Excitement is a hard thing to come by in the showroom of a Toyota dealership. In fact, due largely to the company’s market domination, the word “Camry” has taken on the connotation of “boring” in the minds of many auto enthusiasts. Safe, yes, but boring nonetheless. Back in 2007, Toyota debuted a concept car called the FT-HS, which was to be a two-door hybrid sports coupe that could make people excited about the brand again. The hybrid plans seem to be a ways off, but the new FT-86 Concept draws heavy styling cues from the FT-HS and will be hitting showrooms in 2011.
Details are still a bit scarce concerning the FT-86, which will be making its official debut next month at the Tokyo Motor Show, but what we do know is pretty impressive. First off, as this is, as the press release describes it, a “compact rear-wheel-drive sports car,” we’ll start with the engine. Ina surprise move, the engine will not be a variant of one of Toyota’s current powerplants. Instead, the FT-86 will come equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine (boxer means that the engine is flat, with two cylinders directly opposite the other two, instead of in a line or a V formation).
This boxer engine is derived from the company’s long held stake in Subaru, which is known as one of the few major auto manufacturers that uses boxer engines in their cars. Toyota used to own about 9% of Fuji Heavy Industries (which owns the Subaru brand), but a year and a half ago, Toyota doubled their investment and announced the creation of a Toyota and Subaru sports coupe collaboration. While the official press release doesnt specifically say that the FT-86 is the result of that collaboration, it’s a safe bet to assume that it is. The engine has been mounted very low in the body in order to keep the FT-86′s center of gravity low, with will help the handling.
And the other major feature of the FT-86 requires that low-slung engine. The car’s body, and indeed most of its components, don’t weigh very much. Rather than pour on the power to create an exciting sports car, Toyota decided to drastically cut down on the weight. The body itself is very small. The U.S. Toyota Corolla measures 178 inches in length (the Japanese version is about 6 inches shorter), but the FT-86 is even smaller with a total length of 164 inches. The FT-86 does have a longer wheelbase, though, measuring 110 inches to the Corolla’s 102. Both cars are identical in width.
This presents the public with a very interesting vehicle. Once it hits production (the FT-86 name isn’t sticking around, and it may end up being branded a Scion in the U.S.), the expected retail price is about $20,000. For that price, you will get a low-slung, compact sports car that provides more than enough power for the weight. Due to it being compact, the FT-86 won’t exactly be the most practical car for a lot of people, but there is sure to be large enough market. Also, Toyota’s reputation for build quality and dependability will likely draw in a number of buyers who would once look at a Honda Civic Si or the new Hyundai Genesis four-cylinder.
The real test, however, will be the handling. Will Toyota be able to make a fun, agile car after years of focusing on the “safe and dependable” market? Yes, they do have their Scion and Lexus divisions to draw talent from, but no vehicle from those brands have put out great handling cars in the past few years, with the possible exception of the Scion tC and the much-higher-priced performance Lexus models like the IS-F. Both brands have focused more on style and luxury, respectively, while edging away from the performance game. So what do you think? Should Toyota get back into the sports car game, or should they just be happy that people will drive their cars for commuting during the work week, and then a fast, glitzy non-Toyota for weekend fun?