Give Me My Lag Back!
Modern turbocharged engines are just a bit...well...boring...
The title of this feature might seem an odd one, given the name of this tribe and the fact that rally engineers have spent years trying to eliminate turbo lag from their cars. I don't normally write about road cars but permit me this one digression to have a bit of a moan about modern performance cars.
I'll never forget the first time I went in a “Cossie”; a Smokestone Blue Sierra Cosworth 4x4 to be exact. It had been mildly tweaked, with a chip and a couple of other bits, equating to about 300bhp. The sensation as the car came on boost is one that has never left me, even a decade later. It was like being hit in the base of my spine with a sledge hammer, accompanied by hisses and chuffs that would make the Flying Scotsman proud. A friend of mine owns a Lancia Delta HF 4WD rally car and, while it isn't quite so fast, the excitement is just the same; an achingly long pause after the throttle is pressed, before the boost rises and you are catapulted towards the horizon with an idiotic grin on your face.
The thump in the spine when a Cossie comes on boost is precious to behold.
So, with a whole world full of down-sized, turbocharged performance cars on offer, surely a turbo fan like me should be jumping with joy, right? I've driven a lot of turbocharged hot hatchbacks in the last year, from Focus ST, through RenaultSport Megane and Golf R. All are ruthlessly efficient and cover ground at a rate the Delta and Cossie couldn't even dream of but, from an engine perspective, most of them have left me cold.
Golf R goes well but has the personality of an empty carrier bag.
The engineers have concentrated so hard on making the cars efficient that they've forgotten to actually make them exciting. You could argue that those of us who scribble about cars haven't helped; moaning for years about turbo lag, lamenting the death of normally aspirated BMW M-cars and craving the banshee wail of a normally aspirated screamer. The car companies have duly obliged, giving us flat torque curves with barely a hint of spool-up. The problem is, a turbocharged engine will never manage the crisp response of a normally aspirated motor, nor will it rev to high heaven. This means that, in trying to make their turbocharged engines “feel” normally aspirated, we've ended up in a strange middle ground, where we don't get to enjoy the high-revving excitement, but also miss out on the thrill of a thunking great turbocharger trying to turn the tyres into dust when it comes on song. The fact they are trying to create some drama by adding conceited pops and bangs to every upshift just adds insult to injury in many ways.
More of this please.
I understand the reasons behind car manufacturer's efforts at improving efficiency, but it's often the minor imperfections in a car that make it a truly special experience to drive. Is a Golf R/Focus RS/AMG A45 a road-eating missile? Undoubtedly, but give me the theatre and excitement of that Cossie any day...