Famous Fives | Buy Hard

The VZ5 should make a fitting Formentor flagship; here are two game-changing inline fives for rather less

By PH Staff / Saturday, February 6, 2021 / Loading comments

If eight cylinders rumble and six (flat) cylinders howl, then five cylinders most certainly warble. It's the word you can't help but use when describing the layout made famous by Audi,perfectly encapsulating that gravelly, offbeat timbre that always raises a smile.

That memorable soundtrack is why the announcement of Cupra's Formentor VZ5 ranks as such significant news. Because however good the standard four-cylinder turbo motor is, and however small the performance disparity between the two might prove to be, the emotional pull of another combustion chamber is undeniable. Even without knowing the price difference between 2.0 and 2.5-litre, it'll surely be worth the extra money. Because while four-cylinder engines are occasionally interesting, every five-pot is almost without fail. The Audi lump in particular would be great even if every other manufacturer made a similar engine.

Hence the obvious Buy Hard this week: memorable five-cylinder performance cars of yesteryear, those that warbled their way into our hearts when new and which look just as tempting secondhand. They aren't Audis, either. Though drawbacks will always persist with the layout – being heavier and thirstier than four and rougher than six – the fight for five is one we're happy to get behind.

Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo, 1999, 82k, £7,000

The Fiat Coupe probably didn't need a five-cylinder flagship; until its introduction, the range was doing pretty well with a brace of four-cylinder options. Even today, 200hp in something so light would mean decent performance – a quarter of a century ago the Coupe Turbo was a real rocket.

But Fiat did go with five cylinders from 1996, replacing both naturally aspirated and turbocharged models, something enthusiasts will be forever grateful for. Even back then, the four-cylinder engine was near ubiquitous. The five was something different in a crowded marketplace, as much a selling point in 2021 – or Cupra will certainly be hoping so – as it was back then.

As a result, the 20v Turbo has always been the Coupe to have – however good those early 16-valvers might have been. An official output of 225hp made them seriously rapid – a Golf VR6 had 50hp less – and a limited-slip diff in the front ensured decent traction, too. With its incredible looks inside and out, the Coupe Turbo became something of a cult performance car hero, even though sales tailed off as the 21st century approached. With Fiat having never directly replaced the Coupe, so its status has only grown over time.

Finding a good one now is a tough ask – meaning that one like this becomes almost impossible to ignore. The 1999 car has only covered 80,000 miles since the end of the 20th century, the one previous owner hasn't sought more power from the cylinder quintet and the lilac paint still scrubs up okay. And who would have ever thought four-spoke wheels could look so good? As a reminder of how charming a five-cylinder turbo can be – as well as a welcome throwback to the days of proper coupes – it's a fine way to spend £7,000. Certainly a better one than some chavvy old Focus, anyway. MB

Ford Focus ST (Mk2), 2007, 66k, £6,950

Plenty of cars have benefited from the introduction of a five-cylinder engine, but if there's one that was positively transformed by one, it's the Focus ST. Because while it's true that the first ST-badged Focus, the ST170, earned itself some fans, the car's four-cylinder engine was uninspiring and its gearbox lumbered with poor ratios. But when the Mk2 arrived in 2005, it not only had more grunt but also that gargling soundtrack – and was a completely different animal. It felt special. Against a class of almost exclusively lowly 2.0-litre alternatives, the 2.5 ST earned itself considerable bragging rights.

The 20-valve five-pot – a KKK-Warner turbocharged unit borrowed from Volvo's S40 T5 (Volvo being a Ford-owned brand back then) – wasn't just acoustically impressive, either, as it had 225hp and 236lb ft of torque. The latter was available from just 1,600rpm, so the Mk2 was more tractable and muscular than its predecessor and befitting of that warbling voice. The car was never the lightest and it's true that you could sense the effects of a weightier motor up front when on the limit. But it handled well and there was masses of character. Which is all you need.

Sure, those things are true of Matt's Fiat, but let's not forget that the Focus, rather than being a coupe designed for flair first, remained a practical machine. The ST bore all of the functional assets of a top-grade Mk2 Focus; it rode and steered well and while some were finished in more flamboyant shades, it was not an uncompromising machine. The obvious drawback compared to smaller-engined rivals was the inline five's notorious thirst, but the payoff more than offset the dent in your wallet. Imperfect then, but brilliant, too. SS

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