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Natural Aspiration VS Turbo VS Supercharging: What is the Best?

The induction argument is one that's almost as old as the car itself, and has been argued, I'd imagine, by probably millions of people over the years. Which means millions of conclusions have already been made. So why on earth am I even bothering to throw in my 2 pence? Because the viewpoint of a 20-year-old student is the most important, obviously. Duh.

Natural Aspiration

1.6l block, as simple as they come
This is the most simple way of powering the car, and, until a couple of years ago, the most common in your everyday car. That isn't the case anymore, but we'll get to that when the time deems it appropriate. With N/A, you relying on just the engine itself to make all the power, and you're giving it no help from outside sources.

The pros of this are pretty obvious: N/A cars are more often than not far simpler to maintain and repair, and are more likely to be reliable. The engine is also more 'pure', and that means a less muted sound, and less throttle input delay - you're not waiting for other devices to wake up.

Cons? Well since you're leaving the engine to do all the work, they tend to be less efficient in terms of BHP per litre of displacement. They are more often than not more thirstier than equivalent forced induction alternatives, but this can be disputed somewhat.


The famous Garrett turbo
When you bolt a turbo to a car, you're effectively just putting a form of generator in the car to produce more power. Think of a water wheel, but instead of water, you use the cars exhaust gases coming from the engine. The exhaust spins a fan extremely quickly, and on the other side of the turbo, another fan on the same bearing sucks in air from the outside and forces it into the engine. More air = more fuel to maintain the air/fuel ratio, and that extra fuel means more power.

The most obvious pro from this is the amount of power you can get from such a compact displacement. That's why all modern hot hatches are turbocharged these days - N/A would not do the trick unless it was some nose-heavy V6. On the other side of the spectrum, turbos allow for better fuel consumption, since it allows you to use way smaller engines in equivalent cars. A 1.6 N/A unit can be replaced by a 1.0 turbo and see way better fuel consumption.

On the other hand, turbos make things in general way less reliable - there's simply more things to go wrong. Too much boost can completely ruin your engine's foundations by over-stressing, and as I previously mentioned, arguably it can take a hit on your economy relative to N/A if you stay in boost too much. You also do not tend to get a linear power delivery, but then again, some people love the shock that turbo laggy cars bring when they spool into life.


The red and the blue spin together like two peas in a pod. That doesn't quite work..
Unfortunately a dying breed, superchargers have gained a somewhat cult following over times due mainly to the quirks they exhibit. For example, the Vauxhall VXR8 (or Holden) is famous almost exclusively because of the whine it makes from its supercharger. They are a much less known form of power boost, so let's quickly explore how they work.

A supercharger by definition is still 'forced induction', but it doesn't use your cars exhaust gases to push air into the engine. Instead, a supercharger is attached to the crankshaft of the car; the faster your engine spins, the more the 'charger is going to spin and therefore pull in air with its mesh design.

The main benefit to supercharging your car is that you do not lose engine responsiveness. However quick your engine picks up revs will be how quick the supercharger spins up, too, so there's far less chance of being caught off-guard with no boost, like you would in a turbo. Superchargers tend to be a bit more reliable as well, since they're a slightly more robust and pig-iron form of engineering compared to turbos.

However, supercharging is mainly being phased out these days because its not the most economical way to get more power from the car. Just like air conditioning units, the supercharger needs a certain percentage of engine power to keep it spinning, even when sitting idle. That essentially means you trade some horsepower to make horsepower, all while using more fuel while you're at it. Turbos will not show any meaningful increase of fuel consumption if you're out of boost range.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. Is there a clear winner? Not particularly, since they each have their own pros and cons. With that being said, if we look at the industry these days, they all seem to be migrating towards a turbocharged world. BMW rather famously does not have a single N/A car in its lineup anymore, and that's because turbo cars make getting through fuel consumption regulations so much easier when they're off the boost. However, normal drivers who do normal driving will attest they offer no real advantage in efficiency, since they use the boost.

The industry loves Turbo.
It's a personal preference at the end of the day. Turbo is the most prevalent, but I personally love the purity and exquisite sound that natural aspiration brings - just look at the E92 V8 M3 and the Honda S2000 to see what I mean there. What is your favourite, though, and why?

Natural Aspiration VS Turbo VS Supercharging: What is the Best? Natural Aspiration VS Turbo VS Supercharging: What is the Best? Reviewed by Jack Cooper on November 10, 2017 Rating: 5

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