The Ferrari 458. The Porsche Cayman. The Aston Martin DB9. Each examples of naturally aspirated archaic beasts that have been replaced by their younger, more efficient, and more powerful turbocharged descendants. The turbocharger has spread like the common cold through newly made cars and now it’s hard to spot a single road without a turbocharged engine residing on it.
Turbochargers were first successfully used on aircrafts in World War 1 thanks to the keen efforts of Auguste Rateau, in an attempt to counter the effects of low air pressure and density at high altitude, but are now being used to push larger amounts of cool air into the engines of cars to increase power. This means cars that used to use large engines, can now use smaller litred engines to produce the equivalent or more horsepower and torque.
Great. Small engines for everyone! The polar bears will be happy! But it’s not that cut and dried. When you add forced-induction to a car, you completely change its character. I mentioned this in a past article about the MX5. Any sort of forced-induction, whether turbo or super, will dramatically change how the engine behaves. The power curve will be different, the throttle response dulled, and the sound. Oh the sound.
Take for example the 458. The Italian stallion with a naturally aspirated 4.5 litre V8 sat behind the seats. It can scream its way up to around 9000rpm with its famously Ferrari-esque progressive power band, and a murderous symphony strung together by the echoes of tiny explosions erupting from the three exhaust tips at the rear. It’s art. A pure, thoroughbred, driving machine. Built for speed and excitement.
Then its little brother emerges with its twin turbo 3.9 litre v8. Force-fed cool air until it produces the right amount of power and torque – almost like battery hen farming isn't it? Now all the power is around 3000rpm. See! The addition of the turbos completely change the character of the car. Now the engine doesn't have to be strung out to access its power, and that isn't right. A Ferrari shouldn't be easy to drive, you should have to work for the power. Not only that but the sound has changed too. Gone are the days of that magnificent V8 yell, now we're left with an 8 cylinder that sounds like Al Pacino going through puberty.
The 488 isn’t where this stops either. There’s the DB11 and 718 Cayman and Boxter I mentioned at the beginning. I’ve never seen a car criticised so much for its poor choice of engine and loss of character. Porsche sacrificed their beautifully purring 6 cylinder for a turbocharged 4, and it ruined the car. Completely.
Let’s take a chance to sit back and think about this clearly. Turbochargers. They’re great. There are so many cars that have benefited tremendously by throwing a turbo or two in the engine bay, like the Nissan GTR, the Supra, or even the Veyron. But when manufacturers ruin the very essence of what a car stands for to simply lower emissions and increase mpg… It’s sacrilege. Pure sacrilege.
What manufacturers have to understand is sometimes we want to use more fuel. Sometimes we want to rev a car out to get to its power band. Sometimes we want to be inefficient. These aren’t negative aspects of the vehicle, but exciting perks. They are traditions that have passed through generations of cars. Traditions that we want to abide by. Let cars that were designed around a turbocharged engine enjoy their whistles and blows, but leave the cars that aren’t, be. For these imperfections, traditions, characteristics, what ever you want to call them. These are what make supercars so super.