Modern Performance Cars Are Going Turbocharged: Is This Good Or Bad?

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The CarBuzz debates continue!

In order to meet emission standards, cars today feature smaller displacement engines with turbochargers. This is practical on everyday cars but is inherently paradoxical on performance cars. Turbochargers can make performance cars faster but they also make cars less soulful. Or do they? The next CarBuzz debate features writer Jared Rosenholtz arguing against turbocharging performance cars with fellow writer Michael Hines arguing in favor. Which side are you on? Actually, read their arguments first before picking a position.

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With turbocharging you get the impression that a car was built with some sensibility in mind. Automakers who build turbocharged sports cars like to claim they are giving you a faster vehicle that also gets better fuel economy. While this may sound like a win-win, I cannot get my head off of the latter portion. I don’t want my performance car to get better fuel economy. In fact, if I was dropping my hard earned six-figure paycheck on a supercar, I would be happy knowing that it has more cylinders, more noise and appropriately terrible fuel economy. What turbocharging does is introduce a level of mainstream sensibility into a segment of the market that used to be completely devoid of any common sense.

For example, no one really needs to buy a BMW M3. The 335i is more than quick enough for everyday driving and costs thousands of dollars less than the M3. However, that isn’t the point! I want an M3 for no logical reason other than it's fast and I have to own one. That is what the performance car is all about! Think about cars that are even higher on the performance spectrum, like Lamborghinis. Lamborghinis are all about excess, pantomime, and noise. When I buy one, I don’t need to know how much better it is than the Ferrari around the track or at the gas station. All I need to know is, how crazy is it and how bad do I have to have it? This makes the decision more emotional, rather than a fact-based calculation of performance data.

Turbocharging may work on a specific segment of the performance car market, as in people who need to know that they are buying the most high-tech piece of equipment that is available. These are the same type of people that will buy the latest gadget from Apple just to show their friends that they have it. True enthusiasts will blow past these fools in a spectacle of exhaust noise and burning rubber. We may be going a little bit slower and using up a little bit more fuel, but we will sure as hell be having a better time. If there needs to be a compromise, superchargers work. Like turbos, they help make smaller engines more powerful, albeit in a less efficient way. The new Corvette Z06 and Challenger Hellcat show how awesome superchargers can be.

I’ll be honest and say I don’t really care if an engine is turbocharged or not. That being said, I find it dumb when people cling to the idea that natural aspiration is the best and only way to go. Why? Because it sounds better? Because smaller engines are for babies? The majority of arguments against turbocharging are emotionally based. When it comes to engineering the fastest and lightest car, there’s no room for emotion. Nowadays a turbocharged V6 easily make as much power as a naturally aspirated V8. Just see what BMW did by ditching a naturally aspirated V8 in favor of a twin-turbo inline-six in the new M3. The twin-turbo I6 makes 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The old V8 made 414 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.

One thing engineers haven’t been able to eliminate is turbo lag. Any argument in favor of turbocharging has to mention this fact because it’s the biggest knock against such forced induction. However, we’re getting close to a world where turbo lag is a thing of the past. Volvo’s PowerPulse eliminates lag thanks to the addition of an air compressor and air storage tank. Yeah, that’s more weight and Volvo designed this system for a turbodiesel engine but that's besides the point. Audi has also developed some nifty electric turbochargers. Again, there are drawbacks. Batteries to power the turbos add weight and since its new tech it’s a bit pricey.

Despite the negatives, the reality is that lag will be eliminated sooner than later. Once it’s gone what will the real knock against turbocharging be? Yeah, the sound won’t be the same but will you really care when you put your foot down and the boost is instantaneous? Maybe people will be pissed that these cars get decent gas mileage. The 2016 GT-R Nismo has a 16/23 mpg split, seats four and packs a 600-horsepower twin-turbo V6. Do you think GT-R owners wish they had to stop for gas more? Hell no. They're happy tearing down the highway while Lamborghini owners stop for fuel/to put out fires. I won't go as far as to say NA engines in performance cars are destined for death. But anyone who thinks they are the future is in for a rude awakening.

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