I might be a little late with my prediction for the New Year and the new decade, but in the automotive world I’m predicting that this will be the year — and will usher in the decade — of the turbocharger.
Of course turbos aren’t new. They’ve been around for decades in cars and even longer in airplanes, usually in special performance models of automobiles. But automakers are struggling to keep engines small enough to produce good fuel economy numbers but with sufficient power output to keep drivers happy. Turbo charging is a way to accomplish that end.
Ford is making a big push for its EcoBoost system, used for now on a V6 in the Taurus SHO and other models. Before long, the brand will be applying turborchargers to a variety of engines of all sizes, all wearing the logo of EcoBoost.
Other brands are embracing the turbo as well, from Hyundai to BMW. Within a few years, the number of cars and trucks on the road with either standard or optional turbocharging systems will be staggering, to the point that it won’t even garner special badging on the car, the way fuel injection used to when it was considered exotic.
The latest vehicle to get some power help from a turbo is Cadillac’s 2010 SRX crossover SUV. The previous SRX was a larger, rear wheel drive vehicle that came with either a base V6 engine or an optional V8. The problem with the latter was that it returned pretty dismal fuel economy. The new SRX is a smaller and more efficient vehicle, so it gets its optional power from an efficient 2.8 liter V6 with turbo boost.
When I first drove the new SRX last summer, the one area I felt it was lacking was in get-up-and-go. Cadillac held its media program for the vehicle in the hills of Malibu and at times the base 3.0 liter engine felt strained when climbing steep grades. Just arriving now is the upgraded model badged 2.8T, upping horsepower from 265 to an even 300. Referred to as Turbo Performance or Turbo Premium, these are the range-topping models in the SRX line, coming only in a loaded-up all wheel drive configuration.
The engine really transforms the SRX, making it a worthy competitor to the other luxury crossovers on the market. It doesn’t throw you back in the seat like some kind of high performance sports car, but for passing situations or accelerating onto a freeway, it no longer feels underpowered. The 6-speed automatic transmission provides crisp upshifts, and there is a manual setting alongside the conventional automatic quadrant.
The turbo power is really icing on the cake of a pretty nice luxury vehicle. The seats are wonderfully supportive and comfortable, the interior is quiet, and all the little niceties are in place, either as standard or optional. The layout of the instruments is just perfect, with a “turbo” boost gauge added to the cluster so you can see when the turbocharger is providing extra power, which it turns out is pretty much all the time if the gauge is to be believed.
The array of switches on the center stack that control the various functions seems a bit busy at first, but they’re logically laid out for operating the climate control, audio system and navigation display. The latter provides traffic information on the freeway map, which is a lifesaver if you spend much time traversing Southern California’s often congested vehicular arteries.
Cadillac also employed some nice details in the utility end of things. For example, the power-operated rear liftgate can be set to open to a specific height, which is very handy for not only shorter drivers but also in situations where overhead clearance is a problem. Cargo management is also taken care of, with a nice deep storage bin that can keep groceries or other items from rolling around while driving.
Opting for the Turbo model doesn’t come cheap, as you have to step up to the higher end of the SRX equipment line to get the more powerful engine. Starting price for a two wheel drive SRX with the base 3.0 V6 is $33,330, and you can shoot all the way up to $47,540 for an all wheel drive version with all the toys. The next rung on the ladder is the Turbo Performance for $48,815, and finally the Turbo Premium for a wallet-bending $51,360.
There is one little fly in the ointment for this SRX Turbo, however. The 2.8T engine is sourced from GM’s Saab division, which is about to become an ex-division of the company. Cadillac probably figured that when Saab was sold, the engines could still be acquired through a contract, but it now looks like Saab may go away altogether, along with the supply of turbo engines for the SRX.
But no matter, General Motors undoubtedly has other suitable turbocharged engines in the planning stages to take over under the SRX’s hood. After all, this is going to be the decade of the turbo. You can mark my words on that.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.