In the 1980s, one word symbolized automotive power and excess: turbo.
Turbochargers were fitted to everything from Porsches to Nissans to Mercedes-Benz diesel sedans in the ’80s to boost their power output. It’s a terrific idea, using a car’s exhaust gasses to power a turbine that forces more air into the engine, which can dramatically increase the horsepower.
Emissions regulations and consumer tastes changed, though, and the turbocharger fell out of favor in the 1990s and 2000s, with only a handful of models offering a forced induction engine.
Turbos are back with a vengeance on 2013 cars, though, and there’s one big reason why.
Today’s car buyers want good fuel economy without sacrificing performance. That’s not an easy thing for engineers to do, though, because there’s always a tradeoff.
Big engines can make lots of power but also use lots of fuel. And small engines use very little fuel but also make less power.
The solution: strap a turbocharger to a small engine, which gives you the fuel economy of a four- or six-cylinder while producing horsepower more like a V8.
Today’s turbocharged vehicles aren’t limited to sports cars. Sure, Porsche still sells its classic 911 Turbo models, but the concept has extended to other cars.
Hyundai, for example, offers a turbocharged engine in a big portion of its lineup, including the popular Sonata and Veloster. Buick is rolling out a turbocharged Verano for 2013, and the all-new Dodge Dart is available with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. German brands continue to use turbocharged diesel engines to get fuel economy that rivals many hybrid cars.
Perhaps the most innovative use of a turbocharger, though, is in the Ford F-150. A turbocharged six-cylinder engine has become one of the most popular versions of this pickup, better known for its V-8 engines, because it offers a big improvement in fuel consumption without sacrificing the power or performance truck drivers demand.
One thing is certain: turbos are back in a big way for the 2013 model year, and it’s a trend that is likely to continue for years to come.