22 Sep Turbochargers and the Modern Car
The turbocharger has come a long way in vehicle applications. A turbocharger harnesses the thermal energy of the engine’s exhaust to spin a turbine which is connected by a shaft to an impeller which sucks air and compresses it to forcibly feed the incoming air into the engine at a greater volume than the engine could normally do by itself. The forced induction of air at high pressure into the engine is known as ‘boost’ or ‘supercharging.’ Turbochargers for many years, aside from a few exceptions, were generally only found in sports cars and heavy duty diesel engines. Modern materials, design processes, the turbo’s natural thermo efficiency, and innovative evolutionary features have made the turbo a common feature on modern engines. We are now seeing them installed on almost entire automotive product lines from inexpensive econo commuter cars and hybrids to exotic performance engines and everything in between. The benefits of turbocharging are that it allows a smaller engine to produce the power of a much bigger gas guzzling engine.
Early turbocharged cars such as the 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo or the 1981 Nissan 280zx set performance benchmarks for their time, but were plagued with lag issues. Turbo lag is the delay in the onset of power as the impeller spools up fast enough to provide boost. Turbo lag was an undesirable engine trait for most consumers, although the exhilarating power rush felt from the car once proper boost is reached is addictive and for some, scary. Early turbo cars typically had a single turbo connected to the car’s engine oiling system for cooling. The complexity of the plumbing needed for a turbo system and lack of advanced materials made most old turbo cars unreliable, expensive to maintain, and gas hogs when under boost. Early turbos also started to exhibit failure within 30,000 miles of use.
Modern materials, advanced computerized engine management systems, and advanced design techniques have allowed turbos to become common place. Materials have allowed the components of turbos to be stronger and lighter, thus reducing lag time. The addition of water cooling and advanced ceramics and bearing designs are allowing turbos to last up to 100,000 miles without failure and longer on heavy diesel motors. Also advanced porting techniques, variable vane turbo designs, blow through turbo systems using a smaller turbo to feed a larger turbo, and computerized controls have allowed the modern turbocharged engines to produce great fuel efficiency, with big power, unnoticeable lag, and greater durability.
Turbocharged engines will be the standard for a long time, even as electric cars become increasingly popular.
If you desire greater power from your car, turbocharged engines allow for simple upgrades and engine computer tuning modifications to easily produce big horsepower increases.