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Toyota Thinks Larger, Non-Turbo Engines Can Deliver Better MPG

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2014 Toyota Corolla S

2014 Toyota Corolla S

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One of the most popular motor industry trends in recent years has been that of 'downsizing' engines--reducing capacity even in larger vehicles to improve fuel efficiency, while usually adding a turbocharger to make up for lost power.

It's why Ford can now sell a 1.0-liter engine in the U.S. in its Fiesta, Chevy and Dodge use turbocharged 1.4-liters as their range-toppers in the Cruze and Dart, and why the concept of a 2.0-liter unit in a Ford Fusion is no longer the recipe for white-knuckle freeway merging.

Toyota looks set to buck this trend however, according to Automotive News.

Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain R&D at Toyota, told AN that while Toyota is still investing in turbocharged engines, gasoline units could benefit more by 'upsizing' capacity in conjunction with Atkinson combustion cycles.

Typically, the Atkinson cycle offers less top-end power than the traditional Otto cycle of an internal combustion engine. It's part of the reason the technology is used on hybrid vehicles at the moment, where combustion power can be assisted by electric power.

Raising capacity effectively does the same--while the engines' specific output may be below that of similarly-sized units, economy will be better, and ideally better than the smaller unit it replaces.

Saga remains unconvinced that the alternative, turbocharging, "makes the world better". He may not be alone on that--we've remarked in the past that some of the recent turbocharged vehicles struggle to match the economy of the vehicles they're designed to replace in everyday driving, despite their increased complication and expense. That's partly as many drivers buy them not for the lofty economy claims, but simply for their performance.

Other technologies Toyota intends to explore include continuously-variable transmissions--though again, in a limited fashion--and naturally, hybrid drivetrains.

Saga adds that the next Prius may well contain a mix of lithium-ion batteries and the old-style nickel units--the former is best for performance, but durability and lifespan is still better for nickel, as many high-mileage Prius drivers can attest.

Fuel cells will be a further aspect of Toyota's plans, though predictably, electric cars will not.

Has Toyota got it right and the market got it wrong with the downsizing versus upsizing trend? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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