There are few new cars for sale on these shores that offer less excitement than the Toyota Yaris, a subcompact designed for fuel efficiency and low costs in a land of full-size pickups and seven-seat SUV. Toyota's hybrid cars, while popular, also aren't known for their speed aspirations, no matter how many times a Prius driver claims to have beaten a muscle car at a stoplight.
Which is what makes the Toyota Yaris Hybrid-R concept — an all-wheel-drive, 414-hp hybrid monster — so noteworthy.
Designed in Europe for release at this week's Frankfurt motor show, the Yaris Hybrid-R follows in the continental tradition of tiny hatchbacks with huge power numbers. Starting with a three-door Yaris, Toyota's engineers swapped into the engine bay a 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder. On the back end, they hooked each rear wheel to it's own 60-hp electric motor, and put a third electric motor between the six-speed gearbox and the engine — allowing it to act as an advanced kind of traction control that shifts power rearward when the front tires can't take any more. At peak, the system churns out 414 hp.
In place of a traditional hybrid battery, the Yaris Hybrid-R uses a supercapacitor — which can't store as much energy as a regular battery, but can unleash its power far faster. According to Toyota, in regular mode the supercapacitor only provides about half the maximum power to the two rear motors, but on track can provide a five-second burst of full energy.
It's unlikely that Toyota will build even a few copies of a Yaris Hybrid-R (although given what Nissan's done with the Juke-R, there's always hope.) What the Yaris Hybrid-R demonstrates even as a concept is that tiny cars have to be neither slow nor ugly nor unappealing — a lesson that will come in handy for all the parts of the world where bigger vehicles may not be so welcome soon.