While Mercedes and I were out for a drive with the Prius c on Sunday, we got talking about the powertrain. The synergy drive is very sophisticated, aids in acceleration, and fuel economy. Total power is 99 hp when combined with the electric motor (73 hp in ECO mode). OK fine. But what would happen if Toyota sold a subcompact car, such as the Prius c or Yaris without the hybrid system? What kind of fuel economy would a vehicle such as this get if it didn’t have to haul around the extra weight associated with batteries, an electric motor, and such? Just a tiny, low-horsepower gasoline engine …
Let’s look at the 2012 Yaris. It also has a 1.5-liter engine, but makes 106 hp and 103 ft./lbs. of torque. It also weighs some 200 lbs. less than a Prius c and is equipped with a four-speed auto vs. the Prius’ CVT. So I have to wonder, what would a 74 horse engine be like in the 2,295 lb. Yaris, and what kind of fuel economy numbers would we see without the hybrid drivetrain? How good (or bad) would performance be?
The current Yaris isn’t exactly a pig when it comes to fuel economy. It’s rated at 30 city, 38 highway (33 combined). But if you put in an efficient CVT (vs. the 4-speed auto) and cut power by 32 ponies, I’d bet the fuel economy would be pretty darn good.
Other parts of the world do get the modern equivalent of the Chevy Sprint and still have many of the safety features of modern cars. Toyota even offers the Yaris with a 1.3 liter mill in other countries. However, I’d bet most North Americans don’t want to take the cut in power. Is having only 75, 50, 48 horsepower even safe these days? Ask a Smart ForTwo owner; that vehicle only makes 70 hp. So are we as consumers simply obsessed with alleged engine output, or would sub-100 hp cars truly not sell if marketed correctly?
Companies have seemed to be able to extract good power out of small-displacement engines. The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine in the Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, are good examples, as is the upcoming 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine from Ford. But what about high fuel economy? I bet it can be done. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the 46 MPGs I’m getting in my Prius c. But is there another way to get hybrid MPGs without having a hybrid?