There was a time when a turbocharger under the hood meant one thing and one thing only: that the car you were driving was a performance-oriented, sporty beast with that oh-so-addictive turbo whine.
Today, the turbocharger has become the biggest thing in green car technology since the hybrid drivetrain, with everything from minicars to luxury sedans switching to smaller, turbocharged engines in the pursuit of higher gas mileage.
But with so many cars to choose from, which turbocharged green cars are the best?
Here are just five you need to drive.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic 1.4-liter turbo
Aimed at younger buyers, the 2013 Sonic is enjoying its second year shaking up the small car market.
Introduced as a smaller companion to the Chevrolet Cruze, the Sonic is proving to hold its own in a segment already occupied with cars like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.
Unlike some of its competitors, however, the Sonic comes in two different guises: a funky, fun, five-door hatchback, and a slightly more refined four-door sedan.
Like many cars on the market today, the Sonic is available with or without turbocharging.
The 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine is more robust and flexible than the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder option, making the turbocharger the sensible choice.
The 2013 Sonic is available with 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Both gearboxes provide a fun drive, but the manual allows you to get the very best performance from the 1.4T engine.
That particular gearbox option also gives you the best fuel economy: an EPA-approved 40mpg highway, 29 MPG city, and 33 mpg combined.
2013 Dodge Dart 1.4-liter turbo
2013 Dodge Dart SXT
2013 Dodge Dart SXTEnlarge Photo
It’s taken Chrysler what seems like an eternity to bring a small, fuel-efficient car to the market.
But the wait for the 1.4-liter turbocharged Dodge Dart has been well worth the wait.
Like the 2013 Sonic above, the Dodge Dart comes with either a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, or a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine--direct from Fiat--gives the Dart a much-needed jolt of life when compared to the larger 2.0-liter option.
Combine it with a six-speed manual, and the turbo provides more than enough power to make driving entertaining. The only caveat, as John Voelcker has pointed out in the past, is that the 1.4-liter engine’s power band is somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm.
That means to get the car to perform at its best, you’ll be revving the engine a lot, changing late, and occasionally, downshifting twice to find the power you need.
When it comes to fuel economy, the manual gearbox should yield 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined, while the six speed automatic manages a few mpg less.
Although Dodge offers the Dart Aero--a specially-built, high-mpg version of the Dart, it does cost more than the regular 1.4-liter turbo, and only gives a few mpg extra on gas mileage.