Turbochargers and superchargers both deliver more air to the engine thus increasing its performance, but the method it creates air is totally different.
The recent influx of small yet powerful engines in cars owes all of its glory to forced induction. Through this engine process, cars with small engines can benefit from better performance and fuel economy.
But what is forced induction? Well, forced induction is a technique of increasing the supply of air that is forced/compressed through the throttle body so that the pressure in the combustion chamber can be increased, which results in a significant increase in engine performance.
Generally, manufacturers either turn to the turbocharger or supercharger to provide the engine with this forced air. Both devices can help boost engine performance, which may even turn some cars into high-performance machines with great speed despite their relatively small displacement.
But what are turbochargers and superchargers? Let's break it down.
A turbocharger is a device that consists of two blades back to back connected to an axle in a housing shaped like a snail shell. The main turbo parts are divided into two sections, namely the hot side and the cold side. The principle of how it works is that the turbo is powered through the use of air pressure from the exhaust of the combustion chamber to move the blade on the hot side of the turbo.
With the movement of the blade on the hot side, the blade on the cold side automatically rotates because the two blades are connected to the same axle. When the blades on the cold side rotate (spooling), it will suck as much air as possible and compress it into a solid unit (dense air) which is then sent back to the combustion chamber via the throttle body. This gush of dense air helps the engine create more power.
A Supercharger has the same working principle as a turbocharger. However, there is a significant difference in the method it uses to deliver compressed air. Unlike a turbocharger that works by utilising exhaust fumes to supply compressed air, a supercharger works by utilising the engine, which sees it being connected to the engine via a belt to rotate the compressor blade inside the supercharger unit.
Diagram credit, The Drive
Because of its direct parasitic nature, there is no power lag as the supercharger is always spinning due to it being connected to the engine's crankshaft, which is also constantly spinning. Superchargers are known to provide instant acceleration and linear power delivery, unlike the big gushes of power that turbochargers deliver.
So which one is better?
While the supercharger doesn't have any lag, it does tend to return bad fuel economy as it robs more and more power from the engine as it climbs through the rev range. The reason for this is because the supercharger uses the engine's power to spin itself. This is considered inefficient, but if big direct kicks from acceleration is what you are looking for, hands down, the supercharger wins.
Despite its turbo lag, which is relatively minimal in the modern-day, the turbocharger is considered a more efficient performance enhancer for the engine. Due to its ability to provide better performance as well as fuel economy, most car manufacturers choose to equip their engines with turbochargers as it has the better balance of both worlds.
For this reason alone, the turbocharger wins over the supercharger as it's not so much about power but rather fuel efficiency. The ever-increasing and stricter emissions standards and desire for good fuel economy have driven car manufacturers to utilise turbochargers more than superchargers.
As an example, muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger HELLCAT which don't have fuel efficiency at the top of their priority usually utilise a supercharger, but cars like the Toyota GR Yaris which aims to achieve both fuel efficiency and good performance will generally come with a turbocharger.
As you can see, turbochargers can deliver the best of both worlds, while superchargers only have one goal, which is to deliver performance from the get-go.