Saturday, August 4, 2012

FT-86: The Return of a Legend

You might be interested in this article if...
1.  You are a sports car enthusiast without a lot of money
2.    You are a fan of the legendary street racing AE-86
3.   You love the purpose build racing design of the MX-5 Miata, but find coupes more appealing

Ever look back on cars from 20+ years ago and wonder, “why don’t they make something like that now”? Many of the cars from the past had unique appeal that just seemed to slip away into history, never to return to the market. The Honda CR-X Si illustrates this well as it disappeared from Honda’s line up, and has only been replaced in spirit by the CR-X inspired Hyundai Veloster. The British Roadster of the 1960s illustrates this phenomenon as well, disappearing from the market in spite of desperate outcries from enthusiasts. However, unlike the CR-X, the British Roadster would be singlehandedly resurrected by the MX-5 Miata 30 years later, and has taken a place in automobile history since. We are about to witness another second coming. The second coming of a car that is perhaps more legendary and more notorious than either the CR-X or the British Roadster, a car that changed the face of both street and track racing in the 1980s – the 1986 Toyota Corolla, aka the AE-86.

The original street racing machine

Lately Toyota has been dreaming about the good old days before Scion, where sports cars didn’t require impressive specs or a massive MSRPs. When sports cars were simpler and racing was about intuition and the feel of your tires holding tight to the road while you tackled corners at the track or on a mountain pass. But Toyota didn’t have the space or manpower to make this dream possible, and so it formed a promising alliance with Subaru to get the job done. Subaru would handle engineering and manufacture the car out of its plant in Gunma Japan, while Toyota would design the car and fund the operation.

The design was inspired by the AE-86 and retains many of its traits, including rear seating, a hatchback, and an FR drive layout. In addition, Toyota had 3 very specific goals to meet with the design: Firstly, it needed to be light weight and efficient. Second, handling ability needed to be maximized while keeping the car affordable. Lastly, it needed to carry 4 people and at least a set of golf clubs. Toyota would name its new sports coupe the FT-86 (FT after Toyota’s pure sport hybrid FT-HS concept, and 86 after the AE-86).

The FT-HS pure sport hybrid concept

The FT-86 will be the world’s first coupe to carry a boxer engine, and the Subaru sourced 2.0L boxer will make 200hp (That’s 100hp/L!) and 151 lb-ft of torque. The FT-86 will also boast a 0-60 time of just seven seconds. And because the 86 only weighs 2662 lb it has a power ratio of 13.31lb/hp, which is even better than the Miata’s 14.5lb/hp. Furthermore, thanks to Toyota’s dual port direct injection technology the boxer redlines at 7500 rpm and boasts 29.17 MPG on premium unleaded.

Subaru Sourced 2.0L Boxer

All that power is channelled through a close ratio 6 speed manual transmission that shifts with precise feeling short throws. An automatic dual clutch transmission is also available for those that want it. The shift points are well timed, smooth and seamless. For those that want more control there are paddle shifters that allow manual gear shifts. In addition to the auto and manual drive modes, a semi-manual mode allows drivers to downshift for corners before returning to auto mode.

The Toyobaru alliance is really aiming to change the world of sports cars, and has been diligent in producing an affordable, purpose built enthusiast’s car that meets all its initial goals. Indeed, Toyota’s Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada said that the FT-86 was meant to be as affordable as possible so enthusiasts could actually buy the car, and that compromises would be necessary. Nevertheless, Toyobaru has found revolutionary ways to maximize value for money with clever engineering. The 86 was designed with a 53/47 front/rear weight distribution and boasts the lowest center of gravity of any production vehicle. This was achieved by capitalizing on the flat shape of the boxer engine, and by placing the engine very low and closer to the center of the car. The engine actually sits at about knee height from the driver, having its center of gravity only 17.7 inches above the ground puts it 1 inch lower than the Porsche Cayman’s! However, this also means the Subaru model won’t have room for AWD.  Next, the 86 uses light 17 inch alloys wrapped in 215/45R17 rubber which reduces unsprung weight and provides more precise handling compared to other less practical, vanity inspired wheel and corresponding elastic bands. The 86 also comes standard with a Torsen LSD to help it push out of corners even faster. To keep the price down, conventional Macpherson front struts and a double wishbone rear suspension systems were used. All this equipment culminates in exquisite handling that has even been compared to the agility of the Mazda MX-5 by many automotive journalists and magazines like Auto Car.

Spy image of Ft-86 testing at the Nurburgring

The premiss for the FT-86 is actually very similar to the Miata’s; if they had sprung for materials and components that would have really optimised the FT-86’s potential it would have been too heavy and too expensive.  The car is further devoid of most driving aids, excluding Electronic Stability Control, which is required by law. A lot like the Miata, the FT-86 relies less on computers and puts the driver back in control of the action.

While on the track automotive journalists describe the 86’s cornering as firmly planted with slight understeer. Because of the balanced tire size, the 86 oozes from between states of traction at its limit and provides ample notice before control is lost. The coupe is very tame despite its RWD and 200 hp. However, once the car hits straighter roads the driver may find himself wishing for an extra 100 hp.

Although Toyobaru didn’t necessarily need to provide sleek styling in their pragmatic coupe, they certainly did. This car looks so good, it’s boarder line pornographic! Its lines are flowing yet disciplined and focused. The coupe’s stance is aggressive but refined and svelte. Everything from the curves in the b-pillarless doors to the extremely well defined, and handsome LED trimmed head, and tail lights looks like they were planned meticulously. No doubt about it, the FT-86 has defined a style all its own and looks absolutely enchanting in black.

Photo from the Geneva Motor Show

But besides its great looks, the design was deliberate and practical. Visibility out the back window is better than one would expect and the overall Coefficient of Drag is only 0.27! To put that into perspective, the Mazda RX-8 has a Coefficient of 0.3.

RX-8, left, and FT-86, right

The good looks don’t stop there though. Although the interior of the FT-86 is sparse on fluffy features and soft touch surfaces, it is driver oriented. Everything from the position of the gages in the cluster and supportive racing styled seats to the position of the shifter and handbrake make driving the FT-86 feel natural and harmonious. Everything the driver touches, save the alloy pedals and fabric seat, is leather wrapped. The steering wheel is tilt and telescopic, and for the most hardcore racers that don’t have a second to look away from the road, automatic climate control. There is even a shift light on the rev counter!

Scanned page from a Toyota Modellista catalogue

In spite of its good looks and performance, the FT-86 isn’t as impractical as one would think. Despite being only 220mm longer than a Miata, there is seating for 4 if you’re willing to squeeze into the backseats. There is also 10 cubic ft of cargo space under the hatch that can be increased by folding the one piece rear seats. And a space saving spare is tucked under the hatch floor. Finally, the coupe doesn’t skimp on safety equipment either and comes standard with VSC, front driver and passenger airbags, and side and rear curtain airbags.

Concepts have been around motor shows for over 2 years now, but the production version will make its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in December. The same model will be available in spring of the 2012 model year and have an MSRP of about $25k. Toyobaru’s sport coupe will be sold in the entry level sports category and compete with models like the Civic Si, Scion tC, and VW GTI.

Rumour has it that a turbo model will be available on the model year following the initial release of the FT-86. Moreover, Subaru’s sibling BRZ (Boxer, RWD, Zenith) model has been designed to accept a convertible top, and an extended wheelbase that might allow a 4 door model. And although these options would satisfy many enthusiasts from North America, Toyobaru has confirmed nothing.

You can learn more about the 86 by checking out the links below, or join the hype and be the first to read news about the FT-86 by signing up with its enthusiasts’ site

Links to official/teaser videos :

Additional Reading:
*Specs Leaked from an official toyota training manual!*

Official Forums:

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