The differences between supercharged and turbocharged engines – TopAuto
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Tuesday / 17 May 2022
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The differences between supercharged and turbocharged engines

Superchargers and turbochargers have one common purpose – to squeeze more power out of the engine they are connected to.

They are also one of the main ways to differentiate American performance cars from their European competitors, as the European automakers favour turbochargers, while the Americans have become synonymous with supercharging.

That being said, both regions still lean over to the other side every now and then.

For example: the new Jaguar F-Type is fitted with a supercharged V8 engine, while the Ford GT comes with a twin-turbo V6.

There is no definitive answer as to which performance-enhancing technology is best, as both come with a unique set of pros and cons.

How they work

A supercharger and turbocharger both send compressed air into an engine to create more power. This is called forced induction.

Forced induction accelerates compressed air into a cylinder to fill it up more efficiently, which burns more fuel and creates more power at a faster rate.

If an engine is naturally aspirated, filling the cylinders with air happens at a slower and less powerful pace.

The main difference between turbochargers and superchargers then lies in the way they provide air to the engine.

Turbochargers are turbine-driven components that use engine exhaust gas to spin up and accelerate air into the motor.

Superchargers are physically connected to an engine and are driven mechanically – most commonly via a running belt that connects to the driveshaft.

Pros and cons of turbocharging

A disadvantage of turbochargers is their propensity to “hang” when stepping on an accelerator pedal.

This is called turbo lag, as the turbine inside the component needs time to spool up before it starts doing its job.

Turbo lag has been cut down considerably in recent years, however, thanks to the advancement of bi-turbocharged and twin-turbocharged set-ups.

Turbochargers also only work within specific rev ranges for each engine, they require more engine oil due to their high operating temperatures, and they are more technical to install than superchargers.

This does not necessarily mean they are more expensive to buy or repair, as you can now purchase turbocharged vehicles from major manufacturers for rather cheap – whereas supercharged vehicles are typically top-end models.

This is also the main reason turbocharging is so prevalent when compared to supercharging, as turbos are more suited for smaller engines that need less work to improve power.

Additional advantages for turbochargers are then higher drivetrain efficiency and fewer emissions, thanks to the use of wastegate gasses rather than crankshaft power.

Pros and cons of supercharging

Superchargers are less-technical components that usually sit on top of an engine, with the main disadvantage of this technology being a lower fuel economy.

This is thanks to the supercharger drawing its power directly from the engine, thus needing more energy and a larger motor than a turbocharger to perform its job.

A supercharger also produces more emissions and is generally louder than a turbocharger, but these attributes often go hand-in-hand with the vehicles they are fitted to.

The biggest advantage of supercharging is the significant increase in power that it generates over turbos, as well as the way it delivers that power.

Due to the supercharger not needing to spool up first, it delivers power from low engine speeds and produces boost throughout the rev range.

This provides a much more linear power delivery sensation compared to the exponential boost pattern followed by turbochargers.

Furthermore, superchargers operate under cooler conditions than turbochargers and are often produced with thicker materials, leading to these components having a longer average lifespan.

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