Aftermarket Performance, Factory Parts
The automotive aftermarket is a multi-billion dollar industry, which allows drivers to tailor vehicles to their exact preferences—whether that means aesthetic upgrades, improved convenience, or new parts and technologies that result in a quicker, more responsive ride. For many gearheads, “stock” is a dirty word because of the sheer number of options one has to personalize and adjust every aspect of a vehicle’s look and feel. But major modifications often catalyze complicated and expensive chain reactions: for example, modifying an engine to produce more power may also result in the need for a specialized exhaust system, or extra gauges, or numerous other additions. For every diehard enthusiast, there’s a driver who craves the same performance and style upgrades, but doesn’t have the time or effort to spend wading through the vast and often intimidating sea of aftermarket options.
These drivers are in luck—many key performance upgrades are now available straight from the factory. Here are six of the most exciting technologies to look for straight from manufacturers, so you can drive off the lot in your own readymade high performance machine.
More and more vehicles are now equipped with turbochargers (“turbos”) straight from the factory. This is the best way to get a big boost in horsepower without opting for a bigger engine. The power increase is particularly palpable because turbos are relatively lightweight. They work by compressing the air that flows into each engine cylinder during operation. More air in each cylinder means more fuel can be sparked for each explosion.
Getting a turbo built-in from the factory can work to your advantage, because many other specialized systems are necessary to tune the performance of a turbocharged vehicle to prevent any engine damage. Having those systems already built-in can help you avoid a lot of cost and trouble.
Direct injection (DI) refers to a method of feeding fuel directly into an engine’s cylinders during operation, and it’s especially desirable because it improves an engine’s performance and efficiency at the same time. DI technology precisely regiments the ratio and pressure of the air-fuel mixture in each cylinder. This allows engines to make the most power from every drop of fuel. DI also further boosts fuel economy by slightly changing its operation depending on how much work is required of the engine.
Currently, the biggest downside to DI technology is price. It requires placing fuel injectors in extremely high-pressure, high-heat locations, so more expensive materials are necessary. However, the fuel economy and performance benefits of DI are difficult to ignore, so it’s becoming more common in new vehicles.
Various auto manufacturers are now beefing up their automatic transmissions, developing ones with seven and even eight speeds. This isn’t necessarily meant to encourage drivers to push the limits (though some will be tempted), but to provide smoother shifts by placing the gears closer together. Although most drivers won’t regularly hit that top gear, the performance and efficiency benefits will be clear across the gear spectrum.
However, many enthusiasts will never abandon the added control of a standard manual transmission. Even so, Dual-Clutch Transmissions (“DCTs”) may be of interest. They reflect the basic ideas and operation of a typical manual transmission, but with a twist. In lieu of a driver-operated clutch pedal, there are two built-in clutches, each responsible for alternating gears. Sophisticated electronics govern the shifts, which occur faster than even the most skilled human hand. And for drivers that require a stronger connection to the road, DCTs also offer a “manual” mode where drivers can shift gears with paddles mounted on either side of the steering wheel.
Moving away from the powertrain, one emerging technology for improving the feel of your ride is an active suspension. Standard suspensions attempt to strike a balance between inspiring confidence and providing comfort, but these two goals are often at odds. Confidence means having a strong connection to the road—including all its bumps and potholes. And when your ride gets too cushy, handling can suffer.
Enter active suspensions. These systems use sensors to monitor road conditions every millisecond. The sensors then relay that data to a computer that controls key suspension components. For example, a vehicle can be riding along smoothly until the sharp drop of a pothole—sensors will instantaneously let the computer know what’s coming, so your suspension can brace itself for impact, all in the blink of an eye.
Electronic Stability Control
Another groundbreaking technology to improve handling that’s spreading across all vehicle markets is electronic stability control. Different manufacturers use different acronyms for it, but the technology remains the same. It’s particularly useful in poor weather conditions, or when you’re pushing the car to the edge of its capabilities. Sensors monitor the traction of each tire, and immediately work to correct a skid or loss of control. The system does this in two ways: either by applying brakes to only the affected tire(s) or by providing more power for the tire(s) with the most grip.
Low-Profile Tires and Wheels
Nearly every tire currently on the road would correctly be classified as a “performance” tire, but something extra is necessary for those vehicles that distance themselves from the pack, both literally and figuratively. The current performance trend is low-profile tires, which sport stiffer sidewalls and less distance between the rim and the road. Low-profile tires are also generally wider than the average tire, which means quicker starts and stops, and more responsive handling. A final advantage is appearance—low-profile tires are sleek and stylish, and can be paired with similarly stylish performance wheels.
However, keep in mind that low-profile tires present a trade-off. Their greater connection with the road goes both ways, and the ride will not be as comfortable. Also, the tires and wheels are more susceptible to damage resulting from city driving and harsh winter weather conditions.
Just about any part of your vehicle can be interchanged with something sleeker, lighter or more powerful. Price and availability are still roadblocks for some of these technologies, but the benefits will outweigh the costs for many performance-conscious drivers.
So whether you want more get-up-and-go, better handling, more efficiency, or all of the above, check into your options from the factory. Just because you don’t have the dedication or knowledge of an expert enthusiast, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun like one.
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