The Tokyo Motor Show is always a snore. For the last few years, it’s been a beige, businesslike blizzard of practical, boring cars, with a few goofy concepts thrown in for flavor. The Big Three didn’t even show up this year, and a number of European automakers stayed home to organize their sock drawers. But this year we had one reason to keep our news feeds running: the Toyota FT-86. And we weren’t disappointed.
Toyota had been teasing their new small sports car since 2009, pumping out one concept or render after another. The owners of 15% of Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru’s parent company), they swore up and down that they’d partnered with Subaru to develop a small, rear-wheel-drive, four-seat sports car. Styling and bodywork would be Toyota’s job,
while Subaru would handle the drive train. Each company would release their own version, but with few differences.
It was dismissed as myth, vaporware cooked up to convince us that the world’s largest producer of automotive slumber was something more. But some of us met these rumors with optimism. What if Toyota was back? What if we could finally love a Toyota again?
And at Tokyo, we saw it: the Toyota GT 86. Doubters, there’s the door. The GT 86 will come in three variants. We won’t see the Toyota here in America, and while we’d like to complain about this being Toyota’s effort to protect their concrete reputation of plain oatmeal here in the States, it’s more likely a line tossed to their floundering Scion brand.
Yes, our version will be a Scion, the FR-S, but no, you won’t have to start wearing Ed Hardy and listening to dubstep just to drive one. It will be exactly like the Toyota, and five
bucks on Ebay will get you a shiny Toyota badge for the hood, anyway.
The third version, the Subaru BRZ, has yet to RSVP. This, too, will be mostly identical to the Toyota, save for a six-star on the nose, and the hope of an STi version sometime in the future. We think, though, that we will see it in America, since Subaru already has a
decent foothold here as a performance brand.
But what’s in a name? On to the exciting bits. Subaru developed a new 2 liter boxer for the project, and naturally aspirated, it will grumble out 197 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. In an uncharacteristic move for Subaru, there are no plans yet for a turbo. But that flat-four does give the GT 86 a center of gravity lower than John Goodman’s shop creeper. In fact,
Subaru boasts that it has a lower CoG than a Ferrari 458.
Now, 197 hp isn’t an exciting number. One wonders why they didn’t just advertise 200. But then you see the weight, 2,700 lbs, and realize that this might just be something special. That’s less than 300 lbs more than a Mazda MX-5, which only carries 170 hp. The
stickers are impressive, too. The little sports car will ring up at around $24,000 for base models, and $27,000 if you want the gizmos.
And all these numbers are why the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ might not work in America. See, here when our kids say “rear-wheel-drive,” we wash their mouths out
with soap. Unless they’re talking about huge, mad muscle cars like the 2013 Mustang GT500. Already, detractors cry afoul of the low power numbers.
So we compare it instead to the MX-5, the die hard roadster that’s been selling well here for 22 years. But the MX-5 has two fewer seats, and a removable roof. Nor will the FR-S and BRZ be able to keep up with the likes of the Hyundai Genesis or the Nissan 370Z,
who have long since left the small sports car segment to win glory against American muscle. Europe offers no opponents, either. The BMW 1M is much faster, of course, but costs a great deal more.
What we’re left with, then, with the FR-S/BRZ, is a car without a segment, one that might have done very well 20 years ago, but may not succeed here in America today.
Or it may start a revolution. It may blaze a trail for more small sports cars. It just depends on our response, which has been positive so far. Each new detail is met with a groundswell of enthusiasm among autocrossers and tuners alike.
Why? Because it’s a Toyota. And we want to love Toyotas for their pragmatic reliability and simplicity, yet always end up hating them because they’re just so boring. Simply getting stuck behind a Camry in traffic is akin to anesthesia.
Finally we have a Toyota that promises both fun and reliability, and it’s a long time coming.
What do you think? Will the GT 86 triplets fall on their identical faces, or are they a foundation for something much more?
Images courtesy Toyota Motor Company