There are a number of folks – including some California regulators – who’d be happy to see the internal combustion engine go extinct. But as makers of hybrids and other battery-cars have learned to their chagrin, the time-tested ICE is proving a moving target that’s shown a lot more life than many expected.
A case in point is the Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion Concept making its world debut next week at the North American International Auto Show. With a highway fuel economy rating estimated at 42 mpg, the German sedan is nudging into compact and even subcompact territory.
How get near-hybrid efficiency out of a conventional gasoline engine? VW engineers pulled several tricks out of their sleeves. For one thing, the BlueMotion Concept adopts increasingly familiar Stop/Start technology which briefly shuts the engine off, rather than idling. There’s also a transmission decoupling system that lets the Passat prototype freewheel when coasting, reducing normal frictional losses. But there’s an even more novel approach alternately known as cylinder deactivation and variable displacement.
Now, wait a second, you might be ready to declare. There are plenty of vehicles that can shut off cylinders when loads are light to reduce fuel consumption. Indeed, but they’re normally six, eight or even twelve-cylinder designs. The VW Passat BlueMotion Concept is powered by a mere 1.4-liter turbocharged direct-injection inline-four. When it’s cruising or coasting it can operate as a two-cylinder engine.
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When demands are more severe, the engine manages a reasonable 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That compares quite favorably with the current Passat 1.8-liter turbo I-4 which makes just 140 hp and yields a mere 35 mpg on the highway.
Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. We’ll press Volkswagen’s product PR team for a drive, if possible, to see how the BlueMotion Concept actually performs under various conditions. We’re wondering how it feels during a hard launch, and whether there’s much noise or vibration when it shifts into twin-cylinder mode.
The approach, nonetheless, is intriguing and could offer some advantages over the crop of new three-cylinder engines being brought to market by manufacturers as diverse as Ford, Mini and BMW.
(3-Cylinders? Mini set to launch new, high-mileage engine on next-gen Hardtop. Click Herefor details.)
Beyond the key powertrain technologies, the show car gets a few modest styling tweaks to distinguish it from the stock Passat, including the distinctive Reef Blue Metallic exterior paint, aero-design wheels, and two-tone blue striped seats.
Might this package make it into production? We could readily imagine Europeans going for it, but the U.S. is a bit less of a slam dunk. Then again, this sort of mileage out of a car like the Passat could prove quite appealing to some motorists, especially if Volkswagen can find a way to package it all together without a diesel or hybrid-like price penalty.
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