Here Are The Best Four-Cylinder Engines Ever Built

All car enthusiasts love the robust, balanced straight-sixes, the big and brawny V8s, and the screaming V12s. And it’s easy to love these engines — they are powerful statements of the ingenuity of automotive engineering that best represent our desire for speed and performance.


Updated February 2023: Four-cylinder engines offer a good blend of performance and efficiency. Nowadays, hybridization has made these engines a force to reckon with. Here’s an updated list of the best four-cylinder engines ever built.

With this love affair with the big, loud powerplants, many car enthusiasts seem to overlook the smaller, more rational four-cylinder engines completely. To many enthusiasts, admitting that you like four-pots is like donking out a classic car — inferior taste. For years, four-cylinder engines have been associated with basic, uninspiring “Point A to Point B” cars or the cheapest trim levels.

And while that is partially true, there are true gems among four-cylinder engines. Some of them are synonymous with their amazing power output, others for their reliability. But most importantly, all of them prove an engine doesn’t need more horsepower or cylinders to qualify as a legendary powerplant.

Related: Ranking The Best V10 Engines Ever Produced

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11 Honda F20C

2004 Honda S2000 Engine
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8,800. That’s the exact number of revolutions per minute at which Honda’s F20C engine redlines. Yes, that’s right: this humble 2.0-liter monster powered the famous Honda S2000 roadster. It might have “only” put out 234 hp in the U.S. market configuration, but it surely did so with passion.

10 Mercedes-Benz M111

2001 Mercedes-Benz SLK230 Kompressor Engine
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Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, the M111 powered a wide variety of Mercedes cars: the C-Class, the E-Class, the CLK coupes and convertibles, the SLK roadster, and so on. It’s a rather mundane engine apart from one thing—its supercharged versions. Nowadays, four-cylinder engines with forced induction are nothing new.

But, back in the day, strapping a Kompressor to an otherwise regular, mass-produced, budget-friendly engine was pretty unconventional and cool. And with about 194 hp in its 2.3-liter, supercharged form, the M111 performed very well without falling apart. German engineering at its finest.

9 Alfa Romeo Twin Spark 16V

Alfa Romeo Twin Spark 16V
via Wikimedia Commons

Before turbochargers became standard, many car manufacturers tried to come up with ideas on how to make their four cylinders perform better without sacrificing fuel efficiency and reliability. And if Mercedes’ supercharged M111 engines sound bizarre to you, wait until you hear about the Alfa Romeo Twin Spark technology.

As the name suggests, these engines used two spark plugs per cylinder. It was an interesting technology with racing roots that didn’t quite catch on—but not before it found its way into some gorgeous cars, such as the 156 and the GTV.

Related: Here’s How Much An Alfa Romeo 916 GTV Is Worth Today

8 Subaru EJ25

2019 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Subaru

Despite their reliability issues and mechanical complications, Subaru’s flat-fours have stood the test of time. And the 2.5-liter EJ25 seems to do better than ever for an engine that has been on the market since the ’90s in various versions.

Recently, it powered the 2019 Impreza WRX STI, which puts out 310 hp—all while retaining that famous Subie exhaust note.

7 Nissan SR20DET

1992 Nissan 180SX Engine
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Everyone loves Nissan’s RB-series straight-six engines that powered the legendary Skyline GT-Rs, but what about their smaller cousins? The turbocharged, 2.0-liter SR20DET deserves some recognition. After all, without it, the Silvia coupe would’ve never gotten its drift machine reputation.

In its heyday—that is, in the S15 Silvia—the SR20DET put out 247 hp. However, as the tuners have proven repeatedly, they can withstand a lot more power, making it a popular swap option even today.

Related: Watch This Nissan Silvia S15 Take On A Snowstorm

6 Toyota 3S-GTE

1994 Toyota Celica GT-Four Engine
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You can argue with us all you want, but we believe that the A80 Supra was not the best sports car that Toyota ever made. Or, at least, not the best Toyota sports car of its era.

That honor, in our opinion, goes to the second-gen MR2 and the sixth-gen Celica GT-Four. We especially love the Celica, and its glorious turbocharged 3S-GTE engine: 252 hp from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder in 94 is no joke.

5 Saab B234

1995 Saab 9000 Aero Engine
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Saab is one of the car manufacturers that pioneered turbocharging, and the B234 is the best example of that. This engine made the 9000 Aero one of the best-performing sports sedans of the ’90s and put Saab on the map.

The turbocharged B234 made around 225 horsepower from 2.3 liters of displacement, allowing the 9000 Aero to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. These are not crazy numbers by today’s standards, but it was a big deal back in the day.

Related: Saab 9000: Costs, Facts, And Figures

4 Ford EcoBoost 2.3L

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost
Ford

Somehow, the EcoBoost 4-cylinder is a very popular engine to hate on—and we don’t understand why. Yes, you can argue as much as you wish Ford ruined the Mustang by putting a four-pot under the hood.

In reality, the 2.3-liter version of the EcoBoost is just a superb engine. Sure, it’s no V8, but it still offers you 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque while getting 24 MPG.

3 Toyota 4A-GE

1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S Engine
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If you suddenly started hearing a weird disco beat in your head and crave tofu after reading the name above, it’s because the 4A-GE powered a very special car. Let us present one of the earliest hot hatches and a true pop culture icon, the Toyota AE86.

With dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and a total power output of around 130 hp, the 4A-GE was not exactly a mighty engine. But it was enough to make the countless Hachi-Rokus go sideways on Japanese mountain roads, inspiring a whole discipline of motorsport in the process.

RELATED: 9 Things Everyone Forgot About The Toyota Corolla AE86

2 Volvo Redblock

1976 Volvo 244 DL Engine
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Few engines ever created can match the unshakable reputation for indestructibility that Volvo’s Redblock family of four cylinders has. These robust Swedish workhorses are best known for powering the Volvo 200 Series cars.

And the turbocharged versions are the most famous of them all – these exact engines are responsible for the “Turbobrick” nickname of the 200 sedans and wagons. We won’t even mention the exact power outputs of these engines—all you need to know is that they will probably outlive us all.

1 VW 1.9 TDI ARL

VW 1.9 TDI
via: Golfiv.fr

That’s right, a diesel engine! Volkswagen’s 1.9 TDI unit is, to this day, the comakers’ most successful diesel engine. These things are virtually unbreakable, return very impressive MPG, and will last forever.

The most powerful 1.9 TDI engines were the ARL code units that produced 150 hp thanks to the new fuel injection system. It’s a very simple engine that uses an 8-valve head, but this is also part of why it’s so popular with diesel tuners.

Sources: Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Volvo

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