Ferrari recently launched the 488, a turbo-powered replacement for the 458 Italia. It was a landmark moment, a watershed in engine development, but it has been coming for some time. The days of the big V10 and even V8 engines are numbered.
The need for greater fuel efficiency and reduced emissions figures is driving sports car manufacturers away from big, naturally aspirated engines to smaller, turbo-powered units. The enthusiasts might not like the changes, but they are inevitable. A turbo allows manufacturers to keep going for even bigger power numbers, as forced induction is a much easier path to high horsepower numbers than an efficient, naturally aspirated engine, without sacrificing economy.
The supercar manufacturers were seen as the last bastion of natural aspiration, but even that is changing. McLaren opted for a 3.8-litre twin turbo set-up from the start for its 650S and even the P1 hypercar, Ferrari has finally given in and gone to a turbo set-up, Porsche’s line-up of 911s will all adopt a turbo later this year and only Lamborghini is determined to stick with natural aspiration for now.
It should be noted that as part of the VW group, Lamborghini has a certain level of protection as laws limiting average emissions across the group simply don’t affect the tiny manufacturer as it does not make a dent on VW’s overall sales across the world.
Manufacturers of lesser passenger cars embraced the changes long ago and now there are all kinds of slick solutions to offer better efficiency throughout the rev range. VW’s 1.4 TSI engine is one of many to use two turbos of differing sizes, one for lower down the rev range and the other to provide more power at the top end. Ford now offers a 1.0 Ecoboost Focus that would once have been the absolute poverty spec’ model, too, but now it is something we aspire too.
BMW was one of the first to adopt this kind of variable turbocharging with the 335 and now it, too, has downsized its M3 and M5 models, adopting a twin turbo engine in both cases.
At the time this was labelled as heresy by the motoring press, but the cars have been warmly received by the buying public. The general feeling is that the man in the street does not particularly care if the car has a turbo, as long as it sounds right, feels right and is fast enough. Much of the prejudice against turbos was based on noise, engine response and turbo lag, but as manufacturers have ploughed money into development then each and every one of these problems has been dealt with.
The noise issue has led to some interesting solutions, including piping in engine noise and even creating ‘false noise’ through the stereo system. On the sporting Renault Clios there is even a way to change the car you are driving to one of Renault’s iconic cars from years gone by, including the mid-engined V6, much to the chagrin of the road testers. Turbo lag has been eliminated by the advances of technology and variable timing, so only a pro driver will feel the difference in the engine response.
Environmental concerns and the increasing importance of fuel economy have driven the manufacturers away from large, wasteful engines and into the hands of smaller, turbo-powered units. Some did not go willingly, but the march of progress goes on and the advent of hybrid power will ensure that the engines just keep getting smaller.
There is one caveat to all of this. What people actually achieve in the real world bears no resemblance to the claimed manufacturer figures. This, though, is down to the tests that require the engine to run at certain revs and speeds to record the figures. The manufacturers know these in advance and tune their cars accordingly, so don’t expect to achieve these miracle numbers in the real world.
What you can expect, though, is for engines to keep getting smaller, and that one day soon we will only be able to read about V10s and V8s in automotive history books.