The Audi five-cylinder took the world by storm back in the 1970s and continues to make its presence felt in some of the brand’s most desirable and exciting performance models today.

8 April, 2020

‘Four is too small and six is too bulky’ – the famous rationale behind the now legendary Audi five-cylinder engine. Development started back in 1973 with the first Audi using this unconventional five-cylinder launched three years later.

The result was ingenious, an engineering masterstroke – power and performance without the bulk. But it was as the powerplant behind the complete dominance of the Audi quattro cars in world rallying that the true potential of the five-cylinder was realised. Coupled with the equally revolutionary quattro permanent all-wheel drive and a true legend was born.

The sound was so distinctive and almost as thrilling as the sheer power it generated in race configuration – a sound that is as compelling today in the likes of the Audi RS 3 models and the Audi TT RS as it was in the halcyon days of rally.

Of course rally was not the only brand of motorsport to benefit from the Audi five-cylinder. The American Trans Am series followed and once again Audi was absolutely dominant from the first race. The sophisticated five-cylinder engine made the big V8 competition look pedestrian and again the added advantage of quattro made the Audi teams un beatable. So mu h so that in 1988 the quattros were banned, leading to a move across the the IMSA series. No prizes for guessing what happened there!

Setting the standard at Pikes Peak six years straight remains one of the greatest motorsport achievements. Indeed, Walter Rohrl’s record drive remains to this day and can never be bested, as the road up to the summit was paved the following year. 

Although for a time the five-cylinder engine was absent from Audi production cars, in 2009, the five-cylinder was reintroduced in the Audi TT RS, albeit a redesigned unit with even greater power output, but the same firing pattern d of course that distinctive, high-performance sound.

That sonorous five-cylinder continues to power the current Audi RS 3 cars and the TT RS, and with new versions of all of these arriving here later in the year, that rich heritage will sets pulses racing once again more than four decades after the five-cylinder first made its mark.