The Little Engine that Could

Since the introduction of the combustion engine to the automotive industry, the presumption has been that to make a particular car better or more powerful, you add more cylinder, liters, and cubic inches to the overall size of the engine. Recently, however, we see the popularity of huge engines dramatically declining. The average daily driver won’t realize this because the majority of the automobiles on the road are powered by standard four cylinder or six cylinder engines. But it is true, no longer are the supercars of today powered by big beefy V10s or V12 engines.


Yet somehow, they seem to be getting faster. Don’t believe me? Take the new fastest car in the world for example. The Hennessey Venom GT surpassed the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport’s previous land speed record of 267.8 mph (which it held for 4 years) with a speed of 270.49 mph. For comparison, the Veyron has a 1,183 horsepower, 18 cylinder engine while the Venom GT has a 1,244 horsepower V8. You do the math and tell me that that is overkill tuning!


So what’s the secret? How are these smaller engines keeping up, and even surpassing the power of larger engines? To find the answer, we best look to the Swedish auto manufacturing company Volvo. Their newer models of the S60 sedans now compete with other luxury brand engine horsepower ratings while only having 4 cylinders. They do it by adding a turbocharger and a supercharger.



If you look closely, you can see “turbo” or a small “T” next to many popular car models nowadays, and no, it’s not a simple “sound-cool” name enhancer or starship level “go faster” word like warp speed or something. A Turbocharger is an actual device that is attached to the engine and forces extra air into the engine and cylinders. More Air and Oxygen going into the cylinders means more combustion = more boost = more horsepower.


See Roadkill Episode 16 “Leaf Blower Supercharging a 1978 Chevrolet Monza Spyder”


What was soon realized was that the turbo kicked in at higher gears so the horsepower wasn’t available automatically. This meant that the car might’ve had more speed now, but the initial acceleration still took time. The Turbos essentially took over the need for extra cylinders in any car.  Now even smaller pick-up trucks like the Ford F-150 Ecoboost can outpace a full-size truck like the Toyota Tundra in terms of torque and performance. This is also why Mercedes Benz has stopped selling their huge V8 saloon executive sedans in the S class and E Class and has opted for V6 Turbos.



When Volvo added a turbocharger and supercharger, the delay in acceleration during which the turbo needed to spool up was eliminated. Now for those of you that are thinking, “what the heck is the difference between the two?” the main distinguishing factor is that the supercharger kicks in automatically, allowing time for the turbo to charge up. Thus, the effect is the boosting of power at lower speeds where most smaller engines feel underpowered or under impressive.


I find Volvo’s move pretty ingenious to be honest, but also makes you go, “Why haven’t they done this sooner?” These Superchargers and Turbochargers essentially get the most bang for the engine and can be so much environmentally friendly with the same performance. Kind of puts both the tree huggers and the petrol heads’ conscience to rest eh?





Any Questions? Suggestions? Automobile Article Requests? Please comment! I will reply!


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