Like many drivers who are born with a lead foot, I tend to run into a serious dilemma when it is time to put the pedal to the metal. I want to go fast, but my thirsty, turbocharged Acura guzzles premium petrol entirely too quickly. Sure, I love my RDX, but to this day I have yet to find a performance engine that can yield both fantastic fuel economy and uninhibited power at the same time. Some cars have come close to having what I need, but I like power, and every single supercharged and turbocharged car I like seems to have atrocious fuel economy.
But all of this might be about to change, as technology and engineering have brought forth a new generation of go-fast goods that could give drivers like myself the best of both worlds. Imagine a system that has the ability to provide the power we need but in a much smaller, fuel-efficient package. This kind of product is what we like to call a “game changer” in the auto biz, because if it works for one brand, then all the other manufacturers will follow suit with their own models to keep up with the competition.
So when word was announced that Audi is now working on making its cars save gas by supercharging them, I literally jumped with joy. A report by Automotive News illustrates that the electric specialist firm Valeo is set to slap a supercharger on Audi’s new Q7 concept car to see if it “can reduce fuel consumption by 7% to 20%.” If this design actually works the way it is intended to, the upgrade would instantly be a must-have for someone like me, who wants both power and fuel efficiency from a performance machine but doesn’t want to wait on a turbo to spool up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. These products haven’t even been tested on the Q7 yet, and the testing of the system on other vehicles has only just begun. So with a tentative release date of sometime between 2017 and 2019, and no guarantees that this system won’t fall flat on its face along the way, we have a moment to consider the benefits of this product and what it could mean for the future of the automotive industry. While we’re waiting, let’s also take a closer look at the supercharger to better understand what makes it superior to a turbocharger.
We’ll begin by addressing the differences between a turbocharger and a supercharger, because many people still don’t know the distinction between the two. For an engine to run, it needs a combination of fuel, fire, and some fresh air — it is the last of these key elements where the turbo/supercharger comes into play. Fresh air that is force-fed into an engine via a turbo or supercharger triggers a chain effect that produces a lot more power than a car that is not equipped with either of these systems. That is why they are commonly referred to as “forced-induction systems” and have the potential to blow the doors off most muscle cars around town that don’t have a similar upgrade.
While both of these systems achieve the same goal and can create boatloads of extra power, they go about achieving their goals very differently. A turbocharger runs off a car’s exhaust fumes, so the miniature turbine inside of its snail-like structure only starts working when the fumes are already flowing through the system. This means it has the tendency to lag at first, an occurrence aptly called “turbo-lag,” and it is difficult to avoid. Smaller turbos don’t take as long to spool up, but they will fall flat at higher speeds, while larger turbos are phenomenal at reaching high speeds but require a longer spooling time.
On the other end is the supercharger. Traditionally a belt-driven operation, the supercharger relies on engine speed to determine the amount of fresh air it will blow back into the engine. This means more instantaneous power, because instead of waiting on a car’s exhaust fumes to build up, the supercharger’s belt follows the engine’s lead, thus offering tremendous power at any time. But what Valeo wants to offer is a different kind of power: The Valeo supercharger is powered by a separate electric motor instead of just relying on the car’s engine.
What Valeo is proposing is truly a revolutionary product that not only gives a car more power but also makes a car more efficient by enabling the downsizing of engines. A small four-cylinder engine equipped with a supercharger can now make the power of a V6, and a supercharged V6 would pull like a V8. According to a video by Valeo, test results have shown fuel consumption drop by 15% to 20% when this system was tested on small engines ranging from 1.0 to 2.4 liters, as well as on turbocharged and diesel engines where the supercharger “piggybacks” on the turbo that is already in place. And for anyone wanting to outfit their current car, Valeo says the system can be installed “easily and at a lower cost on new or existing vehicles.”
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