autoevolution

The Fall of the Supercharger...

... Don't believe the hype! Contrary to what most of the automotive media is currently trying to feed you, the internal combustion engine (also called ICE) is far from being dead. Even though it pretty much stagnated over the course of the twentieth century, the evolution of ICE has really picked up the pace in the last couple of decades, especially in the last few years.

If you're reluctant to believe this, just think about how much the power versus fuel consumption ratio for both gasoline and diesel engines has changed during the latter part of this evolution. Just to give a couple of real-world examples, we should probably look at two modern gasoline engines.

The latest Volkswagen Polo GTI uses a 1.4-liter supercharged AND turbocharged engine which delivers a hefty 180 HP, while also having an average fuel consumption not much higher than that of a diesel engine somewhat comparable in size. The yet-to-be-launched facelift for the Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG uses a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 which delivers between 544 and 571 HP, while having the average fuel consumption of a three-liter, normally-aspirated V6 from the 1990s.

These are just two of the current best examples in ICE efficiency, but both of them are taking advantage (among other things, like fuel injection) from recent breakthroughs in turbocharging technology. The so-called "turbo era" is apparently yet to come, along with a highly consistent push towards downsizing.

In other words, the battle between all the different types of means of propulsion - although it was pretty much won by ICE in the most part of the twentieth century – is yet to be decided in the following years. I know, I know, hybrids are slowly taking over the world and everyone "knows" that they are just a step towards electrifying the whole motorized planet. But that's a totally different subject, which was also covered by my colleague Charles Darveight a couple of weeks ago, so I don't want to get into it.

What I'm really trying to say here is that the internal combustion engine is not yet dead, but some parts of it are. How many of our readers who are under thirty remember a little thingamajig called a "carburetor"? I'm willing to bet that not that many. For automotive engineers - and not only - carburetors were just a step, a link, in the ICE evolution.

Back when fuel injection systems started to catch on, old-school petrolheads were jumping at every chance to downplay its real-world advantages, while mourning the loss of an engine component that was almost as old as the internal combustion itself.

Well, so it comes that in recent years, another automotive part has started to slowly die away. I'm talking about the good ol' supercharger, whose future has been pretty much decided by the advances made in turbocharging technologies. No matter what type it was (Roots, Lysholm twin-screw or centrifugal), its only major technical advantage over the turbocharger had always been the instant throttle response compared to the lag experienced with the latter.

With the anti-lag technologies currently available, that advantage is now pretty much toast. Modern turbocharged engines offer more power, less fuel consumption, less noise, less weight and they're much easier to modify aftermarket.

In other words, you may probably ask yourselves what's with this obsession of mine with the burial of the supercharger. Truth is, I can't actually explain it, since there are a number of reasons for it. To me, the supercharger is simply not replaceable in terms of history, low-end grunt and last, but not least, the melodiousness it has at certain rpm levels.

People say that modern turbos (especially LPT – or Low Pressure Turbochargers) offer more linear power, I say that you can't beat the linearity of a supercharged or a normally-aspirated engine. Others say that modern turbocharged engines use much less fuel, I say that the increased fuel consumption of a supercharged mill comes with the territory – since in the old days it was mostly used on sports cars anyway. Plus, the "whoosh" sound instead of the supercharger "whine" at certain rpms is obviously a matter of personal taste and it also depends on the car.

Mercedes-Benz, whose history is very much connected with that of the supercharger, will most likely replace its last "Kompressor" engine (currently used on the G 55 AMG) with a twin-turbocharged unit starting next year at the latest. All of their other supercharged engines have already been replaced with either turbocharged or normally-aspirated engines, so the trend has even caught on with them.

Who else mourns the loss of this far-from-perfect but otherwise cool as hell means of increasing volumetric efficiency? Am I in this alone? If there are at least some of you who share my love for this dying breed of muscle engines, feel free to drop me a comment below.

 
 
 
 
 

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