Turbocharger vs Supercharger
Engine builders and performance seekers alike often ask themselves a simple question: Turbocharger vs Supercharger which is better? A simple question that leads to a very complex analysis in order to choose the best upgrade for your car. To start off you must consider how both units create boost.
Turbocharger vs Supercharger
Turbochargers: Turbochargers work by using exhaust gas to power a compressor which in turn pushes extra air into each cylinder allowing the engine to consume more fuel in a proportional manner, Simple yet effective.
Superchargers: Superchargers work in a similar manner, a compressor is spun at high rpm to create “boost” that gets funneled into each cylinder. The difference is that exhaust gasses do not power a supercharger but instead a pulley spun by the engine at incredible rpm controls it.
Often time simply describing how each mechanism works is not enough for most individuals to understand the advantages and disadvantages that are associated with each boost making device. It is advantageous to compare the good, the bad, and the ugly when decoding what is right for you.
Turbo vs Supercharger Pros & Cons
- Often times turbochargers are capable of creating much more power due to their boost production. The buyer has a capability of choosing what size turbo they want to purchase and how “efficient” they want to run their car. Boost controllers can be used to create a street/strip car, where the owner has the ability to roll on the streets with a more tame animal and take her to the strip and unleash the beast. Flexibility is key for turbocharger,
- Not all size turbochargers have similar qualities. A key term to remember is when a Turbo comes “online”. This is when boost begins to build to the desired psi. Smaller turbo’s will come online much sooner and therefore creating a flatter dyno run, they do not produce as much power but their capabilities are still very impressive. Larger turbo’s will come online much later and essentially hit the driver with a strong knockback. They are capable of creating an immense amount of boost for performance applications (Anti lag systems can be used to help combat this flaw).
- It is much more common for a turbo to grenade and destroys the whole engine in the process then a supercharger would. When this happens metal particles get sent through the entire engine and metal grinding with other metal is not a formula for success.
- One favorable characteristic of superchargers is their immediate power. Since they are in direct correlation with the rpm that the engine produces they create a very smooth power curve meaning that there are no surprises when driving. Another major positive associated with superchargers is their ease of setup. Often times they will be mounted on the manifold of the engine so there is not much pluming involved.
- Superchargers often are not as capable of creating boost compared to their competitor. They are less efficient in what they do and actually rob the engine of some of its power. For example some superchargers consume 300 horsepower before they begin to produce any boost. It puts more stress on the engine decreasing overall shelf life but greatly increases performance.
- Superchargers can be much more expensive than turbochargers due to their complex internal working. They can be found in decent condition at salvage yards but roots style blowers can drive you upwards of $3000-4000 entry level.
In the end, you must ask yourself what you would like your car to be able to accomplish and what abilities you can live without. Let’s break down a scenario.
Example 1: 1969 Nova ss, 350 small block
1969 Nova, a classic drag racing body that has set the atmosphere for decades to come. Traditionally people will want to put a roots style supercharger on the Nova(The ones that you see sticking out of the hood), they are seen as macho and fit the muscle car era like peas and carrots. But traditional is not always the way to go approach things due to new technology and creative solutions emerging every day. Drag racing focuses on who can grip the concrete the best and haul down the track, superchargers are exceptionally proficient at this but don’t count turbo’s out yet. When you see a dragster positioned at the Christmas tree you can usually hear the engine begin to roar. The theory to this madness is at higher rpm naturally aspirated engines produce their peak horsepower, helping them essentially enter their prime status. Where it starts to become interesting is that when turbocharged cars do this, they begin to build boost essentially making it ready to go when those lights turn green.
This creates a human powered anti-lag system. The driver once again brings the car to peak possible performance and then unleashes it when the lights turn green. The fun doesn't stop there, it is possible to build/purchase these systems to take to work out of doing this. Anti-Lag works by continuously cycling the engine in order to keep the compressors spooling. The rpm range is entirely dependent on what size turbo you have but it is adjustable. To summarize this information it reaches the point of personal preference. Do you want to hassle with setting up an anti-lag system or manually staging your car each time? Or do you want power when you smash the pedal.
Turbo vs Supercharger Fuel Consumption
Let's talk about what works best on the streets in a sense of day to day driving. Fuel consumption is a big factor for many people and is the reason why manufacturers use turbos. They consume less gas due to essentially recycling exhaust and also allow an engine to “feel” like it has more cubic inches. These systems can be also toned down to warrant more controlled driving. Superchargers are always all out and always on. They will consume more gas but produce a more satisfying overall power on the streets. They always provide power which means your car is overall much faster than n/a versions. This is why performance models go with superchargers.
Hopefully, that provided some insight on how to choose your next car modification. Best of luck on your quest to performance seeking.