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Revhead Ramblings: Has Engine Downsizing Fallen Out of Fashion?

Toyota have increased the size of the engine in their Yaris. As it seemed the world was destined for a 100cc city car, Toyota have increased their 1.3 four-cylinder unit to a 1.5 litre block instead.

As a result, power climbs from 98BHP to a hearty 110BHP in a bid to improve not just performance but also the drivability and real-world economy of their cars.

Why it Became Popular

It’s common knowledge that the NCAP emissions tests aren’t a true representation of real world driving. A combination of impossibly high economy ratings, that are well out of reach for any driver, and woeful performance was enough for Toyota to change their minds. Everyone in the car community hopes everyone else will follow this new trend.

Negative Results

This isn’t just the case in small cars. The Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman are also prime examples. Their old 2.7 and 3.4 naturally aspirated flat sixes were swapped for 2 and 2.5 litre turbocharged flat fours. As a result, performance has undoubtedly gone up, even in the lesser of the four pots, the mid-range performance is impressive.

However, these cars were about more than just performance, the old engines were never short of go and they had a beautiful soundtrack that no turbocharged engine could match. When a 718 Cayman S was released for a group test, the lifetime fuel economy of the car was under 20mpg, this was with a mix of normal and spirited driving. Not only is this poor, it’s also no better than the engines they’ve replaced.

Positive Results

AMG’s downsizing has been more successful on the other hand, the 6.2 litre V8 was the best part of Mercedes’ performance cars without doubt. So, it goes without saying, that their new four litre biturbo V8 has lost some of the character the old motor possessed. However, the mighty performance and impressive sound from the 4-litre does enough to satisfy the AMG faithful.

These changes in engine size were made to meet new emissions regulations and economy targets. The extra performance offered was just a pleasant bonus of the forced induction. It’s become somewhat of a joke then in the automotive world that these cars aren’t delivering on their apparent economy gains.

Alternative Method

Mazda took a different take on downsizing and instead opted for ‘rightsizing’, this basically means that they’d use the perfect sized engine for the car. So, you won’t have to worry about finding a highly tuned 1.6 turbo in your Mazda 6 or a 1.0 litre turbo in your beloved MX-5. Mazda have found the perfect method, they haven’t compromised on performance and their real-world economy has improved too. A combination of weight reduction and refining conventional technology.

Why it’s No Longer Necessary

These engine changes have come in anticipation of the ‘Real Driving Emissions Requirements’. These tests were designed to prevent another ‘Dieselgate’ scandal from occurring again.

It means cars will have to perform real world driving examples as well as laboratory tests, this means downsized engines will no longer be the best option for aceing these tests. I’m sure this will result in manufacturers ‘rightsizing’ like Mazda, meaning future cars will be perfectly powered, alternatively, hybrid powertrains may become more popular as this can benefit both performance and economy. Either way, I’m sure there won’t be too many tears shed when downsizing comes to an end.

To ensure you don’t miss out on any of Alex’s ‘Revhead Ramblings‘ be sure to follow him on Twitter at @AlexClickDealer!

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