The Debate over Turbocharging Supercars

Jay Fuster
November 4, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: Turbocharger (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

As society has become more environmentally conscious in the past decade, engineers have been forced to develop innovative techniques to help reduce damaging emissions. Such has been the case in the automotive industry, as we have seen electric and hybrid cars become increasingly popular. However, hybrids and electric cars thus far have been largely incapable of appealing to passionate sports car owners who are less willing to sacrifice performance for increased mpg. One such solution to cater to these sports car enthusiasts has been the implementation of turbocharged engines in many sports and luxury vehicles. Many popular sports car brands including Porsche, Bentley, Range Rover, Lamborghini, and Ferrari have all begun to produce cars that are turbocharged. However, there remains tension amongst sports car purists who feel these turbocharged engines have limited the throttle response and power of these cars, the attributes that have made these brands so highly demanded. Ferrari in particular remained adamantly against the use of turbocharged engines for years before being dragged into the turbocharged era, prompting the release of the California model T in 2014. In the words of an anonymous engineer at Ferrari, "we don't like the turbo, but it's the right way to reduce emissions without sacrificing performance". [1] Though numbers will support that the turbocharged engines do in fact reduce emissions, in the rest of this paper I will delve deeper into the debate regarding whether there truly is no sacrifice in performance with these turbocharged engines.

How Turbocharged Engines Work and their Advantages

Essentially, turbocharging an engine simply allows a greater amount of air to enter the engine, which in turn generates more power. Regular cars have naturally aspirated engines, meaning that all air intake is natural. With a turbocharged engine, two fans called the turbine and the compressor are located on the same shaft located in the exhaust stream from the engine's cylinders. The turbine uses the exhaust gas to start spinning, which prompts the air compressor to spin as well. This air compressor generates extra air and oxygen that is directed into the cylinders of the engine. This greater amount of air intake allows the engine to burn a greater amount of fuel, which in turn creates more power. [1]

There are multiple advantages to using a turbocharged engine. First off, it increases fuel economy. Turbocharged engines are smaller yet equally as powerful as natural aspirated engines. Since turbo engines are smaller, they require less fuel consumption resulting in much more efficient fuel consumption rates. Another advantage with the turbocharged engine is horsepower. Turbo engines can generate the power of engines nearly twice their size. Further, this power is only generated when the driver commands it, allowing the car to use more efficient fuel consumption. [2]

Why the Debate?

Though turbocharged engines offer a variety of advantages, sports car purist continues to be against them. The key reasons cited are that turbos decrease the throttle response in cars while also diminishing the marquee roars of these sports car engines. [1] There is no disputing that the turbo has to some extent diminished the roar of the sports car compared to how it sounded under a naturally aspirated engine. However, when comparing the numbers of natural and turbo engines, evidence supports the fact that turbo engines are indeed faster.

Let's examine the Ferrari 458 speciale and the Ferrari 488 GTB. Both are marquee Ferraris revered for their on track performance, but the 488 has two turbocharges on its slightly smaller engine. In the 0-62 mph test, both cars took an identical 3 seconds. However, in the 0-124 mph test, the Ferrari 488 took only 8.3 seconds, about a second quicker than the 458. In another test Ferrari performs on all of its cars, each vehicle's best lap is calculated on Ferrari's Fiorano test track. The 488 registered a lap time of 1 minute and 23 seconds, which makes the 488 GTB a half second quicker than the 458 speciale. [3] On top of being faster than the naturally aspirated 458 speciale, the 488 GTB has emissions of 260g/km of CO2 emissions, which is 15 percent less than the 458 speciale. [4]


The debate over the usage of turbochargers in elite sports cars will undoubtedly continue for years to come. As mentioned by the engineer at Ferrari, regardless of the fact that these turbochargers reduce emissions and have even made cars faster, they are to an extent shunned by these prestigious automakers. Though 0-60 mph tests and lap times have largely improved with turbochargers, many believe that the drop in throttle response remains the biggest issue. At this point, there remains a lack of statistical support and studies that can support this claim; however, it is clear that the overall speed of turbocharged cars is greater.

In conclusion, it is important to take a step back and look at the larger issue at hand. Global warming is a serious issue, and it is clear that we must find ways to reduce emissions. With that said, the focus area certainly should not be amongst hyper expensive sports cars that contribute a percentage of essentially zero to automobile CO2 emissions. Perhaps a company like Ferrari should not have to feel as inclined to unwillingly be pulled into the turbocharged era when their vehicles are not responsible for the automobile emissions that are harming the planet. Increasing the access and usage of turbocharges in more popular daily vehicles is the area that should be of greatest focus and that can make the largest difference in the world.

© Jay Fuster. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Cammisa, "Why Ferrari Engineers Don't Like Turbos," Road and Track, 8 Jan 15.

[2] L. Ulrich, "Carmakers Find That Turbos Are a Powerful Path to Fuel Efficiency,"The New York Times, 26 Feb 15.

[3] J. Lorio, "2016 Ferrari 488GTB! The 458 Successor Goes Turbo," Car and Driver, 1 Feb 15.

[4] M. Tisshaw, "2015 Ferrari 488 GTB Unveiled," Autocar, 6 Mar 15.