Could Toyota’s FT-86 Concept Mark the Return of Sporty Toyotas?
By Chris Haak
Celica. MR2. Supra. AE86. All names from Toyota’s sporty-car past, and all relegated to the dustbin of history. As Toyota’s sales and profits skyrocketed earlier in this decade, the company shifted toward more, shall we say, “pedestrian” offerings like the Camry, Corolla, and SUVs. The sportiest cars in the lineup were the Matrix (which is really a gussied-up Corolla hatchback and a name that hearkens to the 1999 movie of the same name) and the Camry and Corolla with ground-effects packages and decklid spoilers. The shift away from sporty cars may have helped the bottom line, but it certainly didn’t help Toyota’s reputation in enthusiast circles as a purveyor of transportation appliances without a soul.
Around 2005, when GM was in its first bankruptcy scare of the past decade, it divested its stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company, in an attempt to raise funds. Toyota swooped in and acquired a stake in Fuji shortly thereafter, and a bit later, the companies announced a joint-venture rear wheel drive sports car project. While it sounded good in theory, many were curious to see the actual implementation. Toyota hasn’t offered an inexpensive rear wheel drive car in decades.
Today, Toyota released some photos and limited details of the FT-86 concept, which is clearly a tribute to the Corolla-based AE86 of the 1980s. While not confirming that the car is indeed the Subaru joint-venture sports car, it’s pretty obvious that it is. Tops on the list is the fact that the car is powered by a 2.0 liter boxer engine – an engine type that Subaru uses exclusively and that Toyota does not have in its current arsenal.
Toyota did not confirm engine output, but previous rumors have said that the engine will produce around 200 horsepower and will be naturally aspirated. The car will seat four and sits on a platform unique to this project and was engineered for low weight and the excellent fuel economy and handling benefits that the low weight brings. In other words, it’s not built on a Subaru Impreza platform that has the front drivetrain disconnected. The boxer engine layout not only lowers the car’s center of gravity, but also allows for a lower hoodline, and that improves aerodynamics and looks.
The car’s shape appears to be basically production-ready, and definitely looks the sporty part. In profile, it’s somewhat reminiscent of a cross between a Nissan 370Z and a Scion tC, but with a more interesting shape than either car. Proportions are trim with minimal overhangs, and an interesting swage line sweeping from the base of the front fender, around the curved trailing edge of the door, and into the C-pillar. The front end’s shape is somewhat controversial, but was previewed by Toyota’s FT-HS concept shown in Detroit in 2007. Unlike the exterior, the interior appears to not be close to production intent, with concept car-looking seats, dash and door panel coverings removable via zipper, and far more aluminum than will be found in a $20,000 to $25,000 sporty car.
The new Hachiroku will be shown in public for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show next month, and is expected to go on sale sometime in late 2011. Coupled with the upcoming launch of the V10-powered Lexus LF-A supercar and last year’s Lexus IS-F launch, could this mean that Toyota is finally moving away from tan Camry sedans and into more interesting, enthusiast-friendly corners of the market? With a new president, Akio Toyoda, whose name is on the door and who is a competitive race car driver, it seems plausible. Mr. Toyoda seems to have the dual goals of improving the “gotta have it” factor in his company’s products and salvaging his company’s reputation and finances before they have another large hiccup like they experienced this year.
Toyota’s [very brief] press release and a photo gallery follow below.
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1. FT-86 Concept (world premiere)
The FT-86 (“86” pronounced “hachi roku”), a compact rear-wheel-drive sports car, provides driving joy and excitement.
* Compact design gives driver greater control, while body’s lightness and low center of gravity allow racecar-like handling
* Both power and environmental performance provided by 2-liter boxer engine and light body
* Flash Red body color contains hint of blue; interior expresses modern feel with minimal coverage of the highly refined structural components evoking enthusiasm for cruising
Vehicle Length Width Height Wheelbase Seating
FT-86 Concept 4,160 mm 1,760 mm 1,260 mm 2,570 mm 4