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2013 Ford Escape (Ford)
2013 Ford Escape (Ford)

Driving It Home

Cato: Turbos give your car a boost, right? Not so fast Add to ...

Turbos, turbos everywhere. Car companies are pushing the benefits of turbocharging as a brilliant approach to squeezing out better fuel economy without sacrificing power.

Is that the case? A definite maybe.

Take Ford Motor’s EcoBoost engines. They do offer the potential for fuel savings, while giving drivers access to crisp acceleration. Thus the name EcoBoost – “Eco” for fuel economy and “Boost” for performance.

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Earlier this year, Consumer Reports said that in its testing, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the Ford Escape 2.0T is just one example of an engine that delivers less fuel economy than V-6 models in the same class. Other “underperformers” are Hyundai Sonata Turbo and Kia’s Sportage Turbo.

Over at Chevrolet, advertising for the Cruze Eco touts a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine. The promotional material says this compact car delivers excellent fuel economy, "sacrificing nothing."

Bu in testing, CR found the 1.4-litre turbo Cruze wasn’t much faster off the line than the Cruze with a less expensive 1.8-litre conventional four-banger. Fuel economy was the same.

The bottom line is that some turbocharged engines appear to be doing the job better than others. This issue is only going to get more important to car buyers. This is a big issue.

New research by www.just-auto.com says in the next couple of years, as many as one in five new vehicles will come with some sort of turbocharging, and by the end of the decade that number will rise to one in three. By 2020, 60 per cent of new vehicles are expected to be turbocharged.

Turbos are one arrow in the quiver of technology that auto makers are using to meet ever-increasing government fuel economy and emissions rules. Turbocharged vehicles use exhaust gases to drive a “turbo” that pumps extra air into the engine. However, as CR notes, “this extra air has to be augmented with extra fuel, which may offset any savings from shrinking engine sizes.”

What’s potentially bad are the real-world fuel economy numbers. Drivers who race around stomping on the throttle will be disappointed by fuel economy. Driver education can help save money at the pump.

As well, not all turbocharging technology is alike. This will show up in real-world fuel economy testing. So isn’t that something government regulators should be doing in a big way?

Over to you, Ottawa and Washington, D.C.

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