The 20 best turbocharged cars

22nd March 2022
Ethan Jupp

Coming up with a list of the best turbocharged cars is difficult. With the decade of forced induction we’ve just had, nearly all the great performance cars we’ve seen these last few years are snail-powered. So we’ve thought carefully and really considered, what are the cars that aren’t just good while being turbocharged, but are good because they’re turbocharged? The ones that really wear their wastegate flutter on their sleeve and live life a big dollop of boost at a time. Let’s see them.


Porsche 930 Turbo

The Porsche 911 is often revered as a thing of purity, a champion of measured performance over excess. Unless you’re talking about the Turbo. In every way the Turbo was in your face; the wave of boost as broad as its hips, the on-limit attitude as aggressive as its whale-tail. Unrefined and rough around the edges the original Turbos may be, but so defined by their engine’s character that it’s just as well it got the Turbo name.


Audi Sport Quattro

We now know well that if one is in relentless pursuit of power, turbocharging is the easiest way. The result is often power in excess, meaning all-wheel-drive is recommended. In the 1980s, as turbocharging gripped the performance car world, Audi was the first to work this out properly and put it into devastatingly effective practice. The Audi Sport Quattro is the silver bullet culmination of that. Few other cars could maul a damp country back lane quite like it and it’s all thanks to that Quattro all-wheel-drive and the warbling 300PS-plus (220kW) of 2.1-litre five-cylinder turbocharged fury it deployed. And, let’s face it, what hasn’t already been said of the rally cars?


Saab 900 Turbo

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Germans essentially co-opted the art of turbocharging, but we mustn’t forget the boost-happy Swedes. Saab, with its jet aircraft links, was an all-out champion of turbocharging, advancing the technology in leaps and bounds over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. In the 99 Turbo, Saab effectively brought turbocharging to the masses. In the 900 Turbo, for the day, it damn near perfected it. 


Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

If Saab refined the art of boost, Ford helped turn it into an extreme sport. For the purposes of terrorising touring car racing the world over of course. With the help of Cosworth, the Sierra RS goes down in history as one of the most infamous turbo nutters of the ‘80s. Snaking around barely able to stay nose-forward on track, on the road it taught a generation of driving enthusiasts how to manage turbo lag and very shortly thereafter, how to manage (or not) oversteer.


Renault 5 GT Turbo

Further down the pecking order were the hot hatches, of which a generation took on turbocharging for their performance needs. Few of this crop are cooler in our eyes than one of the originals. The Renault 5 GT Turbo. No, not the mid-engined Group B homologation car. The normal Renault 5, pushrod engine and all, with a turbo bolted on. Is it devastatingly fast? It felt brisk in period, but could be described as warm now. What adds it to this list is the character. The way you work the gears to keep the boost going, the chirps and flutters it emits. It’s like a teaser for what you could experience if you work hard and save up for the Cosworth above, but with French small car chuck-ability and willingness.


Ferrari F40

The F40 goes without saying, we reckon. The first road car to get beyond 200mph had a Ferrari badge, but not a screaming V12. Instead, a fire-spitting twin-turbocharged V8 that was given far less credit than it deserved on spec sheets. A stated 470PS (345kW) was closer to 500PS (367kW) with most cars on most dynos. Hearing the way these things boost and how laggy they are, you wouldn’t be surprised. It’s all induction, wastegate, spit and crackle, with bit of V8 howl to boot. The F40 is quite unlike its F50, Enzo and LaFerrari successors in this respect but near-unique in Ferrari’s history as a result.


Lotus Carlton

If chuck-ability and willingness are the buzzwords for the above Renault, the Lotus Carlton by contrast nabs criminality and noncompliance. This was a car so fast that its legality was debated in Parliament. Small wonder. With 382PS (281kW) from its twin-turbocharged straight-six and a claimed top speed of 180mph, it was near enough the fastest car on the road this side of a McLaren F1 or Ferrari F40 in the early 1990s. Another lesson in the truly devastating performance that could be generated with turbocharging and likely a solid motivator behind the UK police force’s purchase of a batch of hopped-up five-pot turbo Volvo T5 wagons a few years down the line.


Nissan Skyline GT-R

Turbocharging is considered a bit of a sledgehammer in the art of power generation. The Japanese, on the heels of Saab, arguably brought a bit of sophistication to the dark art. Yes, the 959 pioneered clever twin-turbocharging tech but in Japanese cars like the Skyline GT-R, the engine is definitely more a forefront aspect of the car’s personality. The RB26 DETT engine is famous for its howling straight-six sound and potential for big power. Nissan pegged it back to 276PS (202kW) thanks to a gentleman’s agreement between Japanese manufacturers regarding power. The potential within was famously there for the tapping, with RBs in various states of modification capable of producing power into four figures. One of a few turbocharged cars on this list that is truly iconic. The cherry on the cake? It’s a proven race winner too, thanks to Group A, Australian and Japanese touring car domination by the original R32 in those early years.


Toyota Supra Turbo

The Supra is the other side of that coin. Again, that straight-six sequential twin-turbo engine was a mountain of performance potential, a champion of cutting-edge turbo tech and an integral part of the car’s personality. With a good-looking and slippery super coupe body draped over it, the 2JZ made the Supra a certifiable supercar slayer in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, for something that shared a badge with a Corolla, it was also quite expensive brand new. It’s in the afterlife that this car’s true cultural significance flourished, though, as a second-hand horsepower darling and verifiable pin-up movie star. Like the Skyline, to this day, its fans are legion, not least because of that incredible turbocharged engine that remains competitive and an engineering achievement against modern machinery 30 years on.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evo

As the Supra aged well, the Mitsubishi Evo really didn’t. A weapon forged in the fires of rallying, once the Japanese saloons were no longer de rigueur, the Evo was an old car in a new era. But the 4G63T 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is a darling of turbocharging potential. Where some supercars were struggling to push 400PS (294kW) in 2004, Mitsubishi just upped the snail size and beefed up the internals. Mega power, with a warranty, job done. Coupled with the Evo’s near-supernatural grip thanks to its all-wheel-drive chassis wizardry, it could deploy that power to devastating effect too. We never need an excuse to look back to when the FQ400 dispatched a Lamborghini Murcielago on Top Gear. The only caveat? Pretty eager service intervals…


Subaru Impreza WRX STi

The Evo’s less exotic arch-rival remains just as iconic and if anything, more successful, with more rallying pedigree thanks to Messrs McRae and Burns. It sported the same mind-bending handling wizardry with which to deploy its turbo power, too. Then there’s the engine. One of the all-time most distinctive sounds in rallying is the chirping, puffing, warbling Subaru boxer. Yes, they’re a nightmare to service and have an appetite for head gaskets but our rally stage wouldn’t be complete without that sound. 


Mercedes CL65 AMG

Today we associate turbocharging with truly devastating performance. The horsepower wars cheat code was arguably first utilised by Mercedes-Benz. The year was 2004. The Porsche Carrera GT, arguably the most desirable supercar on sale, screamed around with 613PS (451kW) from its V10 engine. On sale at the same time for a third of the price: a Mercedes-Benz luxury coupe called the CL65 AMG. It had a 6.0-litre V12 – not unheard of for big barges – but with two turbos. The Affalterbach magic meant this two-tonne autobahn yacht had 612PS at its disposal. That’s like giving a Rolls-Royce Wraith the 1,600PS (1177kW) of a Bugatti Chiron SuperSport today. The result was a monster of velocity, a mountain of torque, a car so sedate to look at that was one of the fastest point-to-point money could buy.


Bentley Continental GT

Along with this. The Continental returned as the first Bentley to be birthed entirely under VW stewardship and like the Mercedes CL65 it rivalled, it had an absolute nuke under the bonnet. The 6.0-litre, twin-turbo, W12 engine is well-known and loved today but in all truth, isn’t that much more powerful than it was when it debuted almost 20 years ago. It’s still considered ruinously powerful though. Imagine what it was like in 2003. This along with the CL65 gave us our best indication yet that turbos would dominate performance cars and in both applications, made a towering wall of torque – soundtracked by a distant 12-cylinder rumble combined with the whoosh of turbos – a defining personality trait of these cars.


Bugatti Veyron

But it was after the Veyron that things would never be the same. Yes, the EB110 had four turbos in the 1990s. But the Veyron brought the numbers, with 16 cylinders, over 1,000PS, was capable of over 250mph and was the first car from 0-60 in under three seconds. Final proof of the inevitability of turbocharging.


Ford Focus RS

But there were doubts about whether the effervescent personality of naturally aspirated cars would survive turbocharging. In cars like the five-cylinder turbo Ford Focus RS, there was at least proof that modern turbo performance  cars can have a compelling character all of their own, over 20 years on from the savagery of the Sierra Cosworth. The original Focus RS was great, but no one is forgetting the warbler of the second-gen.



Then turbos started creeping into unwanted territory. After a decade-long love affair with what BMW M could do with natural aspiration, the seemingly dulled 1M with its twin-turbo straight-six was met with at best trepidation and at worst, downright protest. How wrong we were. This was a punchy little brawler of a car, defined by a turbo motor that was as punchy as its styling. The NA cars were loud and musical, but in in-gear performance terms, were positively sleepy by comparison. It wasn’t all plain sailing for BMW. The M5 lost a whole heap of lovability with the adoption of turbocharging, though again the performance jump was devastating. But the 1M is an M car we can’t imagine sans boost.


Pagani Huayra

Off the back of the roaring, screaming Zonda, the Huayra was the definition of a difficult second album. Especially when the howl of a naturally-aspirated AMG V12 was replaced with the whoosh of two turbos on top. Happily, the Huayra proved to be a very different character to the Zonda, in a good way. A sibling, rather than a successor. Those extremely aggressive turbo noises became a part of its personality, with founder Horacio saying the noise was engineered along with the performance, to give the feeling of a plane taking off. On top of that, like the Zonda, it was just a good car. Well made, easy and unintimidating to drive. A supercar firmly aided by turbocharging.


McLaren P1

As was this, the one in the hybrid hypercar holy trinity to use turbos. While the big story of the P1 was its electrified element at the time, the most visceral part of that powertrain was the extremely vocal twin turbos on its 3.8-litre V8. Bristling with personality and character, not least informed by those whooshing vocals.


Honda Civic Type R

Fans didn’t take the news that Type R power would be turbocharged in the future all that well. Once a badge that denoted screaming revs and a scintillating naturally aspirated cam switchover sound, that these monster motors would be replaced by a turbo unit rubbed many the wrong way. It needn’t have. How they did it we don’t know but these things rev with more ferocity than you’d ever expect. Lag and unwillingness nowhere to be seen, this is an engine that’s always up for abuse, as a Type R should be. No, it didn’t sound as good, but overall this thing was such a pleasant surprise.


Ferrari 488 Pista

Ah, Ferrari, proprietor of some of the all-time great naturally aspirated engines. Surely turbos here where individual throttle bodies once sat would go down like a mid-pandemic Christmas party? It turns out not. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 that debuted in the Californa T seven years ago, is a multiple award-winner. In the 488 Pista, we’d say it’s at its best, howling out of that inconel exhaust as it spews out over 710PS (522kW) to the rear wheels. The Pista looks great, is ferociously fast and has a real hardcore character, even with the dulled-down turbocharged tones. In character, this engine is the opposite of that seen in the F40. It disguises its boosted nature deliberately in engine and gearbox mapping, and yet, it’s so very compelling all the same.

  • Ferrari

  • Porsche

  • Honda

  • Toyota

  • Nissan

  • Subaru

  • Mitsubishi

  • Pagani

  • McLaren

  • Mercedes-Benz

  • List

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