Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, you would’ve noticed a major trend in the motoring world which has slowly but surely permeated every manufacturer’s engineering department – downsizing. Even supercars are not safe, with naturally aspirated beasts like this F355 a rare sight in modern car showrooms…
Gone are the days of naturally aspirated straight-six BMWs, VR6 powered Volkswagens, 3.0L Fords and Busso V6 Alfa Romeos. Instead, we have been treated to teeny-tiny engines with turbo chargers as compensation. From Formula One, all the way down to the VW Polo, they are everywhere today. And to be honest, I don’t trust them one bit.
It’s not just me. Toyota, known for its caution in adopting new technology, has been very slow to pick up on small-displacement turbos, with many of its cars still offering naturally aspirated engines. At the other end of the spectrum we find VW, who have made it impossible to buy basically anything other than a t-shirt without a turbo fitted to it. Car makers have become obsessed with making engines as small as possible and then bolting a turbo on to it to make up for the loss in power, just to end up with a car kicking out the same power figures as its predecessor, but with far more complications.
They say it’s to help the polar bears, but after a Reuters report issued last year, they now think it doesn’t. In a controlled testing environment in a laboratory, the emissions appear to be lower, but after some real-world testing they have discovered that because of the extra strain these tiny turbos carry, they tend to overheat and lose power. To make up for this loss, the ECU then over-fuels the motor, which in turn increases emissions. Silly really.
We haven’t just gone back to where we started – we’ve gone backwards. Instead of having Vladimir Putin under my bonnet, I now have Donald Trump with a leaf blower. The new one tries to do what the old one has been doing for years, but tends to get hot-headed all the time. I prefer Vlad.
At low speeds these tiny engines shine, but as soon as higher speeds and strain are introduced, these miniscule turbos work a lot harder than their bigger counterparts. The strain results in more heat and higher wear and tear rates.
The net effect of all this? Reliability issues.
Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that engineers take the increased strain into account in their designs, it remains a fairly new approach and the real-world long-term results will only reveal themselves as mileages start to hit super high figures.
Whether these tiny engines will match your grandfather’s Ford Granada for longevity remains to be seen. The smart money is on the Granada.
The problem is only made worse by low quality fuel. Unfortunately, South African motorists lose out in this department quite badly. You don’t have to look far or wide to find someone who has experienced complete engine failure due to a blown turbo or some other heat related issue. I constantly hear horror stories of cars grinding to a halt after a mere 40,000kms since new.
A bit of research reveals that the culprit is carbon build-up in the engine oil due to bad fuel. This in turn clogs the arteries which feed oil to cool the turbo and once that happens, well, your boost goes to boom!
This brings me back to the original intention of downsizing. We believed it would reduce emissions, but after some time we see it doesn’t necessarily do this. To make it worse, the technology appears less sustainable than its predecessor, which means more cars needing to be manufactured and more emissions overall.
VW’s Chairman Herbert Diess noted in 2017 that they will start reverting back to bigger displacement engines in larger cars. Hopefully, other manufactures will catch on and the people at Toyota can rub it in everyone’s faces.
So yes, give me classic turbos and Bugatti Veyrons, but for the love of all things holy, get them the hell out of my Alfa MiTo!