When it comes to the five-cylinder engines, they are generally considered an oddball configuration. The odd number of cylinders leads to interesting design challenges. However, that hasn’t stopped quite a few companies from putting in the R&D efforts to make not only a workable design, but some that have become downright legendary for their various performance characteristics.
From inline gasoline and diesel engines to high-winding V engines, and of course, a radial thrown in for good measure, the five-cylinder engine comes in a variety of configurations and sizes. While the video above features eight different engines, we’ve only focused on five of those engines, so be sure to watch the video completely to see all eight.
Volvo had the modular engine concept implemented well before Ford’s overhead-cam V8 family of engines. So, even though in our domestic performance-based world the “modular” engine means something different, the Volvo Modular Engine can be rightfully called the “original” modular. A family of four-, five-, and six-cylinder inline engines, the whole assortment was truly modular.
All of the Volvo Modular Engines shared an all-aluminum design, with dual overhead cams, forged rods and pistons. As this is an article about five-cylinder engines, we’ll focus on that lineup. Volvo implemented a no-nonsense naming convention for these engines With the B-5-20 meaning “gasoline, 5 cylinders, 2.0 liters displacement.” Subsequent numbers and letters denoted the number of valves per cylinder, the induction method, and finally the engine generation.
Probably the most interesting variant of the 2.0-liter five-cylinder engine was the one developed for the British Touring Car Championship series in 1994. With an oversquare 81mm (3.189-inch) bore and 77mm (3.032-inch) stroke, the naturally aspirated engine produced 290 horsepower in race trim. That is a number that is almost 50-percent more than the touted Honda S2000 engine, coming in at a remarkable 2.38 horsepower per cubic inch.
While not a performance powerplant by any means, the Deutz FL912/W engine family is interesting in that, like the Volvo Modular Engines above, the FL912 family is a line of inline engines ranging from three to six cylinders. Unlike the previous family of engines, however, these are air-cooled industrial powerplants designed to be versatile and reliable.
The inline-five cylinder variant displaces 326.5 cubic inches (5.35 liters) via a 4.02-inch bore and 5.20-inch stroke. The undersquare design, as expected, produces a low-RPM torque-heavy powerband, peaking at 91 horsepower at 2,500 rpm, and 227 lb-ft of torque at 1,450 rpm. Potentially the longest running production engine (the exact amount of time varies based on whether you go y model number or the actual engine design) of any on this list, the Deutz FL912 is unique in that while it’s an air-cooled engine, modern variants incorporate and on-board blower-based cooling system.
Another Diesel inline-five on the list is the Mercedes-Benz OM602 engine. Produced from 1985 through 2002, the OM602 engine was produced in two variants: The 2.5-liter (152ci) variant featured an 87mm (3.425-inch) bore and an 84mm (3.307-inch) stroke and peaked in performance at 125 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. The larger 2.9-liter (177ci) variant achieved that displacement through an 89mm (3.504-inch) bore and 92.4mm (3.638-inch) stroke and achieved a maximum rating of 127 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque.
While those power figures might seem relatively unimpressive, where the OM602 really shines was it’s absolutely incredible reliability. The engines would run for several hundred-thousand miles without overhaul, with half a million miles possible, with some even breaking the million-mile mark. The only five-cylinder engine to surpass it in that regard is its predecessor, the 3.0-liter OM617.
No “interesting five-cylinder engine” list would be complete without the Volkswagen VR5. While social media arguments about about whether it’s a true “V5” engine or not, the fact remains, it might be one of the most interesting five-cylinder engines ever. Produced for a decade, the 2.3-liter VR5 has a small 81mm (3.189-inch) bore and longer 90.2mm (3.551-inch) stroke to achieve its displacement.
Even with the significantly undersquare design, the engine still spun to 6,500 rpm and made 167 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. Where the disagreement starts, is the single cylinder head covering all five cylinders, which some argue doesn’t make it a “V” engine. On the other hand, the fact that there are two distinct cylinder banks with a 15-degree bank angle causes some to call it a V5.
Regardless of where you stand on the argument personally, the engine is considered a V5 by the experts, and holds the distinction of being the only automotive V5 engine to see actual production.
Finally, we have the king of the V5 engines. The one engine that there is no arguing about whether or not it’s a V5 engine, as it 75.5-degree bank angles allowed for two individual cylinder heads. Of course, we are talking about the Honda RC211V MotoGP engine. Displacing 990cc with a variety of bore and stroke combinations throughout its lifespan, it makes the most power per cubic inch of any engine on this list, even in its least powerful (210 horsepower at 14,000 rpm) configuration.
At its peak in 2006, the dual overhead camshaft engine produced a confirmed 260 horsepower at 16,500 rpm, which calculates out to over 4.3 horsepower per cube. The engine was rumored to be able to produce ever more, and no one really doubted it, considering the engine won three world championships and four manufacturer’s championships in its five seasons of competition.