So… what’s the best affordable supercharged car? We take a look at some obvious and some slightly more left field options in the search for affordable supercharged power…
We love a turbo tuning here at Fast Car, that’s no secret. The mischief of bolting what is effectively a metal sculpture of a cartoon snail onto your exhaust manifold, to make your car faster and angrier, really does the business for us.
But we’ve decided to make some time for the turbo’s partner-in-crime in the forced induction world: the supercharger. This magical little box, mechanically driven by a belt or chain from your engine’s crankshaft, effectively exists to suck in air, compress it, then force it through the intake manifold. Net result? Loads more horsepower.
There are various different kinds (roots, twin-screw, centrifugal and so on) but they all exist to do the same job: suck hard, squish, then blow, with this process feeding into the initial stage of your motor’s own suck-squeeze-bang-blow cycle. See? Simple. Shove in more air, add a bit more fuel, and you’ve got more power, combined with a hilarious whining noise.
Some people are weirdly averse to blowers, seeing them as needlessly parasitic as they draw their power from the crank. Although we’d counter that as a load of old toffee – superchargers are awesome, and that’s a fact.
Now, we’ve gone with the notion of ‘affordable supercharged cars’ here, but we happily acknowledge that there’s quite a lot of you reading this and you’re all individuals. Some people have larger overdrafts than others. To one reader, the definition of ‘affordable’ is about £500, to another it might be £5,000, or £50,000.
So what we’re looking at here, then, is a round-up of supercharged rides that have weathered a decent amount of depreciation and are now available at prices that won’t make you gasp. Quirky little toys that make entertaining dragster noises when you put your foot down.
MINI Cooper S – 168BHP
Price from £3,000
The original new MINI (if that’s not too complicated a way of putting it) has become a bit of a modern classic – the generation built from 2000-06 is a perky, retro-styled thing with an eager chassis and driver involvement in spades. Sure, you’ll get boring old farts saying ‘Oh, it’s not a proper Mini, look how big it is,’ but those people can sod off, to be honest. The world’s moved on, keep up.
The Cooper S was the one to have, as it took the cheekiness of the Cooper and added forced induction. And while the second-gen (2006-13) ones were turbocharged, the early Cooper S came equipped with a compact little supercharger, boosting the Brazilian-built Tritec 1.6 to a fruity 168bhp. 0-62mph happens in a smidge over seven seconds.
You can pick up a decent R53 Cooper S for about £3,000, which is a whole lot of hot hatch thrills for the money. And if you fancy splashing out a grand or so more, you can fi nd the Cooper S Works, which has 197bhp as well as being a bit lighter.
TOP THREE MODS: 15% reduction supercharger pulley, front-mount intercooler, decent tyres (the supercharger meant the battery was relocated to the boot, so there was no spare and the car came with run-flats)
Jaguar XKR – 390BHP
Price from £6,000
There’s a reason why ageing Jags appear to be such good value: if they go wrong, you’ll have to sell a variety of organs to pay for the repairs and you’ll end up having to live in the car. But hey, you’ve got to roll the dice sometimes, haven’t you? If you buy a good one, you’ll fi nd yourself shimmering about in plushness and improbable luxury… and if you buy one with a blower, you’ll have oodles of horsepower to muck about with, too.
The X100-generation XKR, built from 1996-2006, seems like a pretty solid bet to us. The XK8 started off with 4.0-litre V8s, and it was the addition of the supercharger that turned the model into the snarling XKR; this was later upgraded to 4.2-litres from 2003. The car shared its platform with the Aston Martin DB7 (so you can tell your mates down the pub that you drive an Aston, kinda), and the early cars boasted 370bhp and 380lb.ft. Pretty brutal when you consider that you can buy your way into the club for about £6,000.
The 390bhp 4.2 starts at around £10k, although we’d go for the earlier car and spend the remainder on fuel… which’d probably last about ten minutes.
TOP THREE MODS: QuickSilver exhaust, H&R springs, massive cigar.
Toyota MR2 – 145BHP
Price from £8,000
Alright, we might have missed the boat on this one. The first-gen (W10) MR2s have passed through cheap throwawayness and into sought-after classic territory – so if you want to buy a supercharged MR2, you’ll have to be prepared to pay out. Imports seem to start at about the £8,000 mark. It’s not actually too horrendous though, is it? Compare it to its contemporary hot hatches, the 205 GTIs and RS Turbos of the era, and it starts to look positively good value, don’t you think?
But hold up, let’s rewind… they made a supercharged Mk1 MR2?! Yes, indeed they did. It featured a specced-up version of the iconic 4A-GE motor (yep, the rasping twin-cam you’d find in an AE86 Corolla) with a roots-type blower bolted on to turn it into a 4A-GZE.
It had a lowered compression ratio and a Denso intercooler, and it produced 145bhp which, in a car this tiny, meant 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds. Also, bizarrely, the supercharger was driven by an electromagnetic clutch which meant that it was only operating when you really booted the throttle – how clever is that?
TOP THREE MODS: Pastel-coloured suit with sleeves rolled up, false moustache, synth music.
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI GT – 160BHP
Price from £4,000
Don’t be put off by the 1.4 bit. This motor may be small, but it’s mighty. Why? Because it harnesses the terrifying fury of twin-charging.
This is a technology that old skool rally nerds will recognise from the Group B era: when the idea of running engines that had both turbos and superchargers was really put through its paces. Similar principle to a sequential turbo setup really, except in this instance the supercharger’s there to feed in the immediate boost at low revs, and by the time that’s running out of puff, the turbo’s had time to spool up and is ready to take over. It’s also needlessly complicated, which is something we enjoy in any car. Who wants to do things the easy way?
So while the GTI might be the obvious choice if you’re looking at a Mk6 Golf, don’t discount the 1.4 GT – it has 160bhp and, combined with the DSG transmission, that twin-charged powerplant can properly hustle. It’ll hit 60 in eight seconds, but if you’re being sensible it can also hit 47mpg. (Not that we care about mpg but, y’know.) £4,000 gets you into a supercharged Golf, and they’ll throw in the turbo for free.
TOP THREE MODS: Remap, sport cat, overdrive pulley.
Mercedes SLK 230 – 190BHP
Price from £2,000
It’s kinda hard to believe that the original R170-series SLK is over 20 years old now, but this is very good news for people who want solid little roadsters for cheap. Particularly if you like superchargers.
There are certain people who will always say that cars like the SLK, MX-5, TT and so on are reserved for the hairdressing profession (dunno where that comes from; my barber drives a Monaro VXR), but these cynics are missing out. Take a look at the SLK 230, for example: this comes bristling with a supercharged 2.3-litre engine offering 190bhp, which is more than enough to be entertaining. This is the car that debuted M-B’s innovative Vario-Roof – a nifty little retractable hardtop that works electrohydraulically (somehow, possibly by dropping a toaster into a little bucket of water or something) – and if you buy a good one it’ll be brilliantly reliable. They do tend to rust pretty enthusiastically, but at around £2,000 who’s complaining?
Of course, if you fancy going completely mental, the SLK32 AMG is also supercharged… it has a 3.2-litre V6 and 350bhp. But it’s also about six times the price.
TOP THREE MODS: Induction kit, pulley kit, MAF relocation (to reduce lag).
Lotus Elise SC – 217BHP
Priced from £19,000
Arguably no Lotus needs a supercharger, if it’s to remain true to Colin Chapman’s original and iconic ethos of ‘simplify, and add lightness’. But what is ‘need’, really? Sure, bolting on a blower is, by its very nature, going to make things under the engine lid heavier and more complicated, but the gains speak for themselves.
The Elise has always been about poise and agility, taking a humble engine and extracting every micron of juice out of it to feed into a sublime chassis. The early ones had Rover K-Series engines, for goodness’ sake, like the one your gran had in her Metro.
But around ten years ago, Lotus decided to strap a Magnusson M45 Roots-type supercharger to the Elise’s motor, which by this point was a Toyota 2ZZ twin-cam. The result? 217bhp, which sounds okay, and a 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds, which sounds quite a lot more than okay. And it doesn’t have an intercooler, so you can bolt one on (in your face Chapman, we love weight and complexity) for even more mayhem. You can get one of these SCs for about £19k now – which sounds a lot, but it’s cheaper than a new Fiesta ST…
TOP THREE MODS: Intercooler conversion, ‘Touring Pack’ seats and air-con, Nitron shocks.
Audi S5 – 300BHP
Price from £15,000
Audi have worked through so many minute model niches it’s hard to keep up. The S5, the sporty version of the A5, is basically a 2-door coupé version of the A4, which is also available as a convertible, and you can have it in Sportback guise which has more doors, but somehow isn’t an A4.
Even more confusingly, the early coupés were sold with a 4.2-litre V8, while the cabrio and Sportback had a supercharged TFSI 3.0-litre V6, and then later coupés got the blown six, and… ah, let’s not get bogged down in the details.
The point of it is this: the S5 is a very pretty thing, spectacularly well-equipped, has the fabled Quattro system, and will give you well north of 300bhp from that ’charged bent-six. You can pick one up for about £15k now. Just make sure you don’t accidentally buy the diesel version. It’s all very confusing.
TOP THREE MODS: Revo map, Forge chargecooler, Armytrix exhaust.
Skoda Fabia vRS – 177BHP
Price from £6,000
Okay, we’re cheating a bit here. You know that Golf we were talking about earlier? Yeah, it’s got the same engine as this Fabia – the twin-charged 1.4 TSI… But the Fabia’s worthy of a mention, given how the character of the model has so exponentially changed. The original Fabia vRS arrived in 2003, a hot hatch with a diesel engine… mocked initially for using the wrong fuel, but immediately forgiven for its sublime chassis.
And what really made it tick was the torque – oodles and oodles of it, effectively reframing what people thought they knew about hot hatches.
Some derv converts were disappointed by the idea of a petrol-powered Fabia vRS then, but when this one arrived in 2010 it reassured everyone that it was still bonkers inside. A hot hatch with a twin-charged 1.4? It’s just silly. And we like silly. They’ve started to dip under £6k, too, which is very good news indeed.
TOP THREE MODS: Remap, FMIC, Milltek exhaust.
Range Rover 4.2 V8 Supercharged – 400BHP
Price from £8,000
…and how’s this for a Fast Car Wild Card? The Range Rover may be aimed at mud-plugging countryside types (actually, who are we kidding? It’s aimed at posers who want to swank about up the Kings Road), but it’s slap-bang in the petrolhead’s backyard now, for one very important reason: the fast ones have become affordable. Yes, it’s possible to buy an early-supercharged Rangie for just under £8,000.
Realistically, of course, this could be asking for trouble. If and when it goes wrong it’ll be crazy expensive to fix – it’s like buying a cheap Porsche; it never actually works out cheap in the end. But just consider the figures for a moment: aside from the eye-popping extravagance of the interior appointments, it’s got an absolute monster of an engine – a Jaguar-sourced 4.2-litre V8.
It’s cut from the same cloth as the XKR we were talking about earlier, with the magic of forced induction elevating peak power above 400bhp. And even when you’re talking about a kerb-weight of over three tons, that’s still an absolute crapload of horsepower. Imagine how quick it’d be if you stripped out the interior…
TOP THREE MODS: Smaller pulley, bore and stroke to 5.0-litres, straight-through exhausts.
Nissan Note 1.2 DIG-S – 97BHP
Price from £7,000
Hold up, you’re going to have to bear with us for a moment here. We’re well aware that the Nissan Note is a horribly dull car and you’ve got no reason to want one. Seven grand can buy one that’s only a couple of years old, but why would you bother? These are tedious econoboxes designed for young families or the elderly, not for people who purchase an automobile as a means of enjoyment.
But wait… it’s cars like these, the anonymous crud, that often cause the biggest stir on the showground. Everything has potential. We’ve seen some truly uninspiring cars – like the Toyota Rav-4, Fiat Multipla and Rover 75 estate – transformed into genuinely cool show cars by the simple addition of extreme lows and well-chosen wheels.
But why are we telling you all this now? Well, as you might have guessed (although might not be able to believe), it’s possible to buy a supercharged Note, straight from the Nissan forecourt. The Note DIG-S offers 97bhp from a supercharged 1.2-litre motor, which won’t exactly set your hair on fire but it’s a good starting point. And how many other mums on the school run have a frickin’ supercharger, eh? Eh?
TOP THREE MODS: Remap, air-ride, 19-inch WORK Meister S1s.