Sunday, 5 February 2012

N/A N/A - The Death of Non-Turbo Engines

While less than a year ago I was melting in awe of the mightiness of the classic turbocharged engine, opinions took an opposie lock during the time elapsed and bounced off the Wall of Champions. But it's not the turbo's fault. Let me explain.

I'm still in love with the epic turbo-lag caused by a small engine - gigantic turbocharger combination. Only turbo has become too much commonplace in the sense that its original purpose has been confiscated and replaced by a green toe-thumb tag. In fact, I was the first one to jump from the armchair and throw hands in the air when it was announced officially that turbocharged V6 engines would replace the current naturally aspirated V8s in Formula 1 from 2014 while questioning the rationality behind the year - why not 2013?

FIA has tried everything to simplify the super-complicated aerodynamics of recent F1 cars, with a brief initial success only. Ultimately they figured out - shock! - that when a whole field of cars were and have been running with engines developed years ago - forbidding any further improvement on them - while restricting the revs they would operate at, then teams would find every other possible ways to get to the top of the grid, which ultimately resulted e.g. in tricky engine mappings, but most of the time exploiting aerodynamic loopholes with additional, flexible wings slowly reappearing on the cars with mysterious air ducts tunnelling through the body, making a few extra kph advantage on the straights. FIA ultimately threw in the towel and voted for a new engine formula resembling one from the 80s, so everyone would start tinkering with the powerplants, building the aerodynamics from the ground up.

They said it was going with the times. Turbocharging was now not only the means to keep power up but also a way to lower emission rates in F1.

I'm sorry. In F1?

As a matter of fact, since when turbocharging has been considered to be a greener way to move around?

While I do know and accept the math behind it, I still find myself in a bit of controversy, a twisted cognitive dissonance. This was the point where I pulled a hipster act to proclaim the now commonplace turbocharged engine 'uncool'.

The whole issue just hit me when I started thinking about diesel engines and I found myself unable to come up with one single, non-turbocharged engine that still is in production and is put into cars. I managed to get aid from Twitter, creating some minor buzz someone even dedicating the hashtag #lastnonturbodiesel to the matter. The final solution came down to one single model, the VW Caddy - not a frequent sight on the roads, by the way. But when we move the topic to petrol-powered cars, things do not get so much different.

In the past years, attention to environment avareness in the whole motoring industry pulled a high gear and turned everything upside down. MPG became the new MPH and devotion spent on CO2 emission rates in catalogues even surpassed luggage space size info.

As far as turbocharging is considered, it is now the temporary savior of the petrol engine while not yet trespassing the 'hybrid' territory. Ford managed to reinvent hot water naming their latest powerplant family 'EcoBoost', which basically represents engines of various layouts losing two cylinders and an added turbo.

Yes, downsized turbo engines perform better as far as economical and environmental factors concerned. But from a petrolhead's point of view turbo is becoming more and more out of place.

I have to give it to Clarkson this time, who just raised the issue in Top Gear driving the Lamborghini Aventador, showing favouritism to be the naturally aspirated V12 over his co-presenters turbocharged engines. Marginal, but intriguing case: why supercars need turbocharged engines? I mean, does any supercar owner care about economy and MPG figures over overall performance? If someone does, I imagine the person taking the bus or the bicycle to work, or some sort of hybrid car to show off awareness. I cannot imagine a heated argument between owners over CO2 emission rates and frequency of filling up, but rather crispiness of acceleration and reaction times, as Tiff Needell pointed out in Fifth Gear.

Unfortunately the problem does not stop here. Manufacturers of normal, everyday cars are being forced (see what I did there?) to go for turbocharging for economical reason. while it sounds appealing, as a side effect, even the smallest hatchbacks are becoming mechanically over-complicated.

Does one need a car for everyday quick running up and down in the town with something relatively so fragile?

Just a few grams of CO2 per kilometre gained making something reliable... not so reliable, from a tool to an e-device with a booting ceremony.

In my mind it's all wrong from a practical point of view and from a petrolhead's perspective as well. My brother, who happens to own a Lancia Delta HF Turbo, said he had been dreaming of getting a turbocharged car for long years while it was inaccessible in everyday rides. Now he has one, times have moved on in the meantime and became just an old hatchback to some extent, regardless of its mighty pedigree.

As a conclusion we may add that the high-performance naturally aspirated engine is the new cool, the 2010s answer to the 1980s turbo-invasion.

The spirit of Enzo Ferrari once again rules.

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