Turbo Charged vs Normally Aspirated

You are probably driving a normally aspirated (N/A) car not knowing that this is one of the many things cars are categorized by.

All vehicles are propelled by an engine that is either blown by a turbo or is normally aspirated (N/A), i.e. it has no turbo. We probably don’t need to tell you that most cars are N/A.

But, what on earth is a turbo & what does it do?

Picture2A turbo is a spiral shaped blower that feeds an engine with compressed air to increase performance.

In the past, having a turbo on a petrol-powered car was the reserve of the rich who could afford a high-end sports car. Turbo technology was first introduced on diesel engines to improve their sluggish performance, and in the old days suffered from significant lag, i.e. the turbo was slow to kick in.

Only in the last decade have turbos on petrol cars really taken off, and especially so in the last five years as manufacturers have started downsizing engines. The result is that many new cars today with small-capacity engines come with a turbo (think Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio) so that small engines deliver the power of larger engines, but use significantly less fuel. Turbo technology has evolved to reduce the lag effect, so power is on tap virtually instantly.


So, which is better?

In the past, turbo technology was unreliable and expensive to fix.  A car with a normally aspirated engine may be the better, cheaper and more reliable option in the long run, but has less performance.

In very modern cars, and we’re talking car models that have been available on the market for less than five or so years, the cost argument still holds water, but many cars are still under warranty in which case the onus is on the manufacturer or dealer to cover these costs. Also, modern turbos have become replaceable, off-the-shelf components on an engine, so should it be defective, it is easy to bolt on a new one at much reduced prices compared to older generation models.


So, really, which should I buy?

If opting for older petrol cars, the suggestion is to stay away from turbo-blown ones for cost reasons and potential expensive maintenance. If you buy a modern petrol car, you may not even have a choice, as many models now come with a turbo as standard, even if the fact is not advertised on the back with a badge. Rest assured that modern turbo engines are proven to be very reliable, and the risk of something going wrong has been vastly reduced.

For most modern diesel purchases in the passenger segment, you don’t have a choice to begin with either. It is for this reason that you simply have to check that your potential purchase has a full service history (FSH) by the manufacturer of reputable service agent, as this is one mechanism to eliminate a large part of the risk associated of buying a used car.


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