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Small Cars with Big Cubes - Part Two

Want to see some more small cars packed with big engines? Well here are some from Peugeot, Mazda, Audi and Holden...

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Final of two-part series
  • Exploring small cars with big engines
  • Peugeot
  • Mazda
  • Audi
  • Holden
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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.

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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 nature.

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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 hate it!

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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.

Mazda3 SP23

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.

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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.

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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.

Audi S4

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 model).

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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?

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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 also available.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – the LH.

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...

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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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