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If you grew up in the late 80s or early 90s, you were one of lucky ones — a time before reality TV, mobile phones and $2.40 91 octane at the pump.
It was also a time when turbo vehicles were few and far between, mainly suited to those well-established enough to have a luxury car or young but well-heeled enough to afford the exorbitant insurance prices on a sporty Japanese one.
Then we progressed into the racier age where we had all kinds of turbo 2wd and 4wd machines.
Big turbos equalled lots of power and in turn, gas guzzling and unreliability. If you wanted an everyday car with a turbo, generally it was a European sourced vehicle such as an Audi or Volkswagen. These days, it is hard to find a European manufactured vehicle that doesn’t have a turbo-charged engine.
We are seeing a change driven by the need to lower emissions and increase fuel economy. Non-European carmakers are jumping on the bandwagon and the result has injected life into otherwise ordinary vehicles.
These smaller turbo engines are no longer designed to provide a volatile performance car, but give extra assistance when needed.
Adding a turbo to a small engine adds to the overall Kilowatt (kW) power figure.
A standard 1.4 litre engine as an example might have 75kW of power, combine that with a turbo and that figure can jump to 103kW-17kW more than a non-turbo 1.6 litre engine of the same vehicle range.
The result is small-engine fuel economy for daily commutes or city driving and larger-engine performance for the open road, hills and passing manoeuvres.
Some common small-engine turbo fitments
● The Suzuki Vitara SUV was one of the first that came to our attention. Fitted with a 1.4-litre petrol turbo, the engine has been extended into other popular Suzuki models such as the S-Cross, Baleno, Swift RS and, more recently, the leaner, meaner Swift Sport.
● Honda upped the ante and added a 1.5 turbo VTEC engine to the new Honda Civic model range.
A major boost for the brand and a perfect match for the CVT transmission that otherwise made VTEC engines scream. This engine is also included in the CRV SUV range.
● Mitsubishi has launched the all-new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SUV which features a 1.5-litre turbo engine with the key benefit of delivering maximum torque from lower in the rev range (from 1800rpm in this instance).
● The Hyundai Kona, powered by a 1.6-litre turbo, is proving to be a big player in the Small SUV market, a fantastic car with a 400km-plus-range electric model debuting in New Zealand.
● Another one for Korea. Kia has introduced a new European-style hatch, the Kia Rio GT-Line. Fitted with a 1-litre turbo engine and a larger 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, this is one we’re looking forward to driving.
In short, don’t be afraid of the word turbo and the fuel-hungry, boy-racer stigma attached to them.
Thanks to technology, they’re an efficient way to boost a small engine’s power, and maintain good all-round fuel economy.