Why Volvo’s Turbo Power Will Have Its Hour

Source: Volvo
Source: Volvo

For this week’s Turbo Tuesday, we’re going to do something a little different. Instead of dissecting a force-fed vehicle, we’re taking a look at what our friends at Volvo are up to. The Swedes have been having all sorts of fun lately, yet for some reason Americans largely remain ignorant to the fact that there’s a 345-horsepower, Polestar edition of the S60 out there, and between its all-wheel drive setup, flared fenders, and turbocharged ferocity, it’s rather odd that no one seems to notice.

But Volvo doesn’t aggressively market the Polestar line, nor does it make very many of them for that matter. Instead, it has dropped bucket loads of time, money, and energy into the development of new powertrains for its upcoming models and, in the process, has found a way to virtually eliminate turbo lag altogether. And so far, it’s paid off — its T6 Drive-E engine was recently named one of WardsAuto’s 10 Best Engines for 2016.

Source: Volvo
Source: Volvo

The panel of judges called this powerplant “the new benchmark for high-output 4-cylinder engines” and praised it for delivering the “refined output, power, and composure of a high-feature 6-cylinder engine.” This marks the second time Volvo has garnered recognition from WardsAuto for its Drive-E engine family, and this time around Wards’ editors “routinely got better than 24 miles per gallon in a big 7-passenger CUV with all-wheel drive.” Not bad, especially considering the little four-banger also pushes out 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

How is this all possible, you might ask? Well, in a quest to offer Americans the performance they crave, the engine powering the XC90 we liked so much has been supercharged, then turbocharged in order to offer multiple forms of forced induction. It may sound like some bad line Xzibit would utter after pimping-out someone’s ride, but this is Volvo we’re talking about here. Not only is this no gimmick, the Wards nomination alone should tell you the Swedes are on to something big.

“Achieving an effective level of balance across comfort, efficiency, and power has been the ultimate goal for our creation of the Drive-E engine family across our global model range” says Michael Fleiss, vice president of the powertrain department at Volvo Car Group. “The T6 Drive-E uses both supercharging and turbocharging, delivering a lively, compelling result. We are honored to once again receive recognition for our engines from WardsAuto as we continue to pioneer new, effective technologies for our vehicles and customers.”

WardsAuto editors selected the winning engine out of 31 nominees, after a long appraisal process largely based on everyday driving studies. Additional focus was put on horsepower, torque, comparative specs, noise attenuation, fuel economy, and the application of new technology. While the “perfect engine” still doesn’t exist, the T6 Drive-E might not be that far off, as superchargers offer instant torque, while the turbos pick up the pace along the top end where the ponies prance. Already found in the XC90 SUV, this force-fed powertrain will also be gracing the engine bay of the forthcoming S90 luxury sedan.

Source: Volvo
Source: Volvo

On the other end of the spectrum is Volvo’s unabashedly brilliant PowerPulse turbo diesel engine. It’s not as hot as the T6, but it’s bringing us one step closer to banishing turbo lag — the bane of all boost junkies — once and for all.

For those not in the know, turbo lag has to be one of the most annoying experiences you can have behind the wheel. Turbos are designed to add power, but they must first spool-up properly to build adequate boost pressure. This waiting process may take a few painfully slow seconds, but as soon as the turbo spools up, all your worries disappear. Think of it as delayed gratification for speed freaks, boost junkies, and impatient people.

Despite this issue (which can cause plenty of embarrassment at a stoplight), it seems like every time we turn around, another automaker is outfitting an engine with a turbocharger. While there’s nothing wrong with that, potential car buyers need to understand that the word “turbo” doesn’t always mean instant power right off the launch pad. At least, that used to be the case…

The video above is a look at what makes Volvo’s PowerPulse technology so unique, and while it may look complex to the untrained eye, this design is such a no-brainer that the entire automotive industry probably let out a collective “D’oh!” the moment they saw it. In a few short seconds Volvo explains that while its T6 engine is earth-shatteringly swift (and virtually lag-free) thanks to the use of a supercharger, for those who don’t want or need the extra oomph, the use of a system like the one seen here is far more appropriate.

Instead of offering more force-fed power via a belt-driven supercharger, the PowerPulse design takes a canister of compressed air, which is constantly being refilled via the air filter, and as soon as the computer senses someone is thrashing the throttle, blasts a compressed shot of fresh oxygen into the housing. This causes the turbo to spool up extremely quickly, negating any need to wait on a slow flow of oxygen. Once the system senses the turbo does not require any more pressurized air, the valve closes, and the canister gets refilled with fresh content for the next stoplight launch. This is the kind of simplistic, solid engineering that makes you wonder why no one had thought of this sooner. Now if only someone could design a bag of cereal that has a ziplock.

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