Why are atmospheric engines doomed to extinction?

I don't know how many have already started to notice this, but we are currently witnessing one of the biggest changes in automotive history. Do you realize that the atmospheric cars have become a Rare avis? Ford has been promoting its EcoBoost engines since 2010, and every other manufacturer has followed suit by reducing displacements and adding turbochargers. Some, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have even decided to definitively turn their back on naturally aspirated blocks.

Our parents and grandparents have also been through their fair share of unexpected changes in the automotive industry. You must realize that there was a time when cars did not have an infotainment system (radio-cassette, and thank you), windshield wipers or turn signals (although some have not yet realized their existence).

In a time long ago, instead of using a key or a transponder, you could only start a car by turning the crankshaft by hand with a crank that could kick your leg once it started. The invention of the starter motor single-handedly saved millions of legs.

You could say that once the internal combustion block took over other personal means of propulsion, things haven't changed that much until now, but they did. Of course, in modern dinosaur juice-powered cars, the gasoline/diesel and air are still ignited by spark plugs/heaters inside the cylinder chambers, causing the pistons to move up and down (or side to side in most Subarus and Porsches), which makes the crankshaft rotate. That rotational energy is still sent to the vehicle's transmission, which in turn is transferred to the wheels to drive them.

Still, after all is said and done, and after all the technological improvements of recent years, the modern internal combustion engine is heading towards its imminent demise. The first of them will be the naturally aspirated one. Turbochargers and direct injection have already become the technology of choice for most car manufacturers to be used as a lifeline for internal combustion engines, but as recent events suggest, they are actually far from being solutions.” magical.”

For the uninitiated, a naturally aspirated engine is an internal combustion engine that does not require a complementary system to introduce air into the cylinders. The power and torque produced are purely generated by the engine itself, without the help of a turbo or a volumetric compressor. The energy it produces depends on its size and total cylinders. The higher these two levels are, the easier it is to extract power and torque. As the Americans say, there is no replacement for displacement.

Within naturally aspirated engines, there are two versions: those that use gasoline and those that use diesel. The latter is no longer popular, since, although it is more robust, the specific power is very low compared to a turbodiesel. However, gasoline engines were popular before manufacturers began mass production of forced induction engines. And they have been present in all segments, from a modest Ford Ka to first-class saloons like a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

A great virtue they have is their instant response, since there is no no delay (turbo lag)by pressing the right pedal. The production cost is also lower, since manufacturers do not have to manufacture a turbo or a compressor. Maintenance should also be cheaper and easier, as there are fewer parts than forced induction. It is also safe to say that naturally aspirated engines are more reliable. So what's wrong with these ways of understanding how a car drives? Nothing, simply that they are inferior in performance per cubic centimeter.

Forced induction generates more power and torque with a smaller size, so it will be more efficient and lighter than naturally aspirated. And, with emissions regulations becoming stricter around the globe, turbocharging appears to be the perfect option to reduce them. without losing power or becoming more thirsty. Although that is what all automotive companies – and the mathematical formulas per se – have made us believe, because in day-to-day practice, these small blocks with great specific power are still far from being “the solution.”

Contrary to popular belief, turbocharged small displacement blocks they emit many more emissionsin practice than their larger atmospheric counterparts. The same happens with direct injection engines, which must go hand in hand with particulate filters (just like diesel engines) in order to comply with the Euro 6d emissions regulations. In fact, a few years ago, some experts came to the conclusion that the next generation of thermal mechanics would probably once again be atmospheric, thus improving real-life emissions.

But, as sad as it may seem, there is no turning back. To give some examples from the heart of the automotive industry, Germany, look at the current model range of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. There is only one that still uses a non-supercharged engine, the Audi R8. Each of the rest of the trio's lineups premium germano uses some form of turbocharger –with electrification in some versions–, and we are not just talking about their high-performance models, but about all the dozens of different mechanics that each manufacturer uses.

The downsizing trend will continue, but instead of exclusively using turbocharger boost, companies are now turning to systems mild-hybridor microhybridization / mild hybridization, i.e. combustion engines with a 48 volt backup electrical system. Audi already took a small step in that direction by introducing a V8 with a trio of turbos and an electrically driven compressor. In 2017, Mercedes-Benz did the same with its then newly introduced inline six-cylinder unit, and currently available in some four-cylinder models.

The naturally aspirated engine is dying, and not even electricity will help preserve it a little longer. I am willing to bet that already in 2025, not a single renowned manufacturer will have such an engine in its offer. This It is especially sad for the purists, and especially for those who never got to experience the immediate and linear throttle response of a naturally aspirated engine. Yes, the new turbos and electric compressors will make that time lapse imperceptible, but what about stretching to the top of the rev counter and noticing that there is still room for enjoyment?

Regardless of the passion experienced today when it comes to the world of motors, the truth is that there are many stories to tell the next generation of car lovers who, hopefully, will one day keep the fire burning for this means of transportation. . In the meantime, the only thing yours truly can say is that, if you can afford a car with a naturally aspirated engine that suits your needs, make a space for it in your garage space. And if you are looking for something in the used market and you have never had the opportunity to drive one, give it a try.

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