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Revhead Ramblings: Why Turbochargers Should Never Replace Naturally Aspirated Engines

In the ‘80s, turbochargers were all the rage. The technology was cutting edge, you’d see cars with the word ‘turbo’ adorned on their slick metal flanks. Car manufacturers were infatuated with forced induction.

After the likes of Porsche, Saab and BMW pioneered the design stages, many other manufacturers adopted the concept of turbochargers as a cheap way to boost the power and performance of their existing engines.

History of Turbochargers

It made complete financial sense, why engineer an entirely new straight-six or V12 when you could strap on a turbo, reinforce the internals slightly and receive the same power surge? The rise of the turbocharger made the hot-hatch revolution.

The Renault 5 GT Turbo was an excellent example, the turbocharged engine made it a rival for some supercars whilst costing no more than a family hatchback. It offered a driving experience like nothing else at the time, turbo lag meant you could plant your foot for seconds at a time with little gain boost, then all of a sudden, you’d be catapulted into another dimension as the front wheels scrambled for grip.

By modern standards the turbos of that era were rudimentary to say the least. Power management wasn’t an option, it was either fully open or fully closed. It gave the 911 Turbos of the time their trademark tail wag that sent far too many careering for any nearby ditch.


Turbochargers were originally designed in 1909 for diesel engines, they were there to give more vigour to the frumpy diesel. They’re still used like this today. However, as turbochargers make themselves all the more popular once again, it’s for a reason other than superior performance. They enable manufacturers to use smaller engines to comply with ever tightening government regulations, whilst also providing the power consumers expect.


There’s a universal belief amongst petrol heads, turbocharged engines just aren’t capable of providing the same driving experience as a quality naturally aspirated engine. They may put out more power and offer excellent thrills, but the feeling of it just isn’t the same. The power feels too instant. For lap times and racing this is great, but for connecting with the car and intertwining yourself with the experience, a turbo just feels too clinical. Working the power up and maintaining that power through corners is one of the best experiences you can have with a car, you can feel the rush of power is controlled by you rather than being forced on by computers.

The definition of a sports car isn’t breaking lap records, setting the highest speed or accelerating to 62mph the fastest. It’s about transient performance, it’s agility mixed with muscle. The way the car carves corners, accelerates and brakes. This could be achieved in a six-figure supercar or a second hand hot hatch; it’s subjective.

The current turbo rush has nothing to do with increasing performance, its sole purpose is to comply with law makers. The only figure that matters to them and manufacturers is fuel efficiency. These figures look good on paper but put the average road user behind the wheel and we’d struggle to get ¾ of that figure.

Turbo engines aren’t the saints they’re often portrayed as, they’re capable of drinking fuel at the same rate or quicker than any naturally aspirated car. The quest for fuel efficiency is changing the automotive world, I’m not convinced it’s for the better though…

To ensure you don’t miss out on any of Alex’s ‘Revhead Ramblings‘ be sure to follow him on Twitter at @AlexClickDealer!

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