Sub-four-second four-cylinder cars are a thing now.
The majority of turbocharged four-cylinder engines on the market are designed with forced induction to improve fuel economy, not necessarily for high power outputs. However, when automakers want to build a “hot” version of a car, they don’t have to add a turbo. Engineers can either replace or tune it as well as work on the block and the electronic control unit. As a result, we are seeing the fastest four-cylinder engines in automotive history right now with specs that can embarrass supercars of yesteryear. These are the fastest four-cylinder-powered cars for 2022 if you care about getting off the line quickly and up to 60 mph, even if it’s accompanied by a rather average exhaust note.
1. Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 (0-60 in 3.7 Seconds)
At the time of writing, Mercedes gets to boast that it has the most powerful non-hybrid four-cylinder on the market, that statement specifically applies to CLA 45s sold in other markets. While boasting 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque in US spec, it now has a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch with launch control to shave that 0-60 mph time down even more. Mercedes claims four seconds dead, but independent testing has seen the AMG CLA 45 come in at 3.7 seconds, which is bananas for a production car packing just four cylinders under the hood.
2. Volkswagen Golf R (3.9 Seconds)
While we would still take a Golf GTI over an R as a daily driver, the R is a stunner off the line. The 2.0-liter turbo-four generates 315 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is distributed to all four wheels by a seven-speed DSG transmission and a retuned all-wheel-drive system for 2022. Volkswagen says it will surge to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds and top out at 155 mph. However, independent testing has clocked the Golf R hitting 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and reaching 172 mph. It seems Volkswagen has learned the art of sandbagging from BMW, as dyno readings have shown more power than advertised.
3. Porsche 718 (4.0 Seconds)
Even the Porsche Cayman and Boxster base models are sub-five-second cars to 60 mph. However, you can shave off around 0.5 of a second by going for either 718 body style in S trim with the PDK transmission and ticking the box for the Sport Chrono Package. That gives you a mid-engined four-cylinder car that will hit 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds and demonstrate incredible agility on a twisty road. Neither are cheap, though. The Cayman S starts at $72,500, the PDK transmission adds $3,210, and the Sport Chrono Package adds $2,610.
4. Audi S3 (4.5 Seconds)
The S3’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and it’s put down to the ground through Audi’s quattro-branded all-wheel-drive system. Audi claims 4.5 seconds but has the German habit of sandbagging, so chances are you can knock a couple of hundredths of a second in the right conditions. We particularly like how snappy the DCT transmission is when going up and down through the gears, making it a great car for sneaking into gaps in traffic or busting out an overtaking move when the opportunity presents itself.
5. BMW M235i Gran Coupe (4.7 Seconds)
The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe isn’t lighting a fire in BMW aficionado’s hearts, but it packs some unexpected power. The 2.0-liter turbo-four in the M235i will outrun the legendary E46 M3 to 60 mph. BMW’s turbo-four makes 301 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque and is close to being as smooth and responsive as E46 M3’s straight-six. However, the M235i doesn’t have the dynamics to match the power. For that, you’ll need the new two-door 2 Series Coupe which retains a rear-wheel-drive or rear-biased configuration in the case of the M240i.
6. Toyota GR Supra 2.0 (4.7 Seconds)
We’ve said before that the 2.0-liter Supra isn’t necessarily the model you settle for. It’s a strong car with a great price point, as well as being a little lighter in the nose. Toyota says the 255-hp and 295 lb-ft engine will propel the Supra to 60 mph in five seconds but, it’s a BMW engine, so there’s some sandbagging going on. In independent testing, this Supra has hit the magic number in 4.7 seconds.
7. Hyundai Veloster N (4.8 seconds)
It’s mainly about the 2.0-liter turbo on this list, purely because of the engineering math. In the Hyundai Veloster N’s case, it makes 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the fastest cars on the list, the Veloster only uses the front wheels to get the power down. Although Hyundai claims a 0-60 time of over five seconds, the Veloster hit the mark in just 4.8 seconds according to independent testing. That makes it the quickest front-wheel-drive four-cylinder powered car around right now.
8. Hyundai Elantra N (5.0 Seconds)
Hyundai offers an optional manual transmission, but if you want to extract the quickest acceleration, you’ll want the excellent DCT transmission with its launch control function. With that fitted, the Elantra N’s 276-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder plant will carry it, according to Hyundai, to 60 mph in five seconds flat. That means the sporty sedan will keep up with the next entry in our list, the four-cylinder Ecoboost Mustang.
9. Ford Mustang (5.0 Seconds)
Here’s a fun fact: The modern four-cylinder Mustang is quicker off the line than the previous generation’s V8 model. The 2.3-liter turbocharged engine powering the four-pot Mustang is derived from the now-defunct Focus RS and makes 310 hp in the base coupe and 330 hp with the High-Performance option ticked. Ford, however, is coy about the High Performance model’s 0-60 time and there’s not much in the way of trustworthy independent testing out there. Our guess is that it only knocks a couple of tenths of a second off because the upgraded engine isn’t just about power.
10a. Kia Stinger (5.2 Seconds)
The Kia Stinger was designed to bring the masses rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive sedan fun. The twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 is the ideal engine, but the 2.5-liter turbo still packs a 300-hp punch backed up with 311 lb-ft of torque. It also delivers a more than respectable 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds. We’re not going to lie, we would take the bigger engine if we had $43,890 to spare, but the four-banger at $36,290 with rear-wheel drive is a fun drive and a great deal.
10b. Hyundai Kona N (5.2 Seconds)
We’re going to call the Kona N here at 5.2 seconds based on Hyundai’s claim. However, there’s a caveat – when we drove the prototype, this writer’s butt dyno said it was a sub-five-second car. Later, when another tester drove the Kona N for a week, he also didn’t buy the 5.2-second claim. The point to make here is that Hyundai doesn’t really care about times; hence it also didn’t provide Nurburgring times despite a lot of development happening on at the Green Hell. What we do know is that, with the overboost on, the 2.0-liter engine develops 286 hp, and it grips like a cat to carpet in the corners.