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Turbo cars not as fuel friendly

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

While smaller, turbocharged engines are often touted as providing better car fuel economy without compromising power, a new Consumer Reports study finds that these engines often don't measure up to the hype, which can mean a higher car loan payment without a good return on the investment.

The magazine's latest round of tests of cars equipped with turbocharged engines found mixed results. Cars such as the Ford Escape 2-liter turbo, Hyundai Sonata turbo and Kia Sportage turbo, all of which were equipped with four-cylinder turbocharged engines, had worse fuel economy than their V-6 counterparts.

The group also tested the same cars with turbo and nonturbo four-cylinder engines. In its test of the Chevrolet Cruze with the conventional 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, it found that the turbocharged model felt only marginally more powerful in regular driving, was only slightly faster in its zero-to-60 mph tests and got the same fuel economy as the larger conventional engine.

These findings are significant not only because consumers may feel misled by the marketing hype of turbocharged engines, but also because turbocharged engines generally cost more than their conventional engine counterparts. For example, the Chevrolet Cruze is priced at $19,035 for the LS model with the conventional 1.8-liter engine and automatic transmission, while the LT model with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and an automatic transmission starts at $20,465. The $1, 430 price difference includes additional features as standard equipment, but for consumers who are buying the turbocharged model for power and fuel economy only, spending more could translate into a big disappointment.

Do these findings discourage you from switching to a turbocharged model? are models with conventional engines looking better to you?

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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george strickland
January 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm

the only reason I would buy a turbo is if I want the performance you get from one,i have an 87 buick grand national that runs like a scalded dog and I love it but I don't worry about the milage although its pretty good,buying a turbo or a diesel and paying more for it is not too smart,you will never get your money back.

Dominic Amann
October 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Turbocharging is not a silver bullet for performance or fuel economy. It allows for more power from a given size engine.

If I "hypermile", I will enjoy the Turbocharged engine's economy (as being proportionally better than its non-turbocharged cousin), while I still have the oomph available for that highway merge or touch and go overtaking manoever.

On the other hand, if I just shove the pedal down to go from one traffic light to the next (as I observe the majority of motorists do), then going Turbo will not help you much if at all. It is really all about driver habits. If you are someone who can drive with restraint, coasting where possible and accelerating gently where safe and polite to do so, then the Turbo version will pay off in fuel savings. Also driving with restraint will reap dividends(in any car) in brakes, struts, shocks, engine, insurance and tickets.

This may all be anathema to the car industry, or even auto journalism but as an individual, I feel I don't owe them a larger contribution of my money than I have to part with.