The supercharger is dead, may it rest in peace.
Nowadays, when you search for superchargers on Google you’ll just end up with a bunch of articles on Tesla’s supercharging network. If that isn’t a sign that superchargers are being forgotten about, I don’t know what is.
The supercharger is soon to be retired and taking its place will be turbochargers, or ‘turbosuperchargers’ as they were first known as. That’s right, the supercharger is being replaced by its very own offspring.
Without the supercharger, turbos wouldn’t exist. That’s because they’re basically the same thing. The supercharger goes way back – to 1848 to be specific – when the Roots-style compressor was first introduced into the world. It was initially invented as a tool to help ventilate blast furnaces and mine shafts and it wasn’t really used in the automotive industry until 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler patented it for use in internal combustion engines.
Anyway, fast forward 130 years and here we are, watching superchargers go extinct. Although they were once often preferred in performance cars due to their instantaneous nature, as turbo technology has evolved, ordinary turbos have slowly reduced the lag time to make them virtually just as instantaneous as superchargers. Turbo lag is dying, which means superchargers are becoming obsolete.
There are several problems with superchargers that turbos don’t suffer from. First of all, superchargers are driven by a belt, powered by the engine whereas turbos are driven by exhaust gasses. This means that the engines have to work harder to not only turn the wheels of the car, but now also to keep the supercharger spinning. The benefit of this, however, is that superchargers don’t lag when delivering power like turbos do because they’re are already spinning, whereas turbos have to spin themselves up to speed.
That being said, as technology progresses, turbos have become so developed that the lag is now minimal, with them being almost instant. Looking back to the days when even cars like the Ferrari F40 had turbo lag so bad you could literally say “I wish I had a supercharger” before the power was delivered, it’s clear that they’ve come a tremendous way since then.
Another bad thing about superchargers (and probably another main factor to their demise) is that they’re inefficient. Cars with them often have terrible fuel economy which just doesn’t sit well with today’s regulations and culture. Not only have rules, taxes and tests been put in place to encourage the production of highly efficient vehicles but also, who enjoys cars with poor fuel efficiency? If a turbo can offer just the same performance boost as a supercharger and save you £1,000 in fuel each year, why would anyone want to choose a supercharger? Perhaps the unique sound? But other than that, now that lag has been fixed, what else does it have to offer?
Few cars remain that still use a supercharger rather than a single or twin-turbo system. The last cars to hold out and support the supercharger in 2019 includes Jaguar’s F-Type and SV XE Project 8 super saloon, Volvo’s XC90 T6 SUV, the Range Rover SVR and the Dodge Challenger. Other than that, plus a few that I may have forgotten, all other performance cars mainly use turbochargers. However, ten years ago there were much more commonplace and go back twenty years and they were even more abundant.
The days of superchargers are numbered, so next time you see an F-Pace drive past, be sure to listen out for that special whine noise that you won’t hear anywhere else. And then watch them pull into the nearest petrol station because their supercharger has drunk all their fuel!
Let us know in the comments how you feel about the demise of the supercharger.
Also, if you enjoyed reading this, why not read about how the F40 isn’t actually the best supercar ever made, but rather an overrated, turbo-lag-ridden kit car.
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