Turbo legislation

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Up until a few weeks ago, Australia’s state governments of Victoria and New South Wales had a horrid piece of cynical (even by political standards) legislation aimed at keeping young drivers safe.

More accurately, it was targeted at showing the average voter that the authorities were keeping young drivers safe when, in reality, they were doing everything humanly possible to keep them away from the best fuel economy, the newest technology and the cheapest five-star NCAP entry points.

It wasn’t a complicated process behind it, either. They simply banned young drivers from driving turbocharged cars. And not just one or two of the quickest ones, either. It banned all of them, en masse.

So, a city-based young driver couldn’t own a Smart Fortwo, given its turbocharged, three-cylinder motor, but they could cheerfully wander off in a BMW M3 CSL, or a Honda S2000, no problem with that whatsoever.

The governments who loved this law (there were four of them) refused to listen to the car industry, which provided submissions that the next wave of turbo engines were something very different to the ones they experienced in their own younger days. It took nearly a decade of haranguing to mostly overturn this nonsense (and the largest state, New South Wales, still hasn’t), which is just as well because everybody could see even then that emissions laws would give turbos a new life.

BMW, for example, no longer sells a single naturally aspirated engine (if you don’t count the two-cylinder scooter motor in the i3 REEV). It should be rebadged BTMW to suit its new positioning, but it probably won’t be.

And it’s not all come without pain, either. Most people still miss the old straight six in the 328i and think the turbo four to be effective, but so different are the sophistication levels that the blind could mistake it for a diesel.

Then there’s the M3 and its new M4 sibling – the last to go turbo. The final holdout, soldiering on with the atmo V8 (that was, in effect, the atmo V10 from the M5 with two holes chopped off). And minutes after drive impressions hit the interweb suggesting M3 was now a two-character car, delivering both a great daily cruiser and a sports sedan, prices of old straight-six M3s began a climb that has yet to peak. The CSL, in particular, is on the move, but so is the E36 Series II, with the 3.2-liter motor, revised suspension geometry and six gears. It’s almost like the used-car sector is telling BMW that it, not BMW, will decide what goes into an M3.

Where turbos have come on is in huffing unnoticed inside family luggers, leaving them economical when they’re not needed in engines that would otherwise be inadequate to the size of the origami they’re carrying.

And that’s the irony. The politicians who made the daft laws about turbocharged cars made them after playing a word-association game in the tea room and coming up with ‘turbo’ equals ‘speed’ and, come on, everybody, get with the picture here, why won’t you think of the safety of the children? They made that link because the turbo cars from their younger days were quick and, to be fair, unfriendly.

But if the next generation of politician drove any volume car today, they wouldn’t even notice the turbocharger that almost certainly powers it.

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