Efficiency Over Power
Ask most people what a turbocharger does for an automobile engine, and typical answers will include something along the lines of, “Turbos add power.” Although technically correct, the marriage of advanced direct-injection fueling systems and turbochargers can also be used to increase fuel efficiency. Instead of merely boosting power in larger-displacement motors such as V8s, automakers are now turbocharging smaller 4-cylinder engines to deliver power needed under acceleration. However, thanks to less displacement these motors have better mpg performance at cruising speeds. Not only are they replacing V6s as entry-level or even up-level powerplants, turbocharged 4-cylinder engines are being employed to power larger vehicles. The following 15 vehicles put turbochargers to work in the name of efficiency — without sacrificing power.
Hyundai Kona Limited
Starting MSRP: $24,700
Hyundai’s newest SUV offering, the Kona is a bit of an enigma. Its entry-level SE trim gets motivation from a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four cylinder engine, but its up-level sibling runs a smaller four cylinder that produces more power from its 1.6 liters thanks to turbocharging. The Limited generates 175 horsepower, but even with its 28-horse advantage it delivers the same EPA-estimated 30 mpg combined fuel efficiency as the SE. Thus when shoppers step up from the $19,500 entry-level SE to the Limited, they get more than interior refinements and better wheels — they’re also getting the automaker’s best technology under the hood . . . without a more fuel-thirsty V6.
Chevrolet Camaro 1LS
Starting MSRP: $25,905
Camaros are typically known for their V8 growl, but they have been using six cylinders as the base engine since the car’s debut in 1967. General Motors dropped a 90-horsepower weakling four-banger under the hood in the mid-1980s and it was a nightmare. This time around they added a turbo and upped the ante to 275 thundering horses . . . about 30 years and 185 extra horses sound like evolution done right. That forward progress will continue into 2019 as GM adds a 1LE track package to the entry-level Camaro. It includes wider tires, Brembo performance brakes, and a seriously upgraded suspension that includes larger sway bars, specially tuned shocks, stiffer bushings and more.
Starting MSRP: $32,140
When it debuted in 1990, the Ford Explorer gave the SUV some instant civility, and it’s become bigger and better in the ensuing years. Today the base-level Ford is powered by a V6 and the smaller turbo engine is an upgrade. The entry-level Explorer sports a 190-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and the optional upgrade is a much smaller 280-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that adds $895 to the bottom line. The V6 returns 17 mpg city / 24 mpg highway, while the turbo four banger is rated at 19 / 27. Ninety more horsepower and better mileage for $895 . . . where do we sign up?
Lexus GS300 RWD
Starting MSRP: $46,310
Specific output is the amount of power an engine makes per liter of displacement. It’s a way to quantify the efficiency of an engine from a power generation standpoint. The Lexus GS is a great method of illustrating this concept while also showing how adding a small turbo engine to an entry-level vehicle may make it the standout. The GS300’s 2.0-liter turbo four produces 241 horsepower, or a specific output of 120.5 ponies per liter. The up-market GS350 is powered by a 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, which calculates to an 88-horsepower per liter specific output. Of course, the type of car in question will impact the importance of these numbers . . . here in a luxury car it may not carry as much weight as in a sports car . . . on the other hand, 311 is always more than 241.
Volvo S90 T6 AWD
Starting MSRP: $54,100
Here’s what happens when an automaker can’t decide how to pressurize an engine. Volvo’s 2.0-liter four cylinder is both supercharged and turbocharged. Both methods compress air toward more efficiency — the major difference is how each compressor gets powered. A supercharger is driven by a belt and pulley, while a turbo relies on exhaust gasses from the engine to spin its turbine wheel, which in turn spins the compressor wheel on the end of a common shaft. The result of Volvo’s twin-charging is impressive: The S90 T6 brings 316 horsepower to the party — a specific output of 158 horsepower per liter. All that while delivering impressive fuel efficiency of 22 mpg city / 31-mpg highway / 25 mpg combined.
Ford Focus SE
Starting MSRP: $19,245
Under the “Less Is More” banner sits the Focus SE — the second trim level in the model lineup. The SE is powered by a 1.0-liter EcoBoost with three — count ‘em three — cylinders. Thanks to its turbo and sophisticated direct-injection fuel system, the motor is a powerhouse that generates 123 horsepower. Along with its small displacement, the 1.0-liter engine also uses auto start/stop technology to maximize its fuel efficiency to the tune of 30 mpg city / 40 mpg highway / 34 mpg combined. The base $17,950 Focus S sports a 160-horsepower naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine that returns 25 mpg city / 34 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined. There are eight trims above the SE — including the mighty 350-horse RS.
Starting MSRP: $19,495
The Jetta sedan is an all-new proposition; the 10th generation is a 2019 model available in 2018. It’s bigger and better and features more connectivity and refinement than the previous iteration. For those who prefer to shift their own gears, only the base trim offers a 6-speed manual transmission. Power comes from VW’s 150-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder that became the entry-level powerplant last year. This engine delivers the goods at the pump, returning 28 mpg city / 40 mpg highway. Check out the performance-minded R-Line that ads some style, a torque-vectoring differential, and comes with a $23,845 price tag.
Honda Accord LX
Starting MSRP: $23,570
Also celebrating a 10th-generation redesign, the Accord finds itself without a V6 engine in the lineup. It also is unique in that the hybrid version is part of its base LX trim line. The entry-level Accord is powered by a 1.5-liter turbo four, while the hybrid adds $1,530 to the price tag and consists of a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four and a pair of electric motors. The LX turbo pushes 20.2 psi, which is quite aggressive — more than the legendary Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution of yore pumped out. The Accord LX is one of the few midsize cars to still offer a manual gearbox, so if you like three pedals put this ride on your shopping list.
Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Starting MSRP: $26,195
In the Mustang, Ford uses its EcoBoost technology as a double-edged sword . . . part power, part efficiency. With its 2.3-liter 310-horsepower 4-cylinder powerplant, the Mustang EcoBoost is an upgraded, midline model — not the line-topping V8-powered GT. The four-banger dominates the 3.7-liter V6 offered in the base Mustang by 30 horsepower, while also outperforming it at the pump with an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city / 32 mpg highway versus 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway. This is the beauty of Ford positioning its EcoBoost turbo technology: It can be used for fuel-efficient brute force as in the 350-horsepower Focus RS; to create a more efficient SUV a la the Explorer; or a combination of the two as in the Mustang EcoBoost. But you must pay to play . . . the EcoBoost Mustang costs $7,000 more than the base V6.
MINI Cooper 2-Door Hardtop
Starting MSRP: $21,600
The MINI Cooper base trim runs a big-block version of its 3-cylinder engine . . . in this case a “titanic” 1.5-liter turbocharged powerplant. The British mighty-mite produces 134 horsepower, but it’s hard to stand out because MINI’s entire lineup is turbocharged. The Cooper S is rated at 189 horsepower and the line-topping Cooper Works pumps out 228 ponies. These numbers apply to all body styles of S and Cooper Works . . . both cars and SUVs. All these cheeky Brits are bestowed with distinctive Euro-fresh styling inside and out, but it’s the boost that brings an unruly attitude to the surface.
Porsche 718 Boxster
Starting MSRP: $56,000
Porsche has enthusiastically embraced the turbo in recent years, and it’s a feel-good story with a “goodbye six, hello boosted four” plotline. The Stuttgart-based automaker revamped its entire range of Boxster motors with the introduction of the 718 in 2017. The base 718 Boxster went from a naturally-aspirated boxer six rated at 265 horsepower to a more-efficient turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four that generates 300 horsepower — a 35-horse jump. The top-of-the-line S trim transitioned from a 315-horsepower 3.4-liter boxer six to a 2.5-liter turbo boxer four with 350 horsepower on tap. Purists will harken back to days of the distinctive flat six rumble, while rebels will turn a deaf ear and look to the improved power and its jackrabbit potential.
Honda Civic EX-T Sedan
Starting MSRP: $21,940
Clamored for throughout the 1990s, factory turbos are finally boosting Honda Civics. Turbos were adopted for the 2016 model year and they are working their way into other Honda products. Sure, in the Civic they are pumping out 306 horsepower in the high-performance Type-R, but you can feel the efficient boost in the mid-level EX too. The EX-T sports a 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder engine that uses 16.5 psi to generate 174 horsepower. Wisely, Honda upped the boost to 20.2 psi and installed the 1.5-liter in the Si variant, where it produces 205 horsepower. This move positions the Si under the Type-R and saves it from becoming irrelevant within the Civic’s new hierarchy.
BMW 3 Series Sedan
Starting MSRP: 320i $34,900
Boost fiends unite — the floodgates have swung wide open at BMW. After making bank on naturally-aspirated inline 6-cylinder engines for decades, the Bavarian automaker added a turbo in the 335i, then two with the 335is in 2011. Today the whole model range is pressurized. The 3 Series, available in sedan, wagon, or Gran Turismo (which is a crossover-style car with a liftgate/hatch), is anchored by the 320i. It sports a 180-horsepower 2.0-liter TwinPower turbo four cylinder. Next up the chart is the 330i and its 248-horsepower version of the 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder unit. The line is topped by the 340i —it replaces the 335i, goes for $48,950, and features a 320-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six.
Volkswagen Atlas S
Starting MSRP: $30,750
The Atlas S has the performance potential of a turbo living in harmony with a family-size SUV. Volkswagen has equipped its newest SUV, the big-named Atlas, with a 4-cylinder base engine: the company’s venerable 2.0-liter turbo. A zippy powerplant in the Jetta or Passat, the 235-horse version of the engine has its hands full in the 4,400-pound Atlas. Want more power? The V6 S version costs $1,400 more and boasts a 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. The 2.0-liter version returns 22 mpg city / 26 mpg highway, while the V6 returns 18 mpg city / 25 mpg highway — it’s up to buyers if the V6 is worth the extra coin.
Starting MSRP: $32,780
Sleek 4-door coupe styling is this car’s calling card, but we like its delivery system, too: the way Mercedes combines the silhouette of a coupe with the convenience of having four doors on call. The CLA is the lowest branch on the Mercedes family tree, but this entry-level player is fitted with a 208-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder. More than a dozen option packages exist for this car, so if buyers stick with the smaller turbo engine they can spend $10,500 checking boxes before equaling the sticker price of the next model up the line; the C-Class.