1970s / 1980s / 1990s / Audi / German

40 years ago: Audi introduces its first straight-five engine

Audi is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first-ever series-produced straight-five engine.

The company’s first five-cylinder gasoline engine was designed for the second-generation 100. Known internally as the Type 43, the 100 was to be positioned a notch higher up on the market than its predecessor. The four-cylinders available at the time weren’t suitable for an upmarket move, however, and Audi engineers began discussing the possibility of developing a straight-five or -six engine. The latter was ruled out because it was heavy and it took up too much space in the engine bay, so engineers opted for a five-cylinder layout.

The five was an evolution of the EA827 engine, a four-cylinder that was widely used throughout the Volkswagen Group during the 1970s — notably, it powered Audi’s 80 and 100 models, as well as Volkswagen’s Passat, Golf, Scirocco, and GTI. Adding a cylinder bumped its displacement up to 2.1-liters, and Audi fitted it with fuel-injection. It generated 136 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 136 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm when all was said and done. The Audi 100 5E (pictured below) began arriving in showrooms across Europe in March of 1977.

Audi launched its first five-cylinder diesel in 1978, a few years after rival Mercedes-Benz brought the concept to the market. It was a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter unit that generated 70 horsepower. A year later, the company introduced a new model called 200 5T that featured a turbocharged evolution of the oil-burner tuned to generate 170 horsepower and a solid 195 pound-feet of torque.

The 1980 quattro took Audi’s five-cylinder engine to new heights. Turbocharged and intercooled, it deliver 200 horsepower in its most basic state of tune, an impressive figure for the era. Audi launched the wide-track Sport quattro the following year. It was powered by a brand new, all-aluminum five-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder and an output of 306 horsepower. At the time, the Sport quattro earned the honor of being the most powerful street-legal car ever built by a German company. Audi famously went on to win countless races thanks in part to its five-cylinder.

The next evolution of the firm’s turbodiesel five-cylinder was presented to the public during the 1989 edition of the Frankfurt Auto Show. Installed between the fenders of the 100 TDI, the 2.5-liter unit made 120 horsepower thanks to a turbocharger and direct fuel-injection. TDI technology rapidly spread to other Volkswagen-owned automakers in the years to come.

Audi began phasing out the straight-five engine when the first A4 was introduced in 1994. New V6 units gradually replaced the five over the next few years, and the configuration completely disappeared from the Audi lineup in 1997. The last Audi straight-five engines of the 1990s were the 2.5-liter TDI under the hood of the A6 and the 2.3-liter that powered the S6. Audi wouldn’t build another car powered by a five-cylinder engine until it introduced the TT RS in 2009.

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