In the first part of this series on small cars with big cube engines (see Small Cars with Big Cubes - Part One) we looked at Volkswagens, a Hyundai and Alfa
Romeo. Well, there a few more notable examples to add to the list...
In the second and final part of the series we look at some heavy hitters from
Peugeot, Mazda, Audi and Holden.
Peugeot 205 GTi
A relatively large engine’d Euro from the late ‘80s is the Peugeot 205 GTi.
Released in Australia during 1987, the second generation 205 GTi brings the
same 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine used in the larger Pug 405 and Citroen BX.
Although using just a SOHC, 8-valve design, the little Pug is no slouch with its
88kW and 153Nm. You’re looking at a sub 9-second 0 – 100 km/h hatchback.
Of course, kerb weight is a major part of the 205 GTi performance recipe – it
tips the sales at just 875kg!
The 205 GTi has the reputation as a real driver’s car. The big cube 1.9-litre
gives good throttle response and all-round torque while the front-wheel-drive
MacPherson strut/trailing arm suspension gives terrific balance. Relatively
large 15 inch alloys, big brakes and optional ABS pointed to the car’s sporting
Available as a three-door only, the 205 GTi has cute-as-a-button styling that
has aged gracefully. The GTi is distinguished over pedestrian 205s by its fog
light equipped sports front bumper, roof spoiler, decals and red pin striping.
The cabin offers good space with very vibrant red and black trim – love it or
In 1990, the interior trim was tamed down and a new dashboard and console
were thrown in while a new trim panel was added between the taillights. The next
year, the wheels were restyled, central locking and power steering became
standard – non power steer versions are quite heavy to turn at parking speeds.
This was once a very expensive little car but, despite its enthusiastic
following, you can now pick one up at a very attractive price. It’s not hard to
find one in good condition from just AUD$5000.
A lot of fun for the money.
One of the more recent examples of a big engine’d small car is the Mazda3
SP23. The SP23 version replaces the standard Mazda3’s 2.0-litre in favour of the
2.3-litre engine found in the medium size Mazda6.
In the SP23, the 2.3 litre engine is rated for use with normal unleaded fuel
and produces slightly less power than the Mazda6. The engine runs a 9.7:1
compression ratio and a DOHC, 16-valve head with variable inlet cam timing.
Still, its 15 percent capacity increase boosts power from 104 to 115kW (at 6500
rpm) and peak torque from 181 to 203Nm (at 4500 rpm).
The SP23 weighs around 1250kg so you’re talking a power-to-weight ratio just
behind the Hyundai Tiburon V6 covered in the first part of this series. Not
surprisingly, performance trails the low’n’sleek Hyundai – expect 0 – 100 km/h
acceleration in around 8.5 to 9 seconds.
Perhaps more important than its straight-line thrust is the SP23’s sporty
steering feel, chassis balance and grip. This is a car that feels in tune with
your intentions and can negotiate corners with great pace. Its biggest
misdemeanours are some inside front wheelspin during tight cornering and
occasional axle tramp.
As we said in our new car test (see The Mazda3 SP23 Test, the Mazda3 SP23 isn’t
a car that’ll knock your socks off in terms of sheer performance, but its
responsiveness, handling balance, steering precision and styling will make it
very attractive to hot hatch buyers.
A new SP23 5-speed cost AUD$29,220 and, given their popularity, you won’t
find a second-hand example for much less.
One of the most significant shoe-horn efforts of late has been Audi’s fitment
of a 4.2-litre V8 into the snout of the A4. Such demonic actions create a
vehicle known as the second-generation S4 (which supersedes the V6 twin-turbo
The 40-valve 4.2-litre V8 (shared with the A8 saloon) required some
significant changes to fit into the A4-series body. Most importantly, the
camshaft drive has been moved to the back of the engine. Certainly, it’s a lot
of work to fit a 253kW/410Nm V8 under the nose of a model designed for in-line
fours and V6s...
So has all this effort paid off?
Well, the S4 is certainly much quicker than the rest of the range but it
doesn’t look so formidable against any Australian-built performance sedans. Audi
claims 5.6-seconds 0 – 100 km/h for the 6-speed manual 1660kg sedan - but we
suggest it’s typically in the 6-second range. A slightly slower 6-speed auto is
The S4 brings leather Recaros with beautiful interior trim quality, big
brakes, sports suspension and 18 inch rims wearing big, sticky rubber. The car
goes around corners brilliantly up to about 8/10th but shows its
nose-heaviness when tyre grip is exceeded. The Torsen AWD system and stability
control system also allow a considerable amount of understeer.
Interestingly, the S4 is available in sedan, wagon (aka Avant) and cabriolet
guise. New, the S4 sedan kicks off at AUD$124,200, while the Avant is AUD$6300
dearer and the cabriolet adds almost 20 grand. Second-hand examples don’t appear
very often but they seem to hover at around AUD$100k depending on kilometres.
Holden Torana (LC/LJ)
Now here’s an oldie!
Back in sixties, Holden Australia decided it could do a lot more with the
humble little four-cylinder HB Torana (which was based on the Vauxhall Viva).
The 1968 release of the LC Torana was a major triumph of local engineering with
the new model offering a host of improvements - not the least of which was the
availability of a six-cylinder engine which required a ‘nose stretch’...
Yep, in order to fit a six-pot engine, Holden had to lengthen the Torana
front-end by several inches – and it’s quite noticeable when parked alongside a
lesser-model four-cylinder version.
The LC Torana six-cylinder was available in 2250cc, 2600cc and 2850cc
capacities – considerably bigger than the base four-cylinder. But more important
was the release of the race-ready LC GTR XU-1 which received a whopping
triple-carb 3050cc, 4-speed manual gearbox, front disc brakes and sports
suspension – its sporting abilities advertised by a body kit and shark gills
styled into each of its stretched front guards.
Built to replace the thundering 5.7-litre V8 Monaro as Holden’s lead race
car, the LC GTR XU-1 used its combination of 119kW, 257Nm and a 1103kg kerb mass
to good effect. Ford’s raunchy GT Falcon simply couldn’t match the nimble Torana
on a twisty circuit.
The LC Torana was then updated to the LJ series in 1972. The biggest changes
were improved suspension and noise suppression and the engine line-up was
shuffled to comprise 2250cc, 2850cc and 3300cc engines. The 3300cc engine was
tuned to deliver a mammoth 142kW in LJ GTR XU-1 spec. See Holden Torana GTR XU-1
for more on the
magnificent GTR XU-1.
But the direction of the Torana changed in 1974...
Holden Torana (LH/LX)
In 1974, Holden replaced the Viva-based Torana with a larger all-new model –
Entry and mid-spec LH Toranas were offered with a four or six-cylinder engine
while the gun performance models were packed with a V8. Somehow, The General had
managed to fit 5-litres of muscle into the snout of a car about the same size as
the earlier EH Holden...
In high-performance L34 guise, the LH SLR 5000 muscled out 260kW and 380Nm of
torque. Bolt-on wheel arch flares and a big rear spoiler were the car’s biggest
visual feature and, interestingly, kerb weight was kept down to just 1183kg.
In 1976, the larger-body Torana was upgraded to the LX series. The LX brought
a few minor updates and the high-performance A9X to replace the L34. The A9X
received four wheel disc brakes but power fell slightly due to tightening
emission laws. An attractive hatchback variant was also introduced. These are
some of the country's most desirable muscle cars.
Combined, the six-cylinder LC/LJ series and V8 LH/LX series snatched an
amazing five Bathurst endurance titles. It just goes to prove that a big cube
engine in a small car can be a knockout combination!
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