The first mass-produced car fitted with a turbocharger, or turbo for short, was the Oldsmobile Jetfire, launched by General Motors in 1962 fitted with the company’s own Turbo Jetfire engine. Over the next 15 years, other car companies started to experiment with this new turbo technology, which had the capacity to improve both engine efficiency and power output. By the time the 1980s rolled around, most car manufacturers were producing at least one turbo vehicle to make sure they could compete with their rivals.
Most people who buy turbo cars do so because they know they are getting a more powerful and efficient vehicle, but do any of these drivers really understand the science behind what makes a turbocharger work?
Turbochargers are turbine-driven devices that increase an engine’s power output by forcing compressed air into the combustion chamber. This improves a vehicle’s efficiency and fuel economy by allowing the engine to generate more power per cycle.
But simply adding a turbocharger to the engine doesn’t turn an intrinsically bad car into a great one. It can just make a bad car more powerful. The magic word “turbo” doesn’t mean that motorists are getting their hands on a dream machine; in fact, as this list demonstrates, there are plenty of turbocharged cars out there that motorists shouldn’t touch, even with a ten-foot pole!
19 2018 Chevrolet Trax
General Motors’ Chevrolet Trax has been in production since 2012 and is available with both a 1.4-liter turbo engine or a 1.7-liter turbodiesel engine. There is nothing entirely wrong with the 2018 compact crossover SUV, it is just a singularly unimpressive car.
It is the kind of vehicle you could imagine being bought in bulk by a rental car company, and that isn’t meant to be a compliment.
The Trax is just a steady and slightly clunky SUV, with very little to sell it to motorists who enjoy driving, and there doesn’t seem to be much need for those turbo engines under the hood!
18 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross was launched in 2017, making its debut at that year’s Geneva Auto Show as the Japanese car manufacturer attempted to worm its way into the competitive compact-crossover SUV market.
The Eclipse Cross wasn’t the first Mitsubishi vehicle to bear the Eclipse name.
The name initially belonged to a stylish sport-compact, which was built between 1990 and 2012 and was actually named after an 18th-century English racehorse that had won an impressive 26 races. The Eclipse Cross, however, was a shadow of its former incarnation, and not even a pretty decent turbo engine could rescue the compact crossover's dodgy reputation.
17 2005 Saleen S7 Twin Turbo
The Saleen S7 is a little-known American supercar which made a spectacular entrance onto the automobile market in 2000. It came with an impressive V8 engine mounted behind the driver, which generated more than enough power for even the most aggressive of supercar drivers. For some reason, Saleen decided that their updated version of the S7 was going to be fitted with a rather unnecessary twin-turbocharger setup, and claimed that this would give the vehicle a top speed of 248mph. As well as being unnecessarily fast, the Saleen S7 was also overpriced, with new models costing at least $375,000.
16 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am Turbo
Turbo engines may be more efficient, but no one goes out and buys a turbocharger because they want better fuel economy. Typically, if you’re buying a car with that magic five-letter word on the rear, it’s because you want to know that you can, at least, go faster than other people on the road, even if the law of the land keeps you under the speed limit. However, the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am Turbo, an absolute classic car of the 1980s, showed no better pace than the non-turbo version of the same vehicle. For a few hundred dollars less, you could do without the turbo engine and still enjoy the same performance stats.
15 1981 Maserati Biturbo
Maserati is one of the most iconic names in motoring, but the 1981 Maserati Biturbo is proof that even the best don’t always get everything right. The Biturbo was actually a family of cars, all fitted with twin-turbo engines, as the name suggests, with various shapes comprising of a classic grand tourer, a sedan, and a luxury sports coupe. However, the Biturbo was not one of Maserati’s high-end vehicles; this was a car made on the cheap, in a bid to appeal to a wider market of motorists, most of whom wouldn’t have usually been able to afford anything with the Maserati badge on the hood.
14 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300SD
In the early days of turbocharger technology, it tended to be sporty roadsters or American muscle cars which were blessed with these powerful turbo engines by their manufacturers. In 1979, however, Mercedes-Benz—the German automotive giant—decided that it was high time some of the more grown-up customers got to try turbo engines too and started selling the 300SD, the first turbodiesel to hit the market. As with many technologies, however, this early innovation wasn’t entirely successful, and it was many years before turbodiesel cars began selling in significant numbers. The 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300SD may be a disappointment, but it should be viewed as a stepping stone to later, much better, vehicles.
13 2006 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
In 2006, Chrysler decided they wanted to develop a new vehicle for the hot hatchback market and came up with the Dodge Caliber SRT-4, a boxy and unattractive effort in a marketplace that is all about style and elegance.
Not only that, but the vehicle’s turbo engine didn’t really live up to expectations either.
In many ways, the Dodge Caliber SRT-4 is a perfectly adequate car, but motorists splashing out on turbo vehicles don’t want adequate, they want something special. And that simply is not delivered in this particular model, which also happened to be one of the more expensive hot hatches of that time.
12 Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Land Rover is better known for their sturdy and dependable off-road vehicles; even Queen Elizabeth is a well-known fan of Land Rovers when she is on her country estates, driving herself around the grounds of her castles for many years.
The Range Rover Sport may be a slightly sportier version of the classic Range Rover luxury SUV, at least in appearance.
But in terms of the turbo engine under the hood, the kind of people who want to drive fast and powerful turbochargers are not the same people who want to get behind the wheel of a Land Rover and go exploring off the beaten track.
11 1980s Dodge Daytona
Built between 1984 and 1993, the Dodge Daytona has the rather unwelcome reputation of being one of the worst Chrysler vehicles of its time. For a supposedly turbocharged vehicle, the power output of the Daytona was disappointingly low—even those with the supposedly powerful engines could only produce 142hp.
Not only were the mid-80s Daytona models disappointingly slow, but they looked pretty ugly too.
Chrysler had fallen into the standard 1980s motoring trap of making the car all angles, straight lines, and sharp corners, which we all know now was a design disaster. This was definitely not a classic Dodge, and one which was soon forgotten.
10 2014 Fiat 500L
There are so many problems with the 2014 Fiat 500L that it is difficult to know where to start. But perhaps the most obvious issue is the fact that the Fiat designers have stolen most of the car’s style from the classic Mini! The 2014 model was such a disappointment that US consumers voted it the most unreliable car on the market, mainly because of issues with the transmission system and the vehicle’s in-car infotainment. The sluggish transmission undid much of the advantages that might have been gained from the turbo models of the 2013 Fiat 500L.
9 2018 Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen Golf is notorious in Europe as the car of choice for “boy racers”, younger, typically male drivers who like to spend thousands of dollars modifying their vehicles to ensure that they can go as fast as possible.
Unsurprisingly, they all choose to buy the turbo version of the German compact car, first made in 1974 and in constant production ever since.
However, the 2018 model fails to live up to expectations when it comes to the engineering side, even though fans say that Volkswagen has made some improvements when it comes to the styling of their extremely popular vehicle.
8 2015 BMW i8
A great sounding engine is one of the main reasons people like to drive high-power performance cars, but when your sleek and sophisticated roadster is powered by a hybrid system utilizing a tiny turbo engine, volume is always going to be an issue. The 2015 BMW i8 may be an environmentally-friendly motorist’s dream, but the manufacturer clearly knew where the car’s flaws lay, as they have crafted a system which pumps fake engine noise into the cabin as you drive! If a throaty engine roar when you hit the accelerator is that important to you, then it's probably best to avoid this BMW hybrid turbo.
7 2017 Chevrolet Camaro
One of the most iconic cars in US motoring history, the Chevrolet Camaro is perhaps the ultimate version of that most quintessential of car classes: the muscle car. While the vehicle has enjoyed an illustrious history since it first rolled off the production line in 1966, not every model has been a rousing success for Chevrolet. A consumer study in 2018 found that Chevy was the most unreliable brand overall, and the Camaro, despite its powerful turbo engine and classic styling, was the least reliable model from the Chevrolet stable. Perhaps this one is a case of too much style over substance?
6 2017 Jaguar F-Pace
From a classic Detroit muscle car to one of the most established names in British motoring; Jaguar. The F-Pace, however, is not what you would describe as a typical Jaguar. In fact, the rather boxy vehicle is the company’s somewhat misguided attempt to get a slice of the crossover SUV market. Powered by either a 2.0-liter or 3.0-liter turbocharged engine (or 3.0-liter and 5.0-liter supercharged engines) there is no doubting the power behind this particular model. And though the interior is as luxurious as you would expect from a Jaguar, it is just the exterior appearance that the company has got badly wrong.
5 2012-16 Ford Focus
The 2016 Ford Focus has been a disaster from the moment it first rolled off the production line. It may look good, especially to its younger target audience, and it may be powered by a 1.5-liter turbo petrol engine or a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine, but it has been plagued by problems from day one. Ford is facing a raft of lawsuits, filed by the owners of both Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta vehicles, who have experienced serious issues with the transmission and clutch on their models, to the extent that some of the cars have become dangerous to drive.
4 1988 Maserati Karif
The 1980s really were the heyday of the turbocharged car; although they had been around since the 1960s, it was only from 1978 onwards that turbos started to be built in mass numbers by a wide variety of motor manufacturers.
The 1988 Maserati Karif was not, however, one of the best turbo models to emerge from the 80s.
Built on the same platform as the Maserati Biturbo which made an appearance earlier in this list, the Karif was just as ugly, and its twin-turbo engine was just as unreliable. The 1980s is probably a decade that Maserati designers would like to soon forget.
3 1990s Jaguar XJ220
This is another Jaguar car which doesn’t really look how motoring fans expect Jaguars to look. But in the 1990s, everyone was trying to get into the supercar business, even the respectable, established manufacturer from the UK. Initially a concept car which was due to be sold on a limited run, the XJ220 proved so popular that Jaguar decided to launch it into full production. Despite its powerful 3.5-liter twin turbo engine, and a top speed of 212.3 mph, this was a car whose look belongs back in the decade that style forgot, and its over-inflated $500,000 price tag didn’t help make it any more attractive.
2 2012 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Hyundai was so proud of the fact that their stylish coupe had a turbocharged engine that they made sure everyone knew about it by including “Turbo” in the name.
Unfortunately, the name is where the list of good things about the Hyundai Veloster Turbo ends.
Aside from owners reporting a number of minor flaws and faults with the vehicle, many people also found it rather a clunky drive, with nowhere near the pace and acceleration you would expect from a car with Turbo actually in the name. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo name may suggest velocity and speed, but this car just doesn’t live up to expectations.
1 2010 Ford Taurus
The Ford Taurus was designed to be a safe and steady mid-size family car, which made the decision to add a twin-turbo engine to the sixth-generation model launched in 2010 seem rather bizarre. Of course, just because you have a family doesn’t mean that you can’t have a powerful and exciting car, but safety does tend to be more important when you’re ferrying little ones about. Plus, the middle-aged look of the car is not going to appeal to the kind of drivers who would usually be interested in a twin turbo vehicle. A swing and a miss here for Ford.