Sunday, July 06, 2008

Supercar Goodness Turbocharged

Ferrari looking at turbo'd V6 to save fuel - Dan Roth @ Autoblog

Had I heard an auto-maker like Chevy or Ford were attempting to add turbochargers to their engines I would scoff at the idea. While they do take pride in their high-end cars, producing a proper turbocharger requires some serious design changes and the use of special components either cast to higher strengths or high-quality hoses. When I originally looked at the Audi A4 I easily made the decision to go with the smaller 1.8l engine versus the larger 3.0l. For one, the 1.8l was turbocharged and for another, the weight of the engine, turbo and all, was much lighter than an engine nearly twice the size. The advantage of a turbocharger is rather simple to understand. Only under hard acceleration does the turbo kick in and then only when you reach a high enough rpm. In other words, a turbo does not constantly run, and even under acceleration, does not always run. So you gain in fuel economy while keeping a reserve of power when needed.
If Ferrari is serious about adding a turbocharger to one of their engine models then they will do it right. The parts will all come highly strengthened but done so with minimal weight. The air flow from the turbo to the engine will have as few restrictions as possible as will the air flow into the turbo itself. Yes, when the turbo kicks in, the onboard computer must increase the fuel flow lest the engine run too lean. But the proper calibration of injectors, airflow and computer will minimize the increase in fuel consumption during the forced induction of the turbocharger.
For those of us with lower end cars like the A4 we have to make do with the turbo as is or do some serious modifications to enhance the total airflow of the engine. Of course, by improving the airflow we gain in fuel economy while enhancing overall performance. Unfortunately, we don't get the smoothness of a six cylinder engine (V6's tend to run the smoothest due to the way the cylinders are timed with two down, two up and two in the middle). Still, the smaller engine does help a lot with fuel economy while leaving room for improvement.
This news does support a claim of mine I made against Matt Yglesias and his de facto support of limiting horsepower. If an auto-maker like Ferrari is considering using smaller turbocharged engines to maintain their high horsepower then it goes to show that revamping an engine design to take advantage of forced induction while making the engine smaller is another route auto-makers can take to keep their horsepower other than artificial limits on horsepower. It also shows the power of the market as Ferrari is reacting to the high cost of fuel by looking at more efficient engine designs.