Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Return of the Hachiroku! Toyota's small-body FR Sports Car, the FT-86 Concept

Let it be known to those that were not aware - I am a total car nerd. And as a total car nerd who lives in Tokyo and can read Japanese, I've been really excited lately to hear that there are a few companies that are bucking the current trend of making bland, economical cars and going balls out - specifically, Toyota and Subaru. I've been busy with work lately and unfortunately haven't been able to make it to this year's Tokyo Motor Show to see this car in person, but rest assured I shall make it before next Wednesday when the show closes. I have, however, been doing some reading - namely this article over at nikkei trendy and the last couple issues of Best Car, a major Japanese car mag that's highlighted the Toyota-Subaru combined effort with some quality information.

Now here I'll focus mainly on what I've heard about the Toyota version, which was confirmed at the TMS to be slated for Fall 2011 sale worldwide: in Japan (development name: 086A), North America (087A) and Europe (088A). The basic idea? A throwback to the old AE86 (the hachi-roku) - a lightweight, relatively inexpensive rear-wheel drive car that's fun to toss around turns. Toyota execs and designers alike are on record as saying that they are more focused on appealing to those who remember the original hachi-roku than making a car for young drivers, and are pricing it "such that the average working man can afford one." And how close have they come to this goal? Well, here's what they've got thus far:

The dimensions are a length of 4160mm (162.5 in.), width of 1760mm (68.75 in.) and height of 1260mm (49.2 in.) making it a full 20mm shorter than the original 86, but its wheelbase of 2570mm (100.4 in.) is a full 170mm more than the original's 2400mm. Also, the extra 135mm of width should make it quite a bit more stable as well. Curb weight will be around 1200kg (2640 lbs.). Some of the top brass are saying they want to make it the same length as the original, so don't be surprised if the production model is 4180mm. The body seen is one of four options being debated, this one designed by the ED2 group in southern France - all designs are said to have the dimensions set to the above specifications. Personally, I think the current design looks to have borrowed a bit from the hybrid concept body they displayed at the TMS two years ago, but this looks much cleaner.

Now as far as the powertrain goes, this project really got its start 2 years ago when Toyota acquired a closer relationship with Subaru, purchasing a 9% share in Subaru's parent company FHI from GM, and then upping their share to 16% last year. The designers were very interested in the lower center of gravity that the boxer engine could provide, and went to work right away once they got tinkering rights. What they have eventually come up with is said to be a significantly improved upon naturally aspirated EJ20-based engine, with direct injection and an idling stop added among other things to help improve both fuel economy and emissions without sacrificing the almighty bottom line that is the dyno output. This engine mated to a 6MT with a classic 3-pedal cockpit layout (no paddle-shifting for the hachi-roku!!) will deliver 200 hp at 7200rpm and 21.0 kgm (152ft-lbs.) of torque over a wide and low range of 2400-4400 rpms to the rear wheels (for the Toyota version). All the tweaks have kept a very respectable estimated 15-16 km/l (35-38 mpg) fuel estimate to go along with the power. This is no slouch by any means, making the the power-to-weight ratio slightly higher than that of the legendary hachi-roku at 1:6 (FT-86) compared to 1:7.15 (AE86).

Now last but not least comes the price tag: up to this point they've been sticking with their rather ambiguous statement of "affordable for the average working man", which originally was thought to mean around 2.0M yen (roughly $20,000 US) in keeping with the original. As development has moved along this number has crept up to 2.5M, with some thinking it might even wind up being more than that when all is said and done. Toyota however, in it's determination to make this an affordable sports car in the spirit of the project, is now apparently considering a base model in the range of 2.3 - 2.5M yen (again roughly $23,000-25,000 USD), with options galore.

The developers are sticking to saying that what you see at the TMS is still a rough idea of what will eventually be on sale, but this concept car is not rough around the edges at all. I have no idea what the other 3 designs they're contemplating are, but speculation is that they are being worked on by Toyota here in Tokyo and the CALTY offices in southern California, and possibly another Italian design factory. I personally have no doubt that this car will be an overwhelming success once released, but Toyota is saying that they are more concerned about making a car that reminds people what fun behind the wheel is supposed to mean than sales figures. To show these guys know how to have fun, they say that they are even drifting these prototypes on the track and have figured out what they believe to be the perfect weight distribution ratio for drifting - which they say in no way should be confused with meaning a 50:50 distribution like the Mazda RX-8. It certainly sounds like they have their shit straight to me!

Now I also have information I shall eventually share about the Subaru end of the project (yes, there are a fair bit of differences), and also some information about the Honda CR-Z hybrid FF-sports car... although really the only reason I would have to share that would be to show how much better the FT-86 is than it. ;P

I'll also definitely be giving an update after hitting up the show myself, if nothing else for the pictures. All pictures here were taken from the Nikkei Trendy article referenced above and can be seen in their original sizes by following the link.

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