Scion discovers its sexy soul
< back to news and events | Posted 02/29/2012
It's not news that fun-loving driving enthusiasts have long ago written off Toyota as a source of adrenalin-inducing machinery - an S on the deck lid of a Corolla does not a sports car make. Toyota's marketing department even hints at this lack of spunk with its latest tagline, "Fun to drive, again." So . . . your cars weren't fun to drive until now, right? To be fair, the company has some practical, reliable offerings. But soul? Character? Let's just say the largest Japanese automaker's mojo has flatlined.
In hope of reviving its mojo before rigor mortis sets in, the brain trust at Toyota has pulled out the defibrillator. This heart-jolting new apparatus is the Toyota 86 (or FT 86 or GT 86, depending on who you talk to) - a lustfully sexy, front-engine, rear-drive sports car. I got to drive it briefly on the short circuit of Japan's Fuji Speedway (owned by Toyota) in less than ideal, rainy conditions.
But I came away, if not blown away (more time on a dry track would have probably provided the appropriate fireworks), at least thoroughly impressed with this new 2+2 coupe.
The interior of the pre-production car I drove was all business, with a small, grippy steering wheel absent of switches (the way a real wheel should be), metal pedals, deep bucket seats with lots of lateral support, and no radio. Don't worry: an appropriate sound system will be standard by the time the Toyota 86 comes to Canadian showrooms in the spring as a Scion FR-S (I've never known of a single model with so many different monikers, which also includes the Subaru BRZ that will also come to Canada).
The focus of this car isn't luggage capacity or rear-passenger comfort (it's a tight squeeze to get in there and a tight fit once inside); it's on the driving experience and racetrack handling. Engineers have thus worked toward achieving a very low centre of gravity, which is why they've gone with a boxer engine layout, borrowed from Subaru but reworked with a higher compression ratio and direct injection by Toyota. This new, naturally aspirated, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder claims about 200 hp and my seat-of-the-pants assessment revealed a broad, flat torque curve, with ample low-end torque and a satisfying run - if not a rush - to red line.
This is just 10 hp shy of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe's 2.0-litre turbocharged four, yet initial numbers indicate the Toyota weighs at least 300 kilograms less at about 1,200 kg. It's also a smaller car, with a wheelbase that's considerably shorter at 2,570 mm (101.2 in.), compared to 2,820 mm (111 in.) for the Genesis Coupe. Weight distribution is also better balanced at 53/47 per cent front to rear compared to the Hyundai's 55/45 per cent.
The wet track prompted my hosts to introduce a bunch of buzz-killing prohibitions, including no overtaking, no treading on curbs, no drifting and no exceeding 70 km/h. I mostly obeyed the do-nots . . . okay, only the no overtaking part.
Despite the wet track, there was enough grip to get a decent pace going, and the 86 felt light, steered sharply and transitioned through esses with remarkable quickness. There was only a trace of understeer going into the circuit's tight bends, which was easily neutralized with the throttle. With reduced grip, it was quite easy to break the rear end loose before the stability control took over and brought it back in line. And the brakes behaved appropriately with a firm pedal and communicative feedback.
Gearbox choices include a six-speed stick (the one I tried) and a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters to select ratios manually. The manual box had relatively tightly spaced ratios (first to fourth at least; it was a short circuit), with a short throw, narrowly spaced shift gate and a slightly notchy feel.
My short drive revealed a sharp-handling gem of a car with firm, track-ready suspension and a capable chassis. Toyota has built a sports car like a sports car should be: fun, visceral, well balanced and hopefully, when pricing is announced, affordable (it should come in below $30,000).
Soul? Character? The 86 has those in spades - heck, it's even exciting. Toyota's mojo has a pulse.
Source - Costa Mouzouris, Wheels.ca