As turbocharged vehicles become more popular for their increased efficiency and power benefits, manufacturers have spent millions on trying to reduce the phenomenon of turbo lag and make these engines perform more like a naturally aspirated engine. Likewise, auto writers always seem to take the time in their reviews to praise these companies for eliminating that pesky lump of power. In this industry, it seems like turbo lag is almost unanimously viewed as problem that requires mitigation and elimination.
I very much disagree. I think turbo lag is a feature rather than a bug, and we should be embracing it. The sudden increase of power creates a sensation that feels a bit like going over the top of a roller coaster, and the non-linear power delivery makes it possible to feel like you’re riding a wave of torque. It also adds a lot of personality to the way a car performs — and more personality is rarely a bad thing in cars. It’s particularly great in small hot hatches, as that power is usually delivered below highway speeds, making it something that can be experienced in everyday driving situations.
Turbo lag’s bad rap comes from the early days of its automotive applications, particularly in relation to the first Porsche 911 Turbo model, dubbed the 930. When the 930 was released, it quickly became known for its speed — as well as its tendency to deliver a lump of power all at once when the driver wasn’t expecting it, somewhere north of 6,000 rpm. This led to enough accidents that the car earned a reputation as a widow maker — and accordingly automakers have been trying to minimize lag.
But cars have come a long way since the late 1970s, and there are many other ways of mitigating turbo lag without eliminating it. Between traction control, stability control, and anti-lock brakes, cars are less likely to depart from control or surprise their drivers in unexpected ways. Computers can and will mitigate any potential downsides, while people will still be able to enjoy the sudden rush of power. Therefore, it’s time for turbo lag to no longer be seen as a pariah, but rather embraced for what it is: something that adds a little personality, and a little fun, to turbocharged cars.
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