You can say whatever you want regarding the cost of gas right now.  Politicians and lobbyists in Washington D.C. are having a field day talking  about how the cheap price of gas means that building a more fuel efficient vehicle isn’t something that should be at the top of everyone’s list, and that the market for gas-savings hybrids may be slowing down.  I work for a manufacturer that, for the longest time, lagged behind everyone else in fuel economy, with mid-sized SUVs that got only 22 MPG, and large sized SUVs that always fell under the gas guzzler tax here in NJ.

The current administration may be rolling back environmental protections.  They just reinstituted a 2018 review of the 2022-2025 fuel economy requirements of an average of 50 mpg for each manufacturer.  That’s why Mercedes dealerships sell Sprinter vehicles.  Gas is cheap right now, sure.  The administration is more concerned about job creation, that’s fine.  One thing I’ve never been one to do is to bet against the house.  Everything from OPEC, to civil unrest halfway around the world, to plain old greed, can affect what we pay at the pump.  Gas prices spiked to nearly $5 per gallon out here in NJ several years ago.  It’s something that definitely can happen again, and it’s best to be prepared for it.

There’s two ways that a car can get better fuel economy.  Make it lighter, or make the engine smaller.  You can’t always rely on making the car itself lighter.  There’s a point where in reducing the amount of quality of materials in making a car lighter will make the car unsafe in the event of a collision.  So your better bet is going to be working on an engine that’s smaller and more fuel efficient.

Even in making a smaller engine, there has to be the balance of efficiency with power.  It makes no sense to have a mid-sized or large-sized sedan or SUV that’s great on gas, but that is going to be a major road hazard every time it tries to merge onto a road.  So to make a car with a small engine, but a lot of power, manufacturers use Turbochargers.

In an era gone by, everyone believed that having a bigger engine or more cylinders was the only ways to get more power.  That’s why you saw a lot of cars that had big hefty six and eight cylinder engines.  But that’s not the case.  It’s not about how big the engine is, or how many cylinders it has, it’s about how much air you can force through the engine.  That’s what a turbo does, it forces more oxygen into the cylinders, allowing the car to burn more gas, and thereby get more power.

Take for example the Volvo S60.  The prior T5 engine, with 5 cylinders, had an output of 250 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque.  The new T5 engine, with only 4 cylinders, has an output of 240 hp, and 258 lb-ft of torque.  Speaking of the power, you won’t feel much, if any, difference between the two.  However, the big difference is in how much gas they use.  The old T5 engine has an EPA estimated 21 MPG in the city and 30 on the highway.  The new T5 engine has an EPA estimated 25 MPG city and 36 on the highway, or a 20% improvement.  And that’s on regular gasoline.

Other manufacturers have been getting on board with the idea as well.  Both Audi and BMW use them in many of their cars.  Ford has been working on a 1.5 liter 3 cylinder turbo over in Europe, and once proven to be reliable, will be bringing it here to the US.  You will continue to see bigger, bulkier engines in work vehicles.  That’s not going to change for a long time.

The next time your salesperson says to you “This is a four cylinder turbo”, don’t shy away and complain that you need six.  Drive the car and feel it for yourself.  Same performance, better fuel economy, meaning lower cost of ownership and less money you have to pay in the long run. Makes sense, doesn’t it?