More and more automakers are leaving naturally aspirated engines behind for units with turbochargers or superchargers. Is this the new trend moving forward, or just a fad?
Small-displacement motors paired with forced induction are a hot trend right now in the industry, but only a few automakers have completely shunned free naturally aspirated engine technology.
BMW and MINI, for example, took this route. With the exception of the electric BMW i3 with its two-cylinder range extender, every new BMW uses a turbocharged engine. Up until last week the only other stand-out was the M3, which used a 4.0-liter V8. That rev-happy powerplant has just been replaced by a more efficient turbocharged six, meaning every car in the BMW lineup will used forced-induction.
BMW-owned MINI just introduced its new MINI Cooper available exclusively with forced induction. It’s a smart bet to think that these engines will make it into to every other MINI model in future product cycles.
Along with BMW and MINI, Volvo seems to be phasing out naturally aspirated motors. In 2013, only the 3.2-liter six-cylinder remains as the base option on the S80, XC70 and XC90. While there’s no news of the demise of that mill, Volvo has invested a considerable sum into the development of its new Drive-E engines, which will be available for the S60, V60 and XC60 vehicles. The company will offer a turbocharged four-cylinder and a “twin-charged” (using a supercharger and a turbocharger) four-cylinder in those cars.
Sure, BMW, MINI and Volvo aren’t mass market automakers, but recent news has pointed to a much bigger automaker following suit.
Breaking Up with the Five-Cylinder
Volkswagen, one of the biggest automakers in the world, recently put its old 2.5-liter five-cylinder to pasture. It used to power the Golf, Jetta, Jetta SportWagen and Passat. With its demise, there are only two remaining naturally aspirated engines in VW’s lineup.
Due to the coarseness and inefficient nature, the departure of the 2.5-liter doesn’t bring about any teary eyed memories. Instead, considering how solid a product the 2.0-liter TFSI engine that VW has offered for year is, people will surely love the idea of more turbo-charged options within the Volkswagen lineup.
Replacing the defunct motor is a new crop of fuel efficient and powerful turbocharged motors. Expect to see a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the Golf, Jetta and Passat. While this may bring back memories of the 2003 Jetta 1.8T, this engine is a different story featuring direct injection for increased efficiency. Drivers looking for more punch can pick a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder much like what is available now in the GTI and GLI, but tuned to make slightly more horsepower.
Are the other Naturally Aspirated Engines Next?
“The 1.8-liter engine is more efficient than the 2.5, which is the main reason for the change,” Volkswagen spokesman Mark Gillies said. At best, it offered five fewer miles per gallon on the highway than its turbocharged replacement.
While the free-breather makes the same horsepower as the new 1.8-liter turbo, it has seven less lb-ft of torque and peaks much later in the rev-range.
The two remaining naturally aspirated engines in the Volkswagen lineup don’t inspire excitement. An archaic 2.0-liter four-cylinder is only available in the affordable and de-contented Jetta S with 115 hp. This Jetta S is hard to recommend due to its weak engine and the fact that it’s the least fuel efficient model in the Jetta lineup. The only advantage of low-power model is the low price of entry, helping the Jetta S start at $16,720.
The other naturally aspirated motor is the 3.6-liter six-cylinder found in Volkswagen’s bigger models like the Passat, CC and the Touareg. Looking at the competition, the Passat and CC could both succeed without a V6 option much like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion and Mazda 6. Those cars all have fuel-efficient fours and just like Kia, Hyundai and Ford, Volkswagen could offer a larger turbocharged option for buyers who want more power.
VW already has the 1.8-liter turbo for a base model and can also offer a turbocharged diesel for buyers who want improved fuel efficiency without giving up torque and driving enjoyment. With the powerful and torquey 2.0T also available, does the V6 really need to be included in the lineup?
On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Touareg without a V6. All of its competitors feature one and the only other option is the big 3.0-liter diesel or hybrid powertrain, which are both pricier.
What Do You Get With a Turbo?
So, with only two naturally aspirated engines left in the lineup, many new Volkswagen buyers will be leaving showrooms with a turbocharged model. Those buyers can expect a vehicle which should deliver solid fuel economy when driven sedately and can also provide a surprising amount of power when needed. Since Volkswagen owners can also pay a premium for a diesel power plant in the majority of vehicles, those buyers will experience above average fuel economy.
Overall, there are six engine options in the Volkswagen that utilize forced induction, far out-numbering the amount of naturally aspirated choices.
While VWs history of reliability isn’t as strong as other automakers, modern turbo-charged vehicles are infused with new technology which make them run cooler, more efficiently and are considered to be more durable than past examples of turbocharged engines.
It’s also important to bring up real-world fuel economy. While AutoGuide.com reviews haven’t noted unusual observed fuel economy out of VW’s turbocharged vehicles, other automakers have been criticized for not meeting EPA rated fuel numbers. Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged vehicles have been called out a number of times for being much less efficient than claimed.
Turbocharging an Entire Product Lineup
Turbocharging seems like a great solution for automakers. It provides excellent fuel economy without affecting driveability. The two naturally aspirated choices in the VW lineup are niche offerings – the 2.0-liter Jetta S is the sort of car you’d find in a rental-fleet, while the 3.6-liter V6 versions of the Passat and CC are the most expensive examples of the models. As the Passat and CC are also available with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine or a diesel mill, buyers would be wise to save money up front with the purchase of a smaller engine, which would also save money due to fuel savings.
Tough Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are forcing automakers into downsizing engines and improving fuel economy. Initially it seems like many automakers were eager to offer hybrid powered vehicles, but that may be too costly for buyers. Even Toyota and Lexus, the champions of hybrid cars are looking to turbo power as they announced that the upcoming Lexus NX compact crossover will feature a turbocharged mill. Honda too has begun preparations of a new VTEC Turbo motor. Even the American automakers are jumping onto the turbo bandwagon; Chevy alone has already put its 1.4T in the Sonic and Cruze, while the new 3.6 twin-turbo has already found its way into the XTS and CTS V-Sport models.
While some automakers are looking to hybrid technology, many others including Volkswagen, BMW and Volvo are looking to forced induction to complete a full range of fuel-efficient vehicles.