At this time of year you may find yourself hunting for some new or gently used car deals. And if you are reading this website, you more than likely would prefer your car to be fun. Here is a tip: buy a performance car with a naturally aspirated engine.
Back when I was a cool car teen, devouring every car magazine I could find, engines with turbochargers (and yes, superchargers) seemed so rare and unusual. They were generally the stuff of exotics, expensive tuner cars, high-end Porsches, and only very occasionally affordable fast cars like the Subaru WRX. Most everything else was naturally aspirated—V8s, V6s and high-revving four-cylinders. Factory turbo engines had their day in the 1980s and early 1990s, then they disappeared for a good while. When they appeared on cars after that, they were for something truly special.
A lot has happened since then. Tightening emissions laws have forced engines to shrink in displacement and the power race became extremely competitive in many segments, so automakers turned to turbos to compensate. Nowadays everything from the Honda Accord to the Jeep Wrangler has a factory turbocharger. They’re less special, less exotic than they were.
On one hand, this is a good thing. Power is cheaper and easier to get and easier to tune than ever before. (The alleged efficiency gains are another story.) But we’ve lost something along the way.
These newer turbo engines are good, for sure, but most of them feel the same. They often sound the same. They deliver power much the same, linearly and without the insane drama and violence they used to. They’re a bit boring. I drive a lot of cars—they pay me to do this, for some reason—and so many of these new turbo sixes and fours just feel indistinguishable from one another. Good, but... the same.
What have we lost? Character. Different kinds of noises. In some cases, noises at all—the kind that don’t have to be piped in through speakers. Revving. Glorious, glorious revving. Having to work for speed rather than letting it come easy.
This is the way things will continue to go. Engines will increasingly have forced induction, then be more and more hybridized before going full-on electric. This is fine. Perhaps these engines will deliver on that promise of reduced emissions. This is likely the way things need to go for future generations. My desire for a better tomorrow outweighs my sadness over the loss of traditional engines.
But! While we still can—while you still can—buy the naturally aspirated engines. There are fewer and fewer of them every year. They’re dying off or going turbo. We must celebrate and enjoy them while they last.
Buy a Mazda Miata. Buy a Subaru BRZ or a Toyota 86. Buy a Camaro SS 1LE or a Shelby Mustang GT350R. Buy a Challenger without a blower. All of them are fun, and most of them have more power than you’ll ever need even without supercharging and turbocharging—and they’re far more interesting.
Go out and buy an NA car. Enjoy the sound. Enjoy the revs. Enjoy the power delivery. Enjoy internal combustion the way it was meant to be, while you can.
Buy them. You’ll feel better when you do.