Turbocharger and supercharger: They’re both cool words. They’re both about cars. But what do they mean? What is a turbocharger? And which is better, a supercharger or a turbo?

While these words get thrown around a lot, they do actually mean something in automotive circles. If you want to learn more, then read on.

Power and air

How much power an internal combustion engine is capable of producing is mostly based on how much fuel it’s able to burn and how well it converts the heat produced into mechanical force. Fuel requires oxygen to combust, so the engine’s power is dependent on the amount of air it takes in to burn the fuel.

This is why putting additional air into the engine will result in higher fuel burn and more power. This intake of air is provided by a turbocharger or supercharger. Both of these compress air, but they perform and function in different ways.

A turbo will use the velocity and heat of the engine’s exhaust gases to rotate a small compressor for additional air. The supercharger also pumps in more air but is utilized mechanically by the engine through a belt connected to the crankshaft or by electric motor.

Pros and cons

Both of these power-boosting features offer benefits and disadvantages. The clearest one is that, in a turbocharged car, there will be a slightly delayed response when you press down the accelerator. Turbochargers take a moment to provide their additional boosts of power. This phenomenon is known as boost lag or turbo lag. Still, you’re likely getting a 30 or 40 percent power boost.

Superchargers, on the other hand, have no lag. The air is pumped directly to the engine’s crankshaft, ensuring that it’s always spinning and responding instantly. If you press the accelerator down, you’ll feel that extra power.

However, what superchargers gain in boost lag, they lose on efficiency. These engines tend to be less fuel efficient due to how they generate power.

Which is better?

If you’re looking to race dragsters, then clearly the supercharger wins. You don’t have any time to waste to get that extra horsepower. On the other hand, auto manufacturers that need to adhere to government fuel standards and keep production costs down have chosen turbochargers instead.

That said, it is possible to find plenty of supercharged vehicles on the market. This is mostly for high-performance vehicles. Volvos that are equipped with 2.0 liter twin-charged engines (such as the XC60 and XC90 T6 and T8 models) have both a turbocharger and a supercharger.

This takes advantage of the strengths of each type of modification. The supercharger provides boost at low rpms (revolutions per minute) while the turbo spools up; then the supercharger is declutched, and the turbo takes over.

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