Bolting air compressors to engines is fun.
The internal combustion engine is, very simply, essentially a series of controlled explosions used to generate mechanical propulsion. For an internal combustion engine, those explosions are created by combusting fuel with an oxidizer in a chamber. The fuel is usually gasoline, the oxidizer is air, and the explosions are caused by a series of electrical sparks. The explosion pushes down on a cylinder head to drive the piston down, and the reciprocating motion is used to turn the energy into mechanical drive. The challenge for making more power is to create more violent explosions, which means more gas and more air in the same ratio.
Injecting more gas into a cylinder is the easy bit, but air is more of a challenge and that’s where forced induction comes in. The trick to getting more air into a chamber is to compress and force it in. The two common ways to do that is using a turbocharger, which is powered by exhaust gasses spinning a turbine, or a supercharger that uses the engine's drive to force in the extra air.
Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. A turbocharger is reliant on the exhaust gases being produced. More gases are produced at higher engine revs, so it takes time for the turbo to work up to do its job properly. Turbo lag is how people describe the delay before the turbo comes on. A supercharger differs by using the mechanical drive of the engine so it’s always spinning, so there’s no lag time and power is instant. However, it’s not as efficient as a turbocharger as it's using the engine's drive and because a turbocharger isn't limited by the engine, it can spin faster.
The turbocharger has become more and more popular as it can be used to bolster power in smaller displacement engines. Superchargers are generally only used for performance vehicles as they bring excellent low-end response and smoother delivery of extra power. Here are some of the best-loved supercharged cars ever made.
In the early 2000s, liked to use a supercharger but pretty much abandoned them after 2006. In 2002, Mercedes wasn’t happy other companies were outperforming the W210 E55’s naturally aspirated V8, so AMG went ahead and dropped in a 5.4-liter Kompressor instead and unleashed 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque into the sedate-looking cruiser. There was also a station wagon variant of the that made 0-60 mph in a little over 4 seconds, and fast enough for Michael Schumacher to own.
The only offered a couple of small stickers to let people know something extra was bolted to the engine. In 1988 it also became one of the few times America got something that was otherwise JDM only. The supercharger was belt driven, but Toyota approached the efficiency problem by using an electromagnetic clutch so the supercharger wouldn't be driven by the belt until it was needed.
Currently, Jaguar is keen on the benefits of superchargers. The , but currently, you can choose from two flavors of supercharged V6 that are fast enough on their own. However, you can also pick up the R and SVR models with supercharged V8s that make 550 and 575 horsepower respectively. Both are best described as being ballistically fast.
Cadillac’s answer to a question nobody actually asked is a purebred stunner. The American luxury car company’s answer to BMW M cars uses a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that propels it to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and then 100 mph in just 3.9 seconds later before pushing the CTS-V all the way up into the 200 mph club. It but it’s still a viable and incredibly exciting option.
The S4 started life with a five-cylinder engine, then changed to a twin-turbo V6 before going to a V8 then back to the V6 option. Audi has , but the B8 generation featured a wonderful neck challenging 3.0-liter supercharged V6 making 329 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque.
In an odd move, in 2008 Toyota started selling a supercharger kit for the 5.7-liter V8 . The beauty was that when the kit was installed by a Toyota dealer the Tundra would make 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, run the quarter-mile in 13.0 sec at 106.3 mph, and keep the existing warranty intact.
When Porsche dropped the Cayenne on the public, many people were appalled. Many still are, and making a hybrid version didn't help. However, Porsche also served up a performance-oriented SUV. For the Cayenne S Hybrid, it used a supercharged V6 that from 2014 - 2018 helped bring the drivetrain up to 410 horsepower with 435 lb-ft of torque.
Volvo’s reemergence has seen the company move into the luxury market. In T6 spec, Volvo's XC90 has a 2.0-liter inline-four - meaning it's bolstered by both a turbocharger and a supercharger. The XC90 T6 engine makes 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Companies have been using small engines and turbos for fuel economy, but the T6 gets just 22 miles per gallon combined city and highway. Given the lack of fuel economy crossed with the complexity of two forced induction systems working together, it makes us wonder why it didn’t go for a 6-cylinder naturally aspirated or just supercharged engine.
Jaguar has baked in very little compromise for its crossover, other than it being a crossover. Aimed at enthusiasts, the delivers the space people want with Jaguar’s modern styling, firm suspension, sharp handling, and a range of engine options including an urgent supercharged V6.
Curiously, the Range Rover seems to have picked up Jaguar’s old maxim of grace, space, and pace. There's an entry-level supercharged V6 on offer, more interestingly, a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 option. For extra oomph, the brings the supercharged V8 from 518 horsepower to 575 as well as adding reworked suspension that dials out some of the body-roll in corners.
The current ZR1 is one of those cars that looks way more expensive than it is. For through the drivetrain. The ZL1 spec, including the addition of a supercharger, brings an addition of 195 horses over the Camaro SS model. The SS is breathtakingly fun, but the power delivery of the ZR1 is staggering.
The daddy of the production car quarter-mile makes its intimidating 797 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque using a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8. The supercharger itself has a 2.7-liter capacity, although if those numbers don’t frighten your passengers enough, for a 4.5-liter unit and to bring the Redeye up to 1,035 horsepower on race gas along with 948 lb-ft of torque.
We couldn’t end this list without mentioning . The supercharged 6.2-liter LT5 V8 delivers 755 horsepower along with 715 lb-ft of torque in a special delivery to the rear wheels. The engine reaches out of the center of the carbon-fiber hood and you can watch it move with every input of the accelerator as it pulls against its mounts.