If you grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, 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, it would generally have to be a European sourced vehicle like an Audi or Volkswagen. These days, it is hard to find a European manufactured vehicle that doesn’t have a turbocharged engine.

Now we are seeing a change in trend driven by the need to lower emissions and increase fuel economy. Non-European vehicle manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon and the result has injected life into otherwise ordinary vehicles. These smaller turbo engines are no longer designed to transform the vehicle into a volatile performance car, but provide extra assistance when needed. 

Adding a turbo to a small engine adds to the overall Kilowatt (kW) power figure. A standard 1.4ltr 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 1.6ltr engine of the same vehicle range.

The noticeable user benefit for drivers is that you now have small engine fuel economy for the daily commute or city driving and larger engine performance for the highway and situations like heading up hills and passing lane manoeuvres.

Some common small engine turbo fitments

  • The Suzuki Vitara SUV was one of the first that came to our attention. Fitted with a 1.4ltr petrol turbo, the engine has now been extended into other popular Suzuki models like 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 now included in the CRV SUV range.
  • Mitsubishi has recently launched the all-new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SUV which features a 1.5ltr 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 1.6ltr turbo is proving to be a big player in the Small SUV market. A truly fantastic car with a 400km+ range electric model recently debuting in New Zealand.
  • Another one for Korea. Kia has introduced a new European Style hatch, the Kia Rio GT-Line. Fitted with a 1.0ltr turbo engine and a larger 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, this is one we’re looking forward to driving. 

So 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 now a very efficient way to boost a small engine’s power, all while maintaining good all-round fuel economy.

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