The Turbo Tax

You’ve heard the saying, your mileage may vary?

Well, there’s a new variable you ought to take into account when you go shopping for a new car. You might call it the Turbo Tax. It’s paid two ways – up front and down the road.

And it’s becoming harder to avoid either tax, because about a third of all new cars on the market come standard with a turbocharged engine. Within the next few years, it will be tough to buy any new car without a turbocharged engine.

But what is a turbo? Why are turbos being put under the hoods of so many new cars?

And why is it . . . taxing? Gift Card i... Buy New $25.00 (as of 06:10 EST - Details) A turbo is a compressor. It pressurizes the incoming air that would – ordinarily – be sucked into the engine’s cylinders very much in the same manner that we draw in a breath. Pressurized air is forced into the engine’s cylinders; this increases cylinder pressure and creates a more powerful explosion when the spark plug fires.

So, it’s basically a power-enhancer.

But it’s also become a displacement replacer.

Turbos were rare – even exotic – as recently as a decade ago. They were added to already powerful engines in high-performance cars to make them deliver even higher-performance. This makes perfect sense when the object is to go faster – and paying extra is understood to be the price of admission. People who buy high-performance cars are not buying them for reasons of economy.

But now turbos are being used for exactly that reason.

Well, so we’re told. Happy Birthday Cake Po... Buy New $4.96 (as of 08:25 EST - Details)

Reality tells another story.

Turbos can now be found under the hoods of economy cars and family cars and also crossover SUVs – none of them performance vehicles, at least not primarily.

And the main reason for this is that it’s becoming hard to put engines larger than very small fours in most new cars. Not physically hard. But politically, very hard.

Turbos are bolted to the small fours to make up for the smallness of these engines. To make them capable of producing the power and delivering performance comparable to that produced by the larger (six cylinder) engines they replaced.

But why not just keep the larger engine, in that case?

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