Toyota will next year fulfill its promise to the world's car lovers by recreating a range of affordable, sporty Toyotas that bring fun back to driving with its new Toyota FT-86.
In an as-yet unspecified Japanese factory in early 2012, the great grandson of Toyota's revered founder, Akio Toyoda, will put a low-slung, rear-drive, European-developed 2+2 coupe, the FT-86, into production – in large enough volume to satisfy demand from Toyota's many markets around the world, including the U.S.
The latest Toyota FT-86 concept shown at last month's Geneva auto show (ABOVE) is “95 percent” the production car, according to insiders, accurate in its surfacing, although its 20in. wheels won't make production.
The FT has a monocoque structure, carefully engineered with high-strength steels to keep weight low. The engine is basically a 2.0-liter, 16-valve flat four from the Subaru stable but with special modifications to suit this new application. Driving through a 6-speed manual gearbox (or a 6-speed paddle-shift auto in some markets), the unusual powertrain concentrates its masses considerably lower than an ordinary in-line layout would do, and farther back in the car. A standard limited-slip differential further aids traction.
Toyota engineers say the engine produces around 200hp, but final power, torque and fuel figures are still being derived because this Subaru-sourced engine uses a Toyota direct fuel injection system with Toyota's own engine management. What's more, Toyota's engine partner, Yamaha, has been involved in its cylinder head design. Although the car will have a sporty character, Toyota chief Akio Toyoda has decreed that this should be a docile, easy-driving engine that should live up to his company's jealously guarded reputation for fuel efficiency and low CO2 outputs.
Soon after Toyota's car debuts, Subaru will unveil a different-looking but mechanically similar coupe, called 086a; the two models are part of a cooperative deal that began with Toyota being allowed to use surplus Subaru manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and has blossomed into an agreement to create “several cars” together. The arrangement allows hard-pressed Subaru to benefit from its giant partner's market expertise and vast economies of scale, while Toyota gets the use of Subaru's low and compact flat-four engine and its better track record at making cars enthusiast drivers understand and desire.
Toyoda and his henchmen are sparing no effort to break through the current view of Toyota products as worthy but dull, while giving the car a general air of day-to-day practicality. There has been much talk of creating the aura of the ultra-rare 1960s Toyota 2000GT, but a much more relevant comparison is with the rear-drive Corolla AE86 coupe of the mid-1980s, whose rear-drive compactness, high power-to-weight ratio and great controllability soon made it a favorite.
In all likelihood the car will come in two trim versions. They will share the same power output and manual gearbox; price differences will be made up by interior equipment, body decor and wheel/tire specifications.