable as the tuners would like nowadays. It’s not worth the risk for me to tune a car under warranty anymore, too many horror stories.

          • 0 avatar

            The question becomes whether the average ordinary dealership can detect it (after deleted or returned to stock) with their diagnostic equipment.

            These would be the same dealerships who threw parts at my MIL’s Torrent when it had all the classic symptoms of a bad head gasket.

          • 0 avatar

            For anything major like an engine replacement, the OEM will be getting involved and it’s them you need to worry about. They can tell the difference between factory stock and flashed back to stock.

  • avatar

    Of course it’s possible to get 500 hp out of four cylinders. Getting the engine to last requires building up the internals to handle the stress.

    • 0 avatar

      Are we talking a 1.4l four pot or a 3.0l four pot? I would bet the head gaskets in that 1.4l take a beating.

      As an aside, the Neon based SRT4 had a factory Stage III kit the brought you up to 300hp all those years ago.

  • avatar

    Koenigsegg has a normally aspirated 5.0 V8 at 600hp. So, you could probably get a 300hp normally aspirated 2.5 4 out of that. The twin turbo version of that 5.0 liter is 1100 hp with 91 octane, so cut in half you’ve theoretically got 550. So Koenigsegg has already sort-of done it.

    • 0 avatar

      Almost, but a 4 pot has less power pulses per revolution. They have less internal friction which helps efficiency, but that doesn’t offset the 1/2 the number of pulses.

  • avatar

    Does that little blue car have a “Rugs” setting?

  • avatar

    You should be as careful with “permanently” as with “never” and “always”.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it will happen, but 4 cylinder turbo engines are no substitute for the smoothness of a 6…Case in point…I own a BMW Z4 with the 3.0 N52 255 hp engine and a BMW X3 with the N20 240hp engine. Very similar hp and the X3 has much flatter low end torque, yet the N20 sound like a diesel at idle yet it is a competent quick engine….The N52 is sublime though

    • 0 avatar

      Not disagreeing with you, bufguy, but I’d put the difference between the N52 and the N20 as much down to fuel delivery as to cylinder count. Direct injectors are clattery! I find the N20 in my buddy’s 328i to be relatively smooth, except vis-a-vis the start/stop technology. Tip of the cap to Frederick Lanchester and Mitsubishi for balance shaft wizardry.

      Toyota’s 8AR-FTS is an engine that, IMO, has pretty good NVH characteristics until you open the engine bay. The people who worked on their engine covers and underhood insulation earned their pay.

      As I said, though, I don’t disagree with you. An I6 still is going to be preferable in terms of firing interval and such.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure why it would need to happen. 500 hp vehicles are always relatively to very expensive and when vehicles get expensive customers expect refinement and nice sounds, which 4 cylinders just don’t provide. Furthermore, 500 hp is likely cheaper to achieve with a 6 or 8 or 12 cylinder, and fuel economy concerns go out the window for both consumer and CAFE purposes at that level, so the 2 mpg better that a 4 might provide just don’t register.

  • avatar

    Let’s not forget the 1980’s turbo era in Formula 1, when BMW’s notorious 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine was good for over 1500 hp in qualifying trim. And where ‘good’ and ‘qualifying’ meant engine life expectancy better measured in minutes than hours. They weren’t known as ‘grenade engines’ for nothing.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember that engine program pretty well. The more time passes, the more power they made in qualifying trim. Ignoring that for a moment, they could only last a race distance, which was less than 200 miles, when they were detuned to 640 hp. Getting a four cylinder engine making 640 hp to last 200 miles involved scouring German junk yards for twenty year old engine blocks, since having led one easy life stress-relieved the casting and enabled the boost pressures to be tolerated for two hours. I suppose someone really silly could make a 500 horsepower four cylinder as durable as a Ford Triton V8 today, provided they started twenty years ago by producing sound naturally aspirated engines that they can rebuild today with turbocharging and other follies.

      • 0 avatar

        In ye olden days I used to work with a guy who raced in a “stock” series that used NA 4-cylinders putting out around 350HP that would usually last a full season before being rebuilt. I think they were 2.3L or 2.6L or something big like that. With forced induction and more modern ECUs getting 500HP would be relatively easy. But it would be a lot easier to get there with a V8, which is what someone buying a 500HP car would want anyway (OK, maybe a turbo 6-cylinder for the Germans).

    • 0 avatar

      If I recall correctly, they idled around 6k rpm as well. At least the ones they showed on the dyno warming up.

  • avatar

    I imagine some supercar in the future can show up with a I-4 with a large turbo and hybrid assist a la P1 that can break 500hp.
    The P1 was already around 115 hp per cylinder, and that tech is (unbelievably) already 5+ years old. Not too much of a stretch.

  • avatar

    500? They could make a 5,000 hp four and it wouldn’t interest me. I’m fully aware that caring how many cylinders there are in front of me puts me in a niche inside a niche. But so does caring how many horsepowers there are at all.

    How many buyers care about just one of those things?

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I don’t think that I fall into the category of old curmudgeon, but I do have to ask why?

    As others have noted, 500 HP from an 8 is easy, a 6 is a tad more difficult but not overly so. Why then the need to get 500 HP from a 4 mil other than to say you did and are, perhaps, the first to market with it? Invariably you are going to need to make a lot of boost and use a seriously high pressure system to move the fuel in and exhaust out, spinning high RPM’s to boot. It is not hard to figure this will decrease reliability and increase complexity of the entire system, which will only be quantified by the cost of entry. Lastly, I am struggling to see how this set up with help with CAFE so I am not sure the MPG argument holds a lot of water.

    From a perspective of self awareness, it is entirely possible that I am not target audience. I grew up with and own currently 3 V8 LS engines. I like, nope love, the noise a LS engine makes. It makes me smile, every time. Perhaps the generation behind me has grown up listening to 4’s and 6’s and holds the same feelings of lust and desire for the sound these engines make and are eagerly awaiting a 500 HP 4 mil to hoon.

    • 0 avatar

      ‘Cause you can’t always stuff a V8 into a compact sports car, FWD/AWD especially. When you can, you don’t want the weight, but you’ll gladly take the power!

      Yeah Mustangs and similar should have V8s (except SVO!) and a couple hundred lbs saved makes little difference in a 4,000 lbs car.

      So tell me you’d turn down a 500 hp Flat4 BRZ/86 for the weekend?

      • 0 avatar

        It’s been a long time since I looked it up but iirc people replacing their Miata engines with LS2 and LS3s commented that the V8 weighed only 20lbs more than the stock 4 cylinder. I don’t need to comment on how small the LS Smallblock engines are, everyone and their grandfather know they are physically small engines. Obviously I didn’t take the transmission or a possible upgraded rear end into the equation but more than doubling the HP and adding tighter suspension parts should fix those issues.

        The only application that V8 doesn’t work (excluding the W-body V8s) is in FWD and FWD based AWD cars. Though I would not call a FWD anything sporty or worth modifying to begin with.

        • 0 avatar

          A V8 works fine with longitudinal FWD.
          Honestly, other than some DIY maintenance hassles a V8 transverse setup works fine too. You just can’t half-a$$ the transmission or overall engineering.

      • 0 avatar

        I for one, would NOT want a 500hp front wheel drive car.

    • 0 avatar

      No mainstream OEM will do one. So best we can hope for is artificial V8 byproducts in small sports cars.

  • avatar

    Getting there is no trouble, but why? Nothing is gained from making a 4 cylinder make 300HP. A good OHV 6 can make the same power in a smaller, lighter, lower cost and better reliability block. Add in cylinder deactivation if we have to worry about fuel economy and your getting roughly the same MPG.

    Eventually regulations are going to put a strangle on DI engines and normally aspirated 6s and 8s are going to have to come back to make up for the overboosted 4s and 6s going into everything now.

  • avatar

    I would rather have smaller displacements and more cylinders.

    Too bad that’ll never happen.

  • avatar

    all you need is an ethanol engine, like this 3.2l V6 from Ricardo

    Using E85, Ricardo’s super V-6 makes a heady 400 hp and—get this—664 lb-ft of torque. That matches GM’s 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V-8, although the EBDI’s torque peak is higher, at 3200 rpm. Running on pure gasoline drops the output by about 100 hp.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the winning LM1 Porsche at Le Mans some sort of hybrid based on a measly four-banger? Get used to it, America. Or else lose all export markets.

  • avatar

    Or local newpaper had an article on some new Volvo with a turbocharged AND supercharged 2.0L 4 cyl rated at 400 HP, 415 lb-ft torque. Lawd-ah-mighty!!
    Technology has progressed to the point nwhere the later Sixes out-performed the V8s in what I would consider mainstream cars, then the Fours outperformed the Sixes. So now it appears that some Fours are outperforming the V8s, in lighter vehicles.
    The only question is long-term reliability.
    After I replaced the blown turbocharger in my’79 Mustang back in ’82 I swore I’d never have another turbocharged car.
    So now I am into Week 3 of a ’19 Mazda CX-5 Signature Turbo–and loving it. The difference is I bought this car new, and even though I am a (retired) dealer tech, I bought the extended service contract. When youre talking $5K and over for an engine or transmission, $1500 is peanuts.
    I was told by a coworker in our sister Subaru service department that some of their transmissions are $10K.

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