It’s also a car Toyota sees as rekindling the spirit of its one of its old 1980s stars: the similarly codenamed AE-86 Corolla GT, whose easily driftable rear-wheel-drive chassis and eager 1.6-litre twin-cam engine has made it an enduring hero in Japan.
This is a project Toyota has wanted to do for some time now, in order to improve its image and increase its credibility with young Japanese drivers, who have become increasingly less interested in cars in recent years. But for a number of reasons, including the lack of a suitably sporty engine, Toyota’s money men kept it in limbo.
Toyota also wants to keep the car affordable.A target price of ¥2 million (£14,000 at current rates) is the ideal, but with two years still to go until production that could yet change. A price of about £18k is more likely in the UK.
The car’s styling is credited to Toyota’s ED2 studio in the south of France. The profile shows the clear influence of the FT-HS, Toyota’s 2007 hybrid show concept, with elements of the Nissan 370Z visible in the roofline.
Toyota is keen to push the car’s driver appeal and what it terms ‘emotional performance’, describing the car as small, light and easy to control. At 4160mm long and 1760mm wide, it’s slightly shorter and narrower than an Audi TT, and at 1260mm high it’s also lower.
Under the bonnet is the current Subaru 2.0-litre flat four, as used in the Impreza, but by the time the coupé goes into production it may use the next-generation boxer unit. The current engine produces 146bhp and 141lb ft of torque, but the new engine could go up to 160bhp, with lower CO2 emissions. A turbo would increase performance but would also increase the price.
The Subaru engine has several advantages. It’s compact, light, smooth and nicely balanced. But more critical for Toyota is the structure of the unit, which allows engineers to keep the car’s centre of gravity low. The gearbox will be a conventional six-speed manual.
Toyota says the coupé is based on “an all-new platform”, although there has been speculation that this will be a shortened Impreza chassis converted to rear-wheel drive.
The FT-86 has struts at the front with rear double wishbones, as does the Impreza.Keeping the weight down will be crucial. Toyota was able to build this car’s antecedent, the Corolla GT coupé, to weigh 960kg, but this time it will be nearer 1200kg. The FT-86 officially seats four, but in reality it’s going to be a 2+2. The show car’s interior, decked out in grey, has some unusual touches, such as a big, oval instrument panel, with minor controls and unusually slim air vents mounted on the console and dashboard.
Toyota won’t confirm that the final production car will look exactly like the FT-86, and things may change in the next couple of years. But the car is already at the running prototype stage, and if development goes according to plan it could be unveiled at the 2011 Tokyo motor show, with an on-sale date in 2012.
See the full hi-res Toyota FT-86 RWD sports car concept picture gallery
See the 'Toyobaru' spy photos
See the hi-res sketches of the Subaru coupe
Toyota's new RWD coupe revealed
Twitter - follow autocar.co.ukSee all the latest Toyota reviews, news and video