Turbo Versus Not Turbo Vehicles
Automobile manufacturers continue introducing new equipment and technology with every model produced. In some cases, these new additions improve safety systems. Others elevate comfort and convenience, and some innovations enhance engine performance.
Turbochargers represent one of the most significant innovations over the years. However, turbo technology isn’t new. Swiss engineer Alfred Buchi built the first turbocharger in 1905. However, it wasn’t until the early 1960s that turbochargers appeared in cars.
Today, many vehicles offer a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) engine and a turbocharged version. Both engines have their pros and cons. So which is better?
How a Naturally Aspirated Engine Works
A naturally aspirated engine uses the energy from gasoline combustion to propel a vehicle using a four-stroke process.
Stroke 1: The cylinder opens to fill with air and fuel.
Stroke 2: The cylinder closes, compressing the air and fuel.
Stroke 3: A spark plug ignites the compressed air-fuel mixture.
Stroke 4: Energy from the combustion forces the cylinder’s piston open, which turns the crankshaft.
Modern cars have anywhere from three to 12 cylinders, but most use four, six, or eight. You find variations like the inline four-cylinder, V-6, and V-8. These variants describe how the engine operates its cylinders, but they drive the crankshaft in every case. As the crankshaft turns, the power runs through the transmission, a set of gears designed to handle the changing power from the engine as it revs higher. The transmission then delivers power to the drive shaft, which rotates the drive wheels.
Exhaust gases released after the fourth stroke in a naturally aspirated engine run through the exhaust manifold and out your car’s tailpipe. Unfortunately, this process wastes precious energy. Thus, the invention of the turbocharged engine comes into play.
How a Turbocharged Engine Works
Turbocharged engines build off the naturally aspirated engine’s design to capture the wasted energy and return it to the cylinders. A turbocharger device has two primary components, a turbine and a compressor. A shaft connects these two parts within an enclosed housing with an inlet and exhaust port. Exhaust gases from the naturally aspirated engine enter the inlet port at high pressure. This high-pressure air spins the turbine, and the shaft connecting the turbine rotates the compressor.
The compressor draws air in, compresses it, then pushes it out through the turbo’s exhaust port. From here, the air travels through an intercooler and back into the cylinder for the next combustion cycle. The turbocharger effectively captures the wasted exhaust energy and returns it for combustion. As a result, the turbo engine delivers more power with less fuel consumption.
Most turbochargers have an oil cooling system to help offset the high operating speeds. In addition, some turbo devices employ a wastegate valve. This device diverts any excessive gas produced by the combustion process that might overload the turbine and compressor.
Some engines have a single turbocharger; others are twin-turbos. These variations offer more power and efficiency depending on the application.
Pros and Cons of Turbo
As with any product, you find improvements and drawbacks. Explore the difference between the turbo versus non-turbo engine to educate you.
Pro: You can use turbochargers on gas or diesel engines.
Con: Turbochargers have more moving parts, thus a higher maintenance cost.
Pro: A turbocharged engine produces more power than a non-turbo engine. Thus, you can use a smaller engine to achieve more output.
Con: Turbo engines cost more money.
Pro: You get more efficiency with turbo engines, saving money in fuel costs.
Con: Turbo lag can occur when you try to accelerate quickly, a slight delay in the delivery of power due to the turbine taking time to spin up.
Pro: A turbo engine produces higher torque numbers in the lower rev range for faster acceleration.
Con: Over-aggressive driving habits can reduce efficiency.
Pros and Cons of Non-Turbo
The naturally aspirated engine has its pros and cons as well.
Pro: Fewer moving parts result in lower maintenance costs.
Con: You need more cylinders or larger volume cylinders to achieve more power.
Pro: Naturally aspirated engines cost less to manufacture, making them less expensive to purchase.
Con: A non-turbo engine burns more fuel, making it less efficient.
Pro: Smooth transfer of power to the drive wheels eliminates any lag.
Con: Naturally aspirated engines make more noise. However, this feature could be a pro if you love the throaty growl of a V-8 engine.
What’s the Difference Between a Turbocharger and a Supercharger?
Turbochargers work differently than superchargers in that the high-pressure exhaust powers the turbine. Superchargers use the engine’s power via a belt to spin the turbine. From there, they both force compressed air into the cylinders. A supercharger operates far less efficiently than a turbocharger because the engine powers the turbo, not captured exhaust. However, the supercharger produces much more power as a result. You typically find superchargers in high-capacity sports cars where fuel efficiency isn’t a concern, only power.
To Turbo or Not to Turbo?
Turbocharged engines can save you money in fuel and can make for a fun-to-drive vehicle. On the other hand, they come with a higher price tag, and some driving styles might not play to a turbo’s strengths. Vehicles without turbochargers may burn slightly more fuel, but they save upfront costs. In addition, various driving styles don’t affect the performance of a naturally aspirated engine.
As decisions often do, this one comes down to personal preferences. If you don’t mind initially spending a little more for a vehicle that offers a more exciting driving experience, a turbo-charged car makes sense. If you’d rather save on your purchase and don’t enjoy S-curves and straightaways, the naturally aspirated engine will please them.
If you’re ready to elevate your San Juan Capistrano commute with a quality Volkswagen and still have questions about whether a turbo engine works for you, contact us for a personalized demonstration. At Capistrano Volkswagen, we have models with and without turbos that you can take for a spin.
Volkswagen Golf GTi 2008 by RL GNZLZ is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0