Death by Turbo
Why downsizing is pointless and needs to end
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, you would’ve noticed a major trend in the motoring world which has slowly but surely seeped into every manufacturer’s engineering department – downsizing. The concept has hit basically every car maker on earth. Gone are the days of naturally aspirated straight-six BMWs, VR6 powered Volkswagens and 3.0L Fords. Instead, we have been treated to teeny tiny engines compensated with turbo chargers. From Formula One, all the way down to the VW Polo, they are everywhere today. And to be honest, I don’t trust them one bit.
I am however not the only one doubting the small displacement movement. Toyota, known for its caution in adopting new technology, has been very slow to pick up on small-displacement turbos, offering many of its cars still with naturally aspirated engines. VW on the other hand, have made it impossible to buy basically anything other than a t-shirt without a turbo fitted to it. Car makers have become obsessed with making engines as small as possible and then bolting a turbo on to it to make up for the loss in power, just to end up with a car kicking out the same power figures as its predecessor, but a lot more complicated.
They say it’s to help the polar bears, but after a Reuters report issued in 2017, they are now saying it doesn’t. In a controlled lab test the emissions appear to be lower, but after some real world testing they have discovered that because of the extra strain these tiny turbos carry, they tend to overheat and lose power. To make up for this loss the ECU then over-fuels the motor which in turn increases emissions. Silly really.
This doesn’t just mean we have gone back to where we started, but actually a bit backwards. Instead of having Vladimir Putin under my bonnet I now have Donald Trump with a leaf blower. The new one tries to do what the old one has been doing for years, but tends to get hot headed all the time.
At low speeds these tiny engines shine, but as soon as higher speeds and strain is introduced, these minute turbos work a lot harder than their bigger counterparts. The strain in turn relates to more heat and higher wear and tear rates. The net effect of all this can hamper reliability to a large extent. I have no doubt in my mind engineers take the increased strain into account in their designs, but as it is a fairly new approach the real-world long-term results will only reveal themselves later on as mileages start to hit super high figures. Whether these tiny engines are able to do the same kilometres your grandfather’s Ford Granada is still doing today is still to be seen. My money is on the Granada though.
The problem is only made worse by low quality fuel. Unfortunately, South African motorists as well any other country with sub-par fuel lose out in this department quite badly. You don’t have to look far or wide to find someone who has experienced complete engine failure due to a blown turbo or some other heat related issue. I constantly hear horror stories of cars grinding to a halt after a mere 40 000km since new. After asking around it appears that the culprit is carbon build up in the engine oil due to bad fuel. This in turn clogs the arteries which feed oil to cool the turbo and once that happens, well, the whole thing just overheats and goes pop!
This brings me back to the original intention of downsizing. We believed it would reduce emissions, but after some time we see it doesn’t necessarily. And to make it worse we are all driving around with technology yet to prove itself of whether it can last as long as it’s predecessor. Luckily VW does seem to know this as chairman, Herbert Diess, responded in 2017 saying they will start to revert back to bigger displacement engines in their bigger cars. Hopefully other manufactures will catch on and the people at Toyota can rub it in everyone’s faces. So yes, please leave turbos in the Bugatti Veyron, but for the love of all things holy, get them the hell out of my Alfa Mito.
What do you think about downsizing? Take the poll and let me know in the comments
For more carbolic nonsense with a South African flavour, be sure to read my collumn in Carbs and Coffee