FCLegends #2 – VAG 1.8ltr 20V Turbo
Launched in 1996, the 1.8ltr 20V engine got off to a pretty inauspicious start in the VW Passat and Audi A4. With 125bhp and no turbo, it wasn’t what you’d call a performance engine, but when it was dropped into the Audi A3 Sport and Mk4 Golf GTI, it gained a turbo and 25bhp. People soon realised it was a fantastic little engine – ripe for extracting more power.
As with many forced induction lumps, the 20V turbo was built to take much more power than it originally came with and with the standard 150bhp it was barely trying – running very little boost and able to run on incredibly low octane fuel. These 150bhp units were found in Golfs, A3s, Ibizas, Passats, A4s, A6s and various Skodas. The Golf Anniversary, A3 Quattro, early TTs and Ibiza Cupras came with a mildly upgraded 180bhp, while the highest power 225bhp lumps were reserved for the Audi S3, TT 225, Octavia VRS and Leon Cupra R. These came with the larger K04 turbo, modified internals, different exhaust manifold, twin intercoolers and a small array of other modifications.
These days, a huge tuning industry has been built around the 20v turbo, with everything available from mild remaps, giving an extra 30-40bhp, right up to big power engines capable of over 500bhp. The engine responds so well to tuning it’s like a modifier’s dream, with 350bhp possible in relative safely and without delving into the internals. Plus, with the standard 20V head breathing so well and its ability to safely handle big boost pressures, some are daring to it push even further.
The unit’s weak points are mostly related to the two piece valves and standard conrods, but overall the engine’s incredibly capable and responsive to tuning. There are countless versions of this lump and, although they’re all based on the same block, the heads and ancillary parts change significantly. Some earlier models came with larger port heads ideal for big power, while various later spec units offered variable valve timing (VVT) for improved drivability. They all have huge potential though, regardless of the version you choose.
The 20V turbo has been compared to the Cossie YB lump due to its tunability – which is high praise indeed – and, just like the ubiquitous YB, has been popular for transplanting into other cars. The swap makes sense as the larger turbo 225bhp version can give over 270bhp and 300 lb/ft torque with zero lag after just a remap, full exhaust and decent intercooler, thanks to the small but high boosting turbo. It’ll also stay reliable too, so it’s an ideal unit to swap for hassle-free performance motoring.
We’ve seen the 20V turbo in pretty much every VAG group car in existence, as well as Renault 5s and Clios, Lotus Exiges and Elises, an MG ZR and, we’re sure, many others to come. At a bit more than a decade old, it’s still a newcomer to the scene in comparison to many well tuned engines.
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