Toyota will next year fulfil its promise to the world’s car lovers by recreating a range of affordable, sporty Toyotas that bring fun back to driving with its new Toyota FT-86.
In an as-yet unspecified Japanese factory in early 2012, the great grandson of Toyota’s revered founder, Akio Toyoda, will put a low-slung, rear-drive, European-developed 2+2 coupé, the FT-86, into production – in large enough volume to satisfy demand from Toyota’s many markets around the world, including Japan, the US and Europe.
The car will be available with many performance-oriented options, and could be involved in one-make racing, at least in its home country. Starting price in the UK should be close to £25,000 by the time first production cars reach our shores in the second half of next year, and full-house versions could reach the late £20,000s.
Soon after Toyota makes its move, Subaru will unveil a different-looking but mechanically similar coupé, called 086a; the two models are part of a co-operative deal that began with Toyota being allowed to use surplus Subaru manufacturing capacity in the US, and has blossomed into an agreement to create “several cars” together.
The arrangement allows hard-pressed Subaru to benefit from its giant partner’s market expertise and vast economies of scale, while Toyota gets the use of Subaru’s low and compact flat-four engine and its better track record at making cars keen drivers understand and desire.
The new coupés are aimed directly at VW’s successful Scirocco – but have several built-in advantages. Toyota insiders say that as well as having rear-wheel drive, which better suits handling adjustability than the Scirocco’s Golf-derived front-wheel drive, their new FT has a considerably lower centre of gravity (even lower than a Porsche Boxster’s) and is around 200kg lighter.
With such talk, Toyoda and his henchmen are sparing no effort to break through the current view of Toyota products as worthy but dull, while giving the car a general air of day-to-day practicality.
There has been much talk of creating the aura of the ultra-rare 1960s Toyota 2000GT, but a much more relevant comparison is with the rear-drive Corolla AE86 coupé of the mid-1980s, whose rear-drive compactness, high power-to-weight ratio and great controllability soon made it a favourite with good drivers.
In all likelihood the car will come to our market in two trim versions, with the entry model priced a little under £25,000. They will share the same power output and manual gearbox; price differences will be made up by interior equipment, body decor and wheel/tyre specifications.
Market experts say the demand for cars in this sector is around 60,000 cars across Europe, and if successful the pair could account for 9000 units or so. Of these, 3000 to 4000 could be expected to come to the UK, which means that next year FTs could be taking to our roads at around 80 a week.