Refining The Five

The five-cylinder powerhouse in the new Audi RS 3 models is the result of 45 years of hardcore development.

A motorsport triumph that has successfully transitioned to the road and achieved legend status in the performance ranks – the latest and most powerful Audi five-cylinder engine has an impressive family tree. 

6 October, 2021

Audi presented the first five-cylinder petrol engine 45 years ago in the second-generation Audi 100

Later this month, journalists in Europe will get their first taste of the new RS 3 models – new Sedan and Sportback – and the most powerful iteration of the Audi five-cylinder engine yet. An absolute legend in performance circles, the Audi 2.5-litre, five-cylinder powerplant has achieved unbridled success in motorsport and road-going models alike over its 45 year history to date, its combination of pure performance and its unique aural signature elevating it to legend status.

The 2.5 TFSI in the new Audi RS 3 models draws on that rich heritage and development in the harsh cauldron of motorsport to deliver extraordinary performance. With a 20Nm increase in torque over its immediate predecessor to 500Nm (between 2250rpm and 5600rpm) and maximum power of 294kW between 5,600rpm and 7000rpm its figures are impressive enough. That translates to a sprint from zero to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h that can be pushed out to 280km/h on request or even 290km/h with the RS Dynamic package and ceramic brakes.

Audi presented the first five-cylinder petrol engine 45 years ago in the second-generation Audi 100. Enhancements and new developments followed with turbocharging, exhaust gas purification and four-valve technology, rally engines, and five-cylinder diesel units. From 2010 onwards the 2.5 TFSI won the ‘International Engine of the Year' award nine times in a row and its distinctive sound is considered automotive music to the ears by performance enthusiasts the world over.

That first five-cylinder gasoline engine powered the Audi 100 (C2) in 1976, its size and weight distribution at the front of the car considered superior to the larger six-cylinder options being considered. The 2.1-litre five-cylinder engine produced 100kW and a modern injection system increased efficiency and power development.

In 1978 Audi also developed the first diesel version, with a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated producing 51kW. A year later, the first turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine made its debut in the Audi 200 5T – another pioneering feat from Audi with an output of 125kW and 265 newton meters of torque.

Then in 1980 Audi ‘Ur-quattro’ arrived on the scene with turbocharging, an intercooler and permanent four-wheel drive – a compelling performance proposition that delivered 147kW, it was driven to victory in the 1983 World Rally Championship by Hannu Mikkola.

That same year Audi introduced the wide-track Sport quattro powered by a newly developed four-valve five-cylinder unit made of aluminium. With an output of 225kW, it made made the Sport quattro the most powerful car built to date by a German company for use on public roads. 

The model formed the basis for a new Group B rally car, with the four-valve powerplant delivering 331kW from the outset, although subsequent rounds of the championship contested by the Stig Blomqvist in the Group B Audi quattro A2 ran a slightly less powerful version at 265kW. 

With an output of 225kW, the Audi Sport quattro was, at the time, the most powerful car built by a German company for use on public roads

Audi started using a five-cylinder in 1976 in the Audi 100 (this image: 1979 Audi 100 GLS 5E).
Audi unveiled another five-cylinder, the Audi quattro (B2) in 1980 – launching the quattro phenomenon.
The Audi quattro A2, Group B, its 2.1-litre turbocharged five-cylinder inline engine produced 265kW 450Nm of torque – literally a world beater.
Walter Röhrl won Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1987 in the Audi Sport quattro S1 – its five-cylinder producing 440kW and 590Nm of torque.

RS 2 in 1994 with its 232kW of power was the vehicle that started the RS family

Nevertheless, driving that car, The Stiq won the drivers’ title and Audi took the manufacturers’ title.

Many other milestones have followed, all powered by various iterations of the five-cylinder. In 1987, Walter Röhrl won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (USA) in the Audi Sport quattro S1 (440kW version) and the IMSA GTO excelled on the US touring car scene in 1989, producing 530kW from little more than two litres of displacement.

Audi continued to refine its range of five-cylinder petrol engines with the RS 2 in 1994 – the performance Avant with its 232kW of power that started the RS family.

Fast forward to 2009 and the TT RS erupted onto the scene with a 250kW transverse-mounted engine that featured turbocharging and direct injection. This output was upped to 265kW in the TT RS plus version of 2012, before the five-cylinder performance powerplant found its way into the SUV ranks the following year in the first RS Q3 model. By 2016, the RS Q3 performance was delivering 270kW and that development has continued through to the present day.

Australian customers will have to wait until the first half of 2022 for the new RS 3 Sedan and Sportback to arrive Down Under and they too will be able to experience the most powerful Audi five-cylinder yet and hear that distinct engine note once again.

In 1989 the Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTO dominated in the US with its 530kW and 720Nm five-cylinder works engine.
In 1994 the Audi RS 2 Avant had the most powerful production five-cylinder with 232kW and 410Nm – the first RS model.
The TT RS released in 2016 sported the 2.5 TFSI with 294kW or power and 480Nm of torque on tap.
Heading to Australia in 2022, the new RS 3 models sport the most powerful five-cylinder engine yet.