Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Toyota FT-86 Less weight a move in right direction



Cars have certainly grown a lot in the past couple of decades. Like inflation, which slowly creeps upward to a point that we no longer have the spending power we once enjoyed, we just accept the fact that the next generation of a car will likely be larger and heavier. Toyota, once a harbinger of lightweight, efficient design, is just as guilty as the next automaker when it comes to this, maybe even more so in recent years.

A quick look at its current roster shows a Corolla that’s larger than its ever been, a Camry that comes pretty close to qualifying for full-size EPA status, a RAV4 that is no longer the fun little sprite it was when introduced but rather a three-row crossover bordering on midsize, and a Highlander that is one of the largest crossovers on the market. All good vehicles with respectable fuel economy, for sure, but if they were smaller with the same drivetrains they’d no doubt be more fuel efficient and likely more enjoyable to drive.

Likewise, Toyota’s sports models started small and slowly grew to become better than ever, as far as all out speed and performance went, but some lamented the loss of the ultra-light MR2 and lighter, less costly Supra. And the fact that both were axed, along with the once much loved and lauded Celica, is a pretty good sign that they lost their way. Is there hope for a return to lightweight performance? Something inspired by the same philosophy that drives Lotus engineers to weigh every nut and bolt that goes into making an Elise in order to make sure the car is as agile as possible before it hits the road? Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

Remember the FT-HS Concept shown at the Detroit auto show in ’07? It was a slick hybrid-powered sports coupe that many believed would be the next Supra. Well, any passing resemblance between the FT-HS and new FT-86 is hardly coincidental, the all-white former car obviously inspiring the metallic Flash Red model that recently debuted at the Tokyo auto show, a paint colour that incidentally includes a “hint of blue”.

Where both FT concepts differ from the Supra is in size, weight and powertrain choices. At a mere 4,160 mm (163.8 inches) long compared to the old Supra’s 4,516-mm (177.8-inch) length, and 1,760 mm (69.3 inches) wide compared to 1,811 mm (71.3 inches), only the FT-86’s slightly lower height at 1,260 mm (49.6 inches) compares to the Supra’s 1,275 mm (50.2 inches), and wheelbase at 2,570 mm (101.2 inches) is similar to the 2,550-mm (100.4-inch) long wheelbase of the last generation Supra. In other words Toyota is looking to go smaller and lighter with its upcoming sports car, which makes this four-occupant 2+2 more of a Celica replacement, or even better, a Corolla GT-S (AE86) replacement, being small, light and rear-drive, which in my books is a very good thing.

Years ago I spent a lot of time in a number of Corolla GT-S liftbacks, a car that was then considered quite powerful because of its 1.6-litre twin-cam four-cylinder that produced a mind-numbing 112hp. Yes, that would hardly qualify for subcompact entry now, but back in the day this engine also kept enthusiasts enthralled in the MR2. Truly, you had to be there. As for the new FT-86 Concept, it’s powertrain choice reads more Corolla GT-S or Celica GT-S than Supra, or then again, maybe more like the old Subaru XT. After all, under its long, sleek hood is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in a horizontally opposed “boxer” configuration that actually comes from Subaru, partially owned by Toyota, as part of a joint project that will include a sporty car for the smaller Japanese car company as well. The boxer engine is an ideal packaging design for lowering the car’s centre of gravity and reducing the hood height, enhancing performance and visuals, not to mention fuel economy via better aerodynamics.

For Subaru to move forward with the project it must either be willing to offer a car without four-wheel drive, which would be a major step for the Fuji Heavy Industry owned brand, or possibly the rear-drive FT-86 has been designed to accept additional power to the front wheels. We won’t find out about this until Subaru unveils its version of the concept, but if so we might find ourselves with an all-wheel drive Toyota sports car too, and then potentially revisiting the glory days of the Celica Turbo All-Trac and its rally winning ways. The possibilities are endless.

Designed in Toyota’s ED2 studio in France, the FT-86 was a popular entry at the Tokyo show this year. A production model will follow next year, according to reports. These reports say that the road-ready sports coupe will go on sale in late 2011, but Toyota is not officially commenting on a launch date.

We can only hope that the reports are accurate and a new lightweight rear-drive sports car is on the way. Of course, I’d like to see the name Celica revived with Supra pulled out and dusted off for the most sporting trim level. Then again, no matter what Toyota calls it we’re in for a treat when it hits the streets.

source: montrealgazette