For decades, turbochargers were prized for their ability to boost horsepower, which made them popular for race cars or high-performance sports cars. But modern turbos also can boost fuel economy along with horsepower, making smaller engines more efficient and still capable of highway speeds.
But just how does a turbocharger increase the power output of an engine and its efficiency?
Turbochargers are a type of forced induction system that compresses the air flowing into the car's engine. The advantage of compressing the air is that it lets the engine squeeze more air into a cylinder, and more air means that more fuel can be added. Therefore, you get more power from each explosion in each cylinder.
A turbocharged engine produces more power overall than the same size engine without the charging. This can significantly improve the power-to-weight ratio for the engine. This also means that a smaller engine can produce higher horsepower more efficiently, which means fewer stops at the gas station.
In order to achieve this boost, the turbocharger uses the exhaust flow from the engine to spin a turbine, which in turn spins an air pump. The turbine in the turbocharger usually spins at speeds between 80,000 and 200,000 rotations per minute (rpm) — that's up to 30 times faster than most car engines can go. And since it is hooked up to the exhaust, the turbine also runs at very high temperatures.