In the late 1970s and early 1980s, American manufacturers used the 4-cylinder engine as a way of keeping their most beloved models alive due to the oil crisis. This strategy worked well, as we still have models such as the Ford Mustang – one of the most iconic cars in the motoring world. In the late 1990s, carmakers began creating performance 4-cylinder engines – some of which could outrun many 6-cylinders. By the 2000s, the 4-cylinder hot hatch was dominating the sports car world with 4-cylinders being adopted into racing cars such as the Subaru Impreza WRC – eventually leading to an engine class of its own.
The 2000s gave us motoring enthusiasts many great 4-cylinder cars which eventually led to cars such as the last Ford Focus RS, the current Honda Civic Type R, and the awesome Mercedes-AMG 45S. As a reminder, here are 10 of the fastest sports cars of the 2000s.
10 Ford Focus RS Mk1 (144 mph)
The Ford Focus RS Mk1 was on sale for only a year between October 2002 and November 2003. It was the return of Ford’s Rallye Sport name since the tuned Escorts of the 80s and 90s. The Focus RS was sold in several countries, but the UK was the largest buyer during production, shifting more than 2,100 units. The Focus RS was fitted with a modified version of Ford’s Zeta 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, which in this application produced 212 hp.
The car was fitted with a 5-speed manual gearbox, going through an upgraded limited-slip differential to the front wheels only. The RS was only available in Imperial Blue. The Focus RS’s performance was equal to or better than most of its rivals, with straight-line speed compromised in favor of handling. As a result, the Focus RS Mk1 had a top speed of only 144 mph but was faster around a track than an all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza WRX.
9 Honda Civic Type R FN2 (146 mph)
The Honda Civic Type R FN2 was the 3rd generation Type R but was based on the 8th generation Civic. It was available between 2007 and 2011 and was the last of the naturally aspirated Type Rs. The FN2 was fitted with the well-known K20 2.0-liter inline-4, producing 198 hp and 142 lb-ft or torque – almost identical to the previous generation.
The Type R FN2 was criticized for its added weight compared to the previous generation, translating to the car being slower around a track. The gearing was altered for better fuel efficiency, resulting in a top speed of 146 mph – 5 mph faster than the EP3 generation. The FN2 was also praised for its spaceship-like styling – a design that is still debated today.
8 Lotus Exige S (148 mph)
The 2007 Lotus Exige S was hands-down the best handling car on the market. The car was praised for its lightness, driving dynamics, and liveliness. The Exige S was fitted with a supercharged 1.8-liter Toyota 2ZZ-GE i4 producing 220 hp. The Exige was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.
As a result of the added power, the Exige S could do the 0-60 mph sprint in 4.1-seconds, which was 0.6 seconds faster than the non-supercharged version. The increased oomph also added 1 mph to the top speed, which stood at 148 mph. Not bad for a 2,000 lb, winged, and wide-body racecar for the road.
7 Mazda6 MPS (149 mph)
The Mazda6 MPS was Japan’s answer to Britain’s Ford Mondeo ST220. It was a compact sports sedan manufactured between 2005 and 2007, fitted with a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-4, producing 274 hp and 280 lb-ft. The car was fitted with Mazda’s Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system, which could send up to 50% of the engine’s power to the rear wheels if needed. The rear axle was also fitted with a limited-slip differential.
The MPS was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 149 mph. The Mazda6 MPS was an exciting, fast, safe, comfortable, and cheap car to have fun with – or to use as a daily driver.
6 Honda S2000 (150 mph)
The Honda S2000 has become a legendary piece of Japanese sports car history – not only because it was a brilliant car in its own right, but also because it featured in the ever-popular Fast & Furious movies. The S2000, like the Lotus Exige, was only ever available with a 6-speed manual transmission, with power going to the rear wheels.
The car was fitted with Honda’s great F20 2.0-liter and F22 2.2-liter naturally aspirated inline-4 engines. The 2.0-liter version in the AP1 S2000 produced 237 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque, while the 2.2-liter AP2 produced the same power, but 163 lb-ft of torque. The official top speed for both versions was 150 mph, although owners were able to go slightly faster.
5 VW Golf GTi Mk6 “Edition 35” (153 mph)
The VW Golf GTi is the king of the hot hatch segment. It is the car all other hot hatches are built to beat and be judged by. The Mk6 Golf GTi was a fantastic car that built upon the astonishing success of the Mk5. The normal GTi was fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 producing 207 hp.
During the Mk6’s production, VW celebrated 35 years of the Golf GTi, so they made a special edition version, called the Edition 35. The GTi Edition 35 had special badges on the interior, unique wheels, and an uprated engine that produced 232 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque – just 34 hp and 36 lb-ft of torque down from the Golf R. The GTi Edition 35 was also faster than the normal Golf, with a top speed of 153 mph.
4 Dodge Neon SRT-4 (153 mph)
The Dodge Neon was a wholly uninteresting car with one of the most boring interiors in automotive history. Dodge did something unexpected and developed a sporty version, called the SRT-4. This model was fitted with a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-4, which is officially produced 230 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque.
After dyno-testing, it was revealed that the Neon SRT-4 was actually produced more power than advertised. The SRT-4’s 0-60 mph time was a blisteringly fast 5.3 seconds, and the car topped out at 153 mph. This performance made the Dodge Neon SRT-4 one of the fastest sedans on the planet at the time of production.
3 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (155 mph)
The Mitsubishi Lancer is one half of a fierce automotive battle over rallying supremacy. The Lancer Evolution is the top-of-the-line, race-ready production version of the rally cars. The Lancer Evolution X was the last generation of this legendary lineage – in production between 2007 and 2016.
As with the previous Lancer Evolution generations, the Evo X had a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. In this application, it produced around 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque going to all four wheels via either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Other 4-cylinder-powered cars with the same 155-mph top speed, includes the Audi S3, Audi TTS, and Renault Megane RS.
2 Subaru Impreza WRX STI (156 mph)
The other half of the Japanese production rally car battle and competitor to the Mitsubishi Lancer was the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. The third-generation Impreza WRX STi was available in a hatchback body style and was fitted with a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-4, producing 300 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque.
While the Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X were very similar in terms of performance, handling, and top speed, the Subaru was 1 mile per hour faster. Official figures stated 155.1 mph, but testing by reviewers revealed it to be 156 mph.
1 Chevrolet Cobalt SS (158 mph)
Like the Dodge Neon, the Chevrolet Cobalt is a relatively boring coupe with a drab exterior and a generic interior. Chevrolet livened it up a bit by offering the car with a supercharged 2.0-liter i4 engine, which was later turbocharged to meet new emissions regulations. The supercharged version with the Stage 3 dealership upgrades fitted, produced 260 hp.
The later turbocharged Cobalt SS produced 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, still available with the Stage 1 dealership upgrade which bumped power up to 290 hp. Despite more power, the Turbocharged SS was limited to 155 mph, while the Supercharged SS could officially do 158 mph – although many owners have been able to exceed 160 mph without modifications. This official top speed figure made the Chevrolet Cobalt SS the fastest 4-cylinder sports car of the 2000s.
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