Turbo Killed the Naturally Aspirated Car

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A naturally-aspirated engine is a beautiful thing. If you imagine the sound that an angry, powerful, maybe-a-little-irresponsible car makes as it accelerates, chances are you’re imagining the sound of a naturally-aspirated engine doing what it does best: burbling, popping, and just generally being awesome.

So why are car makers treating our naturally-aspirated brethren going the way of the pager? And when it comes down to it, what is a naturally-aspirated engine? Fortunately, those are among to handful of questions we are actually qualified to answer.

A naturally aspirated engine is one that relies solely on atmospheric pressure for air intake. In short, a naturally aspirated engine takes in air naturally, without the aid of a supercharger or turbocharger.

So why do your gearhead friends love naturally aspirated engines so much? For one thing, an engine that doesn’t rely on a turbocharger for forced induction doesn’t suffer from any kind of “turbo lag,” the brief period between foot hitting pedal and turbocharger dispensing torque.

But on a more visceral level, naturally aspirated engines sound and feel like the reasons most car enthusiasts became car enthusiasts for. They sound like the reasons America loves cars. In fact, they sort of sound like America would if it was a car.

So if naturally aspirated engines are awesome, why are they experiencing such a steady decline? In 2015, 23% of vehicles sold had turbochargers. Honeywell, a leading turbocharger supplier, estimates that number will jump to 39% by 2020.

That’s because turbochargers allow smaller, more-efficient engines to achieve more power. As federal emission standards tighten, going turbo is one of the best options available to carmakers. Furthermore, for many consumers, a car that is quiet and gets good gas mileage without sacrificing the “fun” factor is a win-win.

So while we’ll always have a place in our hearts (and garages!) for big, nasty naturally aspirated power, we’ve come to love the unique benefits of a turbocharged engine. We can’t wait to see where another decade of tinkering can do for our performance!