In the past few years, a number of people might have noticed a proliferation of turbocharged engines in normal road cars, previously being the domain of sports cars. The auto industry is said to be increasing the number of turbo-equipped cars on the road in the next year.
Accepting the induction
A lot of cars now have turbocharged small engines that produce similar power to larger power plants. For instance, Ford is offering a number of vehicles with “EcoBoost.” The F-150 EcoBoost pickup has a turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that produces five more horsepower than the F-150 equipped with the 360-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8, Ford’s long-serving small-block.
Turbocharging is practically mandatory on diesels, but until recently was uncommon for gas engines. Typically, only a few people could afford the few cars offered with a turbocharger, as it has heretofore been mostly the domain of serious sports cars, such as the Porsche 911 Turbo, and Formula One racers.
A lot of hot air
According to USA Today, only 2 percent of road cars in the United States had turbocharged engines in 2008. As of 2011, that had increased to 9.5 percent, which LMC Automotive, a business analysis company specializing in the auto industry, predicts will balloon to 23.5 percent by 2017.
Honeywell Technologies, a leading manufacturer of turbochargers and related parts, estimates 850,000 new cars will appear on the road this year with turbochargers, a 61 percent boost from last year.
Good reasons for it
Turbocharging is a method of “forced induction,” where an increased amount of air is compressed and blown into the engine. Turbochargers work by being bolted onto the engine’s exhaust ports, according to HowStuffWorks. The exhaust spins a fan, which powers a pump that sucks, compresses and forces air into the motor through the air intake manifold. The fuel injection system is also modified to inject more fuel into the piston chambers along with the extra air, producing greater combustion and thus horsepower.
That also means extra heat. That is dealt with by adding an intercooler, essentially an extra radiator that cools the air between the turbo’s pump and the engine air intake. Another issue is “turbo lag,” the time between stepping on the gas and when the turbo engages, resulting in a forward lurch during acceleration. Modern turbocharged cars often are tuned to reduce this effect, according to USA Today.
Superchargers, however, have even less lag, according to AutoGuide, as they employ a belt drive, spun by the engine, to power and operate the air pump instead of the engine exhaust. Air flow is thus directly linked to engine RPM, providing a steadier boost. Few superchargers, though, are available for small displacement engines at the moment.
The benefits of a turbocharged small engine is producing as much or more horsepower than a larger displacement engine employing natural aspiration, with a minimal reduction in fuel efficiency. Thus, cars can be fitted with smaller engines that are just as or more powerful, but also more efficient.