The 2013 Toyota, Lexus and Scion “launch list” gets tweaked yet again!

number_9_answer_3_xlargeAnother day, another set of teaser hints and pronouncements over what new or revised vehicles Toyota, Scion and Lexus will introduce during the 2013 calendar year. First, on 11 September 2012, Toyota Division U.S.A. group vice president and general manager Bill Fay predicted that “seven, exciting all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles (will be unveiled) in 2013″. Then, on 3 January 2013, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Lentz stated that “Nine all-new or significantly updated models (will be unveiled)”…Beginning this month with RAV4, followed later this year by the Lexus IS and Scion tC, just to name a few. Now, on the sidelines of the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas on Monday 7 January, The Detroit News‘ David Shepardson cites senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales USA Bob Carter as saying that

Toyota plans 9 new vehicle launches for 2013 — including five for its Toyota brand, one for Scion and three for Lexus, after 12 new or refreshed models in 2012.

Twelve new or refreshed models in 2012? Wasn’t it 19? Well, the 19 for 2012 consisted of 12 Toyotas, 6 Lexus and one Scion, so it seems Carter was only referring to Toyotas. So, if we work from the third set of clues given by a high-ranking Toyota official in less than 4 months, plus our previous sleuthing and that of other pundits, the list would consist of the

Toyota Highlander – All-new 3rd-generation. This time, we’re combining all variants of the Highlander, hybrid and non-hybrid alike, into one entry.

Toyota Tundra – More likely a semi-extensive second mid-life facelift for the current 2nd-generation model, as opposed to an all-new 3rd-gen.

Toyota Corolla – All-new 11th-generation, expected as a sedan only, with the Matrix hatchback variant failing to see a third generation.

Toyota 4Runner – A mid-life refresh to the current 5th-generation model originally launched in September 2009.

Toyota Sequoia – As with the Tundra, an extensive second facelift for the current 2nd-generation model, as opposed to an all-new 3rd-gen. If this is pushed back to the 2014 calendar year, then Toyota was counting hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the Highlander separately after all.

Lexus IS – All-new 3rd-generation, officially confirmed to debut in just over a week at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show.

Lexus GX – A mid-life facelift for the current 2nd-generation that originally debuted in November 2009.

Lexus NX – Believed to debut at one or more of the major fall 2013 auto shows (Frankfurt, Tokyo or Los Angeles), Lexus’ newest model line is a compact crossover SUV smaller than the brand’s most popular model, the RX. Like the latest Toyota RAV4 from whence it’s expected to derive, the NX 200t and NX 300h launch (from public introduction to press preview to on-sale date) will probably encompass two calendar years.

And the Scion? It is interesting to note that Bob Carter is confirming our notion of a single new or refreshed model for the brand for 2013, as opposed to Automotive News‘ insistence on two new models. While Jim Lentz tells us to expect nothing more than a mid-term refresh for the current 2nd-generation tC, is Scion really going to celebrate it’s 10th anniversary only with something so anticlimactic? Or did he misspeak, leaving us to hold out hope for a new-generation 5-door hatchback instead? Well, if Scion once misidentified the FR-S manual transmission code on its press preview materials, perhaps they also erred in identifying their big news for 2013.

Besides reporting Bob Carter’s clues regarding the 9 new models for this year, David Shepardson also obtained the first official confirmation we’ve seen that

…the new (Furia) concept Toyota will show at the North American International Auto Show will be the basis — at least in part — for the new Corolla…

“You’ll see the concept of the Corolla,” Carter said, saying it will have “some of the elements” of what the new Corolla will look like. “We’re looking at styling of the vehicle in a way for the youth of today. Corolla has always been a youth car.”

Ummm…did he really say that with a straight face?

Are we done yet with the FT-86 / FR-S / BRZ preview concepts? Maybe not…

The buildup to the launch and reveal of the final production versions of the Toyota/Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports coupes (the so-called “Toyobaru twins”) has been one long, drawn-out, sometimes agonizing striptease or string of teasers and concept cars. On the Toyota side alone we had the original FT-86 Concept that debuted at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show in October of that year, followed by the January 2010 appearance of its tuner-modded FT-86 G Sports Concept iteration at the Tokyo Auto Salon, and the 2011 triple play of the black FT-86 II Concept (unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show), the Scion FR-S Concept the following month in New York and the red/orange with Brembo brakes FT-86 II Concept revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show just over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Subaru revealed two awkwardly-named variants on the same clear Lucite-bodied theme: the Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Technology Concept (shown above) unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, and the BRZ Prologue Boxer Sports Car Architecture II (shown below) following 5½ months later at the Frankfurt Motor Show. At a glance, it appears that the two are the same except for changing the accent/border tinting from blue to gold. Some pundits insist, however, that the Subaru BRZ Prologue contains more whole mechanical parts and less cutaways than its predecessor. At any rate, an ft86club thread contains many excellent close-up pictures of its mechanical innards in all their metallic glory.

While most of were convinced that the next stage of the seemingly never-ending saga would be the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show reveal of the final production versions, Car and Driver‘s Erik Johnson begs to differ. He informs us that

Subaru finally will show a version of its new BRZ sports car—with sheetmetal!—at November’s Los Angeles auto show. It won’t look like the final product, however, and neither do Toyota’s two FT-86 concepts: The companies have an agreement not to show a single production body panel until the cars debut at Tokyo in December… Expect a crazy body treatment to apply to this new Subaru concept, too, as there’s a chance it will wear the brand’s high-performance STI badge. (Whether the actual car will get an STI version is still unknown, but this seems like a good sign.)

So, what will Subaru name this purported final BRZ concept? BRZ Preface? BRZ Preamble? BRZ Prelude? Forget the last one, if Honda has anything to say about it…

Beyond the Nürburgring package, will a Lexus LFA II appear at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Show?

To date, Lexus has been adamant that they would only build 500 copies of the LFA supercar, split 450 of the “regular” version (insofar as you can consider the LFA a regular car) and 50 equipped with the Nürburgring Package. Yet, Japanese rumormonger Best Car magazine begs to differ, and insists that an extra 100 copies of a so-called LFA II will be offered. Their story, however, has traveled from the original Japanese to the French-language Le Blog Auto to English-language Autoblog, so there’s plenty of room for something being Lost in Translation.

The French-language article also covers the Nissan GT-R’s rumored Spec R swan song expected to debut at either the 2011 Tokyo Auto Show in December or at the 2012 Tokyo Auto Salon in January. As to the Lexus LFA, the article states that, after selling out all 50 LFA Nürburgring Package cars (information that is news to us) favorable response to this edition and feedback from prospective clients led to this so-called LFA II, which would use the Nürburgring Package’s 570 hp version of the V10 engine and a number of distinctive bodywork modifications to create a more sports-oriented version while maintaining the “regular” LFA’s levels of grand touring comfort. In other words, they are predicting a Bugatti Veyron-like special/limited edition. At any rate, they claim, we’ll know more details at the end of this year, implying a 2011 Tokyo Auto Show debut.

Color us skeptical, though. Sure, it would be nice for a third LFA variant to see the light of day, but between the supercar’s money-losing proposition as it is and the efforts by Toyota to get back on track in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquakes and tsunami, expending time and energy on something like this seems almost frivolous. Then again, given the recent plethora of hybrid and electric supercar concepts floating around, might this so-called LFA II be related to a rumored hybrid or electric LFA?

Thanks for the tip, Mo.

Toyota at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon, Part 2

Following up on our recent article on six of the official Toyota-branded vehicles at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon, here are the other six vehicles that complete the “Toyota dozen” at the TAS:

Toyota FJ Cruiser JAOS Selected by Modellista (by Modellista)

Founded in 1997, Modellista is an in-house Toyota arm whose primary (but by no means sole) focus is on body kits and custom grilles and cosmetics available as aftermarket accessories and the occasional Japanese Domestic Market limited-edition model. Yet, their name has also been applied to such delectable JDM forbidden fruit as the Toyota Mark X +M Super Charger, powered, as the name implies, by a supercharged 350+ hp version of the 3.5-liter 2GR-FSE V6.

The first of three Modellista JDM special edition production model debuts at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon is the Toyota FJ Cruiser JAOS Selected by Modellista. As with the Scion tC, the FJ Cruiser has been the odd “forbidden fruit” for the Japanese that was built but not sold locally. After going into production in early 2006 exclusively for the U.S. and Canada, and, over two years later, China and Mexico, the Japanese Domestic Market finally got its due with its local introduction in December 2010.

Although that kangaroo-like mascot in the license plate may imply some sort of Australian Outback connection, JAOS is, in fact, the acronym for the Japan Offroad Service, the country’s premier offroad aftermarket accessories manufacturer since its founding in 1985. Not only has JAOS officially sponsored Ivan Stewart’s 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser PreRunner BAJA racer and collaborated on project vehicles for Toyota Motor Sports and Toyota Racing Development, but has similarly worked with Nissan, Mitsubishi and Daimler Chrysler.

The FJ Cruiser JAOS Selected by Modellista’s 2JV paint code denotes the signature Voodoo Blue shade available from 2007 to 2009 in the U.S. and Canada. JAOS accessories selected by Modellista include the custom front bumper with outboard fog lights and a brushed-metal skid plate, side rails and JAOS’ own Victron Vakara T-01 20″ wheels on Yokohama Geolander H/TS tires.

Toyota Ractis Modellista version (by Modellista)

As noted in a previous Kaizen Factor story, the Toyota Ractis is a B-segment 5-seater mini-minivan derivative of the Toyota Yaris’ NBC platform that will also be sold in Europe as the Toyota Verso S. Its rebadged Subaru Trezia twin also received some Tokyo Auto Salon love via an STI concept version (a borderline sacrilegious use of that hallowed badge, methinks, given that the powertrain remained unaltered).

The Toyota Ractis Modellista version, too, uses an unmodified 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE 4-cylinder engine, and modifications are pretty much limited to a tasteful body kit, alternate 16 x 6 alloy wheels, a modest 20mm (just over ¾”) lowered suspension and interior trim bits.

Toyota Vitz Modellista version (by Modellista)

Our previous Kaizen Factor Tokyo Auto Salon article featured, as one of the G’s concept Toyotas, a version of the newly-launched 3rd-generation Vitz (or Yaris for export). This alternate take by Modellista is a production option for the Japanese Domestic market and, as such, is more aesthetically toned-down. As with the other recently-launched Modellista versions, a tasteful body kit is an essential part of the package, as are red, black and brushed metal interior accents.

Fortunately, a few nods to the enthusiast driver are included. For one, the Vitz Modellista version is derived from the Vitz RS, the more sporting version powered by the 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE 4-cylinder engine in conjunction with a 5-speed manual transmission. Also included are a Helical limited-slip differential (hardly necessary in a 109 hp vehicle, but still a worthwhile handling aid), a set of Work Emotion 11R 17″ wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tires, a Sport Suspension Kit including lowering springs good for a 15mm (just over ½”) drop and a sport muffler.

Toyota Auris GT Concept (by TRD [Toyota Racing Development])

The granddaddy of Toyota aftermarket performance divisions is Toyota Racing Development, more commonly known by its TRD initials. A translated Toyota TRD Japan history page shows a 1957 Toyopet Crown as establishing the roots of Toyota motorsports, and, over the years, Toyota Racing Development has grown into a powerhouse with TRD Japan (also known as Toyota Technocraft) and TRD USA (the latter founded in 1979) each having both performance tuning and motorsports divisions; as well as TRD Australia and Thailand-based TRD Asia divisions (both founded in 2007).

Yet, for all of TRD’s vaunted history, only a single vehicle represented the Toyota affiliate at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon: the Auris GT Concept. Fortunately, its list of modifications and performance credentials certainly outranked anything debuting under the G Sports or Modellista banners this year.

Although the Auris name may be unfamiliar in North America, it is a stalwart part of the Toyota line in the rest of the world. This C-segment 3 and 5-door hatchback, available in Europe, Japan and South Africa, bears the Corolla name in Australia and New Zealand. As such, one realizes that it is, at heart, the (Corolla) Matrix counterpart for the rest of the world. Available with a plethora of engine options ranging from a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine (in Europe) to the 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 (in Japan’s Blade Master variant), not to mention European gasoline-electric hybrid and diesel engines, the TRD Auris GT Concept utilizes, as its basis, the 2ZR-FAE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. This engine is essentially the 2ZR-FE 132-hp Dual-VVT-i engine that, in North America, powers the Toyota Corolla, base versions of the Toyota Matrix and the Scion xD with the addition of Valvematic continuous adjustment to lift volume and timing that boosts its output to 147 hp. That 15 hp boost, however, merely moves the power needle from tepid to lukewarm but, fortunately, the folks at TRD showed us a real and literal power boost with the addition of a Centrifugal supercharger (purportedly similar to the now-defunct TRD Supercharger formerly available as an accessory for the 1st-generation Scion tC and 2nd-generation Scion xB) producing 201 hp and 184 lb/ft of torque. A somewhat funkily Google-translated spec page or two also inform us of that an intercooler and reprogrammed ECU (engine control unit) are part of the plan as is, thankfully, a proper 6-speed manual transmission.

The chassis, too, has received its share of attention with a full suite of beefier sway bars, firmer shocks and lowering springs (alas, no word on how much of a drop the latter afford), while slotted brake rotors with sport brake pads sit behind 18 x 7 multi-spoke forged aluminum wheels on 225/40 R18 Michelin tires. A purposeful black body kit and hatch-top roof spoiler contrast with the pearl yellow exterior and bright blue TRD checkered-flag side graphics, while 6000K HID projector headlights further ensure that this Auris remain anything but invisible. Inside, there is a carbon fiber-accented steering wheel, special sport seats up front and a “Private parking brake lever” (as opposed to a public one?!)

Toyota Corolla Axio äpr GT (from Fuji Speedway)

You might be forgiven for wondering why Japan’s vaunted Fuji Speedway, situated at the foothills of its namesake iconic volcano that is the country’s highest mountain would appear listed as a Toyota affiliate. As Wikipedia reminds us, the racetrack has been owned by Toyota Motor Corporation since the year 2000. The site of the 2007 and 2008 Grand Prix of Japan Formula 1 race will also host three races (Round 2, Round 6 and a final ninth Special Round) of Super GT series racing this year.

For the uninitiated, Super GT is Japan’s premier production car-based racing series and, as such, could be considered the country’s rough counterpart to NASCAR. Much as the latter has faster Sprint Cup cars and less powerful Nationwide Series cars, Super GT has GT500 and GT300 classes, named for the maximum horsepower allowed in each class. With the Lexus brand carrying the flag in the GT500 class as well as with the Racing Project Bandoh IS 350 that won the GT300 class in 2009, the Toyota marque’s entry in the series consists of a couple of Toyota Corolla Axio racers.

The Axio suffix behind the Corolla name denotes nothing more than the Japanese Domestic Market’s version of the ultra-familiar current 10th-generation (E140) Corolla 4-door sedan. As evidenced by the photo above, though, the Corolla Axio apr GT300 racer shown above has about as much in common with its street production namesake as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota Camry does with its showroom counterpart. While Japan’s production Toyota Corolla Axio GT, with its turbocharged 1NZ-FE 1.5-liter 150 hp engine, 5-speed manual transmission, TRD Sportivo suspension, and TF4 17-inch wheels on Michelin Pilot Preceda PP2 215/45R17 tires could be considered that country’s answer to North America’s now-defunct Corolla XRS sedan, its GT300 racing counterpart is a much different animal. The powertrain consists of the Lexus IS 350 and GS 350′s 3.5-liter 2GR-FSE V6 driving the rear wheels via a Hewland 6-speed sequential transmission.

And what about the äpr in the name? No, it has nothing to do with annual percentage rates, but refers to the äpr racing team that fields both Toyota Corolla Axio GT300 racers. Chosen to appear at Toyota’s 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon stand was the #74 car that, for the 2010 GT300 racing season was driven by 22-year-old Takuto Iguchi and 20-year-old Yuji Kunimoto, both of which were discovered through the Toyota Young Drivers Program for up-and-coming Japanese race car drivers. Although both the #74 racer and its #31 fraternal twin ride on Rays Engineering 18″ x 10½” front and 18″ x 11″ rear wheels, the #74 car uses Michelin tires, while the #31 uses Yokohamas. The number 74, by the way, is a nod to the 74 Toyota Corolla dealers in the Japanese Domestic Market.

Toyota Passo de Tea Time concept (by Toyota Original Accessory)

The Toyota Passo is a Japanese Domestic Market-only model that is a rebadged Daihatsu Boon, which is itself a B-segment 5-door hatchback (about 6″ shorter than the outgoing 2nd-generation Toyota Yaris hatch size) that uses the Daihatsu-rooted NC platform (not to be confused with Toyota’s MC Corolla/Avensis/Scion tC/Lexus HS platform). Currently among Toyota’s newer vehicles, its second generation debuted a year ago, in February 2010.

The oddly-named Passo de Tea Time concept appears to be a bizarre mash-up of the possibilities of Toyota’s accessory line; the modern trend outside North America of SUV-wannabe, raised suspension versions of small mass-market hatchbacks; and the carmaker’s take on Japan’s fascination with retro-British cars, as exemplified by a number of Nissan Micra-derived creations such as the Be-1, Pao, Figaro and Mitsuoka Viewt (never mind that tea as an Asian tradition far predates its use as a British one).

As shown in the photo at right, which comes to us from Japan’s Best Car magazine via the Japanese Car Design Corner blog, the interior is accented with a woodgrain-look instrument panel appliqué and leather seats with plaid-patterned cloth inserts, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a Plasmacluster Ion Air Purifier for the air conditioner.

The exterior is festooned with enough chrome accents to take us back 5 or 6 decades, as the front and rear bumpers, “windsplitter” molding bisecting the hood, decorative side intake on the front fenders, outside rearview mirrors, door handles, lower bodyside molding and even a C-pillar molding are all coated in the shiny metal. A few contemporary touches do manage to work their way in, however, such as multi-spoke 17″ x 7″ wheels on Goodyear Eagle LS2000 Hybrid II tires and a Modellista exhaust.

The last bit notwithstanding, though, performance is not particularly high on the Passo de Tea Time’s agenda, as it is powered by the Toyota Passo / Daihatsu Boon’s base powertrain, the 1-liter, 3-cylinder 1KR-FE producing all of 68 hp through a CVT transmission. Bear in mind, however, that per Wikipedia, the engine is exceptionally light at 69 kg (just under 152 lbs) including all ancillaries and is widely regarded as the world’s best engine of its type, as attested to by its four victories (2007-2010) in the International Engine of the Year awards in the sub-1.0 liter category. Although unknown in North America, this engine is also widely available in Europe on base versions of the Toyota iQ, outgoing 2nd-generation Toyota Yaris and the Toyota Aygo / Peugeot 107 / Citroën C1 triplets.

Toyota at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon, Part 1

For fans of aftermarket tunes, mods and tweaks, be they mild or wild, to factory-stock vehicles, each major car-producing continent offers an annual blowout show that showcases the newest and, some times, most outrageous offerings by carmakers and aftermarket firms alike. In the Americas, it’s the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers’ Associaton) Show held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada here in the U.S. in early November, and is the show that generally garners the most ink, bytes and attention. Conversely, flying under most radars is Germany’s Essen Motor Show, which is held roughly a month after SEMA. Falling somewhere between the two in prominence, and held each year around mid-January, is the Tokyo Auto Salon, Asia’s entry in the major aftermarket/tuner show derby.

And yet, with a couple of notable exceptions, U.S. automotive media, by and large, ignored the TAS. Autoblog merely reproduced an official Toyota press release or two. Looking for Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile and AutoWeek coverage? Don’t bother. You won’t find it. The websites for the major tuner magazines, such as Super Street and Modified? Ditto (at this point, anyway). Us? Sorry, but this little start-up sideline hobby blog is quite far from being able to pay our way to Tokyo, much as we’d love to. Thus, the best we can do is offer our admiration and mad props to a couple of publications that did make the extra effort to cover the goings-on at the Tokyo Auto Salon: Motor Trend, who sent their ever-active Asia correspondent Peter Lyon (Lyon’s reporting, you may recall, is the foundation for a trio of Kaizen Factor stories); and, most especially, AutoGuide, who sent the seemingly tireless Colum Wood to Tokyo and, in the process, elevated the Canadian site’s stature by several notches. (Full Disclosure: This author is also the Editor or Co-Editor for a trio of AutoGuide-owned Autoforums sites: my.IS, LexusFforum.com and CT200hForum.com)

In his write-up for Motor Trend magazine, Peter Lyon informs us that the Tokyo Auto Salon has actually become larger than the more traditional and general-interest biennial Tokyo Motor Show, with TAS handily filling all three cavernous halls of the Makuhari Messe, a feat the 2009 TMS was unable to duplicate. Unlike the SEMA Show, Tokyo Auto Salon is open to the general public and, as such, ranks as the world’s largest public customized car exhibition of its kind. And, for the 2011 edition, Toyota was, by far, the largest exhibitor, with 17 official vehicles (5 of them Lexus-badged), a figure that excludes independent, vendor or aftermarket-stand vehicles. This article covers half of the Toyota-branded dozen, with the upcoming Part 2 covering the other six.

Toyota Sports EV-Twin (by Toyota Technical College, Tokyo)

An epic past/future mashup of Back to the Future or Janusesque proportions, the Toyota Sports EV-Twin was assembled by a team from Toyota Technical College in Tokyo. From what we can surmise from a Google translation of the TTCT Japanese-language website, this is a Toyota-owned technical college offering studies in service technician (or service engineer, as the site calls them) positions, including body shop/crash repair and hybrid and electric vehicle powertrain disciplines. The latter group certainly played an integral part in putting together the Sports EV-Twin, as its middle initials so strongly imply, as did a group of Toyota Technical College gradute students, who worked on the project for over a year.

In essence, as Ben of the excellent Japanese Nostalgic Car magazine and website informs us, the folks from TTCT took a circa 1965 Sports 800, Toyota’s first-ever two seat sports car and removed its standard “flat-twin” (two horizontally-opposed cylinders) 790cc 2U engine, replacing it with a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels via lithium-ion batteries and a four-speed transmission (a manual in an electric car? For real?) The lightweight (700kg, or 1543lbs) Sports EV-Twin has a top speed of 160kph (100mph) and a driving range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) on one charge. You gotta love, though, how the underhood layout echoes and pays homage to its original horizontally-opposed two-cylinder configuration, as shown in the AutoGuide photo above.

Ben of Japanese Nostalgic Car also goes on to remind us that this is hardly the first alternative-power Toyota Sports 800, for a red example became the basis for the Toyota Sports 800 GT Hybrid. The GT in this instance, though, does not stand for Gran Turismo, but for Gas Turbine. Indeed, this was Toyota’s first-ever hybrid concept vehicle, although historians are hazy whether it was at the 1977 or 1979 Tokyo Motor Show that it made its debut. Its series hybrid powertrain consisted of a 30 hp gas turbine with series powering an electric generator, which in turn charged the hybrid’s batteries and powered an electric motor that turned the driveshaft of a 2 speed gearbox. While a far cry from current Toyota and Lexus hybrid powertrains, its use of a gas turbine in a hybrid foreshadowed by a good 3 decades Jaguar’s 2010 Paris Auto Show-stealing C-X75 concept.

The Toyota Technical College Tokyo website also notes that the Sports EV-Twin was awarded the ECO Award for Excellence over 40 other vehicles.

TES Concept T-Sports (by Toyota Engineering Society)

The history of Toyota 2-seaters has certainly proceeded in fits and starts. The aforementioned Sports 800 was only built from 1965 to 1969, and its 2000GT big brother saw an even briefer 1967-1970 lifespan. The longest-lived Toyota 2-seater is the MR2 line, built in 3 distinct generations from 1984 to 2007. But what, for the sake of argument, would a spiritual successor to that original Sports 800 be like? The TES Concept T-Sports may well be a viable answer.

About a couple of years ago, the late, great Hiromu Naruse asked young Toyota engineers what kind of car they really wanted to drive. Of course, more than a hundred ideas cropped up, but the overriding theme was for a 1,500,000 yen (about $18,265 at today’s exchange rate) FR (front engine, rear-wheel-drive) sports car that channeled the spirit of the KP-61 Toyota Starlet. Naruse-san’s merry band of engineers set out to raid the Toyota parts bin, and the result was the Gazoo Racing FR Hot Hatch Concept, which debuted at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. Around that point, the Toyota Engineering Society (a 30,000 member-strong voluntary organization created back in 1947 for Toyota engineers to enhance the technical skills and talents of its members and to promote camaraderie) posed Naruse-san’s question to its members, and received a similar answer: an affordable sports car. This time, though, the focus was on creating a true rear-wheel-drive two-seat sports car.

The FR Hot Hatch and TES Concept T-Sports parallels continue under the skin, given that both share underpinnings from the small rear-wheel-drive-centric Daihatsu Be‣go/Terios/Toyota Rush SUV (front suspension) and Toyota Altezza/1st-generation Lexus IS (rear suspension), but, beyond this, the two small front engine/rear wheel drive concepts part ways significantly.

While hardcore Toyota fans will pick up on the “T” front grille insert that pays homage to both the Toyota 2000GT and the original Mk I Celica Supra, many Internet pundits look at the front end styling and think Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper helmet. The Lexus IS-Fesque vertical front fender side vents and ample sheetmetal expanse in front of the doors reaffirm that this is a front-engined (or front-mid-engined) car. Speaking of doors and mid(dles), the entire cabin (save for the addition of Recaro racing seats with 5-point harness belts), both inside and out, plus the taillights are sourced from the Daihatsu Copen a kei-segment retractable-hardtop convertible that, in its original form, this author would describe as the offspring of a night of wild drunken debauchery between an Audi TT Roadster and a Lexus SC 430, that was then zapped by the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids electromagnetic shrink ray. As to the centrally-mounted, stacked dual exhaust, it can be construed as an offbeat Lexus LFA or IS F homage.

The engine, too, is sourced from export versions of the Daihatsu Copen as well as a handful of Japanese Domestic Market Daihatsus and Toyotas: the K3-VE 1.3-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine. Available in various states of tune, the TES Concept T-Sports uses the most powerful naturally-aspirated 108 bhp (81 kW; 109 PS) variant as used in the Rally versions of the 1998-2004 Daihatsu Storia and Toyota Duet. Pity they didn’t go whole-hog and use the rare K3-VET 138 hp turbo version.

Contrary to Motor Trend‘s Peter Lyon’s claim, the TES Concept T-Sports does not “sit on an MR-S (Toyota MR2 Spyder) platform”. The Concept T-Sports sits on a 98.4″ (2500mm) wheelbase that is almost 2″ (51mm) longer than the MR2′s, yet is 3″ (76mm) shorter, 1.7″ (44mm) narrower and almost 4″ (80mm) taller than the MR2. As to curb weight, the TES Concept T-Sports’ target weight of 1985 lbs (900 kg) undercuts the MR2 Spyder’s by 210 lbs (96 kg). Yet, the number crunchers among you will quickly realize that a stock MR2 Spyder has a more favorable power-to-weight ratio than the TES Concept T-Sports, and the latter’s Frankensteinish looks and proportions are nothing to write home about, but all the criticism would be missing the point. Ultimately, the TES Concept T-Sports is a shoestring project done on the cheap by a group of enthusiastic Toyota engineers past and present in their unpaid spare time that exemplifies both imaginative use of Toyota’s deep parts bin and proves that the enthusiastic Toyota that once designed the 2000GT, Supras, AE86 Corollas, Celica All-Trac and MR2s isn’t dead, but merely dormant.

For more on the Toyota TES Concept T-Sports, your best bets are Autoguide and Japan’s Car@Nifty. Also worthwhile is a YouTube DigInfo video, with a text transcript on a DigInfo TV page.

Toyota GRMN iQ Racing Concept (by GAZOO Racing tuned by MN)

A little help deciphering the alphabet soup above might be in order. GR stands for GAZOO Racing, by far the most compelling and hardcore enthusiast-oriented of Toyota’s multiple GAZOO sites. Toyota describes it as “A project of the GAZOO.com website that involves a team of test drivers (led by TMC’s master test driver Hiromu Naruse) who participate in races, develop automobiles, and support motorsports activities”. As to GAZOO.com itself, it is a Japanese e-commerce marketplace (also described as a “customer-participation car portal”) founded by Akio Toyoda and Shigeki Tomoyama back in 1998 devoted primarily but not exclusively to Toyota and its affiliates and divisions. A May 2000 BusinessWeek cover story titled Toyota Unbound, though dated in many regards, is still an informative read explaining GAZOO’s original mission statement. The portal contains links to numerous affiliated sites such as the Edmunds.com or Kelley Blue Book-like U-Car, the seemingly travel driving-oriented Gazoo Mura, the car video streams of Gazoo TV and the virtual online gaming community of the Gazoo Metapolis cityscape.

What about the MN? The above subtitle’s tuned by implies a who, and there are two schools of thought about who the who is. Most pundits believe that MN stands for Master (of the) Nürburgring, a reference to the late legendary Toyota Master Test Driver Hiromu Naruse, while Paul Horrell of Top Gear instead claims that MN stands for Morizo Naruse. Morizo is actually the name of Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda’s pet dog (itself named after a green shrub that was a mascot of Japan’s 2005 World Expo in Aichi Prefecture, where Toyota is based). More significantly, though, Morizo is Akio Toyoda’s screen name on GAZOO.com and the pseudonym under which he drove the Lexus LFA in the 2009 24 Hours of the Nürburgring race. Paul Horrell wryly notes that the Morizo alter-ego also allows Toyoda to be “free to be rude about Toyota’s duller cars on the Gazoo blog”.

The iQ, naturally, is Toyota’s smallest self-branded vehicle. Publicly introduced as a concept at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show and followed in March 2008 by its production version at the Geneva Auto Show, it went on sale in Japan in October of that year and launched in Europe in early 2009. As to North America, the car that Scion vice president Jack Hollis so aptly described as “smarter” and minier” will finally be available this coming summer. The iQ has been a particular favorite of the GAZOO Racing folks, as they have created no less than four separate projects off the 3+1 micro-mite, each progressively upping the performance ante.

What Toyota refers to as the iQ GAZOO version started out as a bone-stock iQ 100G model powered by the 3-cylinder, 1-liter, 67 hp 1KR-FE engine and Super CVT-i automatic continuously variable transmission. The modification and design process began in early October 2008, followed by mid-month testing of its suspension mods and Modellista body kit fitment. Yet, even as the build was barely under way, the marketing machine was turned on as the iQ GAZOO appeared on the Toyota Metapolis website. To cap off October 2008′s activities, the exterior graphics were applied. A homage to the earlier Altezza RS200 racer that competed in the 2007 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, the seemingly random brushstrokes follow a dice-like motif. The interior, meanwhile, received Recaro seats with a 4-point harness. After a mid-November shakedown drive, the GAZOO iQ made its first public appearance on 23 November 2008 at the Toyota Motor Sports Festival at Fuji Speedway. In the interim, numerous tweaks, such as revised graphics and different multi-spoke wheels were applied before its appearance at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon. After a European showing at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring race in May 2009 came the much-anticipated announcement of a limited production version.

The production iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN went on sale in Japan only on 20 August 2009, and its entire limited run of 100 cars sold out within a week. Fortunately, something of a power upgrade was made possible by the introduction of the iQ 130G, powered by the 4-cylinder, 1.3-liter, 97 hp 1NR-FE engine. As befits a sporting enthusiast model, the CVT transmission was ditched in favor of the Europe-only 6-speed manual transmission, stiffer sport suspension that lowers its ride height by 30mm (1.2″), rear disc brakes, RAYS 16×5.5-in aluminum wheels on 175/60R16 tires, enhanced brakes, a stiffening brace, tachometer, aluminium pedals, a rear spoiler and a sport exhaust system.

Never ones to leave well enough alone, the enthusiasts at GAZOO Racing longed for an even more sporting version of the little iQ. As Hiromu Naruse reflected on the iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN, “The only thing that wasn’t perfect is that some of the people commented that the car would be even more enjoyable if it has just a little bit more power. Others commented that it has just the right amount of power — it was kind of fifty-fifty. Based on that, we determined that a higher-power version could also be a good idea. That is why we decided to build this special concept.” And this special concept turned out to be the iQ+Supercharger Concept, which debuted at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. Its spec sheet coyly suggested a 20% increase in both horsepower and torque over the stock 1.3-liter 1NR-FE four, implying 116 hp (vs 97 hp naturally aspirated) and 109 lb/ft of torque (vs 91 lb/ft of torque naturally aspirated). Further modifications over the production iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN include larger 17″ wheels, sports seats and “original aero parts and underfloor covers”. The supercharger and larger wheels and tires added a scant 30kg (66 lbs) to the naturally-aspirated model’s 950kg (2090 lb) curb weight.

This brings us to the fourth and latest tuned iQ you see here that debuted at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon. It is, in essence, a more extreme take on last year’s iQ+Supercharger Concept, bedecked with a much larger adjustable rear roof spoiler, flared fenders, 17″ BBS wheels, roll cage, racing seats with harnesses and a central gauge pod with boost pressure, engine oil temperature and water temperature gauges. A Google-translated spec sheet reveals 124 hp and 130 lb/ft of torque. Alas, no word on where curb weight now stands.

Toyota Prius G Sports Concept (by G Sports)

Last year’s Tokyo Auto Salon probably produced more memorable and significant Toyota vehicles than this year’s iteration (in this author’s humble opinion the MR2 Spyder-derived GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept, GRMN FR Hot hatch Concept, FT-86 G Sports Concept and Mark X G Sports Concept, in particular, were more interesting and compelling than anything from this year’s show), and the latter two were part of a significant new initiative: the launch of Toyota’s new G Sports (or, more succinctly) G’s line. Wikipedia informs us that “G Sports is a range of enhancements to some cars manufactured by Toyota. The enhancements include body kits, interiors, wheels, suspension and drive-line components”. Toyota’s official press release goes into more detail, but leaves unanswered the question of how G Sports and the older Modellista and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) groups compliment or overlap with each other. A number of pundits, such as Edmunds Inside Line‘s Ed Hellwig, Car and Driver‘s Mike Sutton and Super Street‘s Evan Griffey grappled with that question and reach a consensus of sorts that Modellista would focus more on cosmetics and body kits, TRD on all-out performance mods and G’s would focus more on suspension and interior upgrades. Yet, as it currently stands, there is much overlap between them, especially between Modellista and G’s. Call their differentiation or “nicheification”, then, a work in progress.

As to the significance of the letter G itself, get your minds out of the gutter, for it has nothing to do with G-strings or G-Spots. Rather, it is a nod to the glorious sports Toyotas of the past such as the 2000GT and Celica GT-FOUR.

Among the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon G Sports Concepts is the horrific fender-skirted Prius you see at right, looking more like an engineering university’s contender for a maximum fuel-economy prize than a sporty tuner car. Fortunately, its 2011 counterpart is far more mainstream normal-looking. The 2011 modifications are of a largely cosmetic nature but include a new front bumper, 18″ wheels and performance tires, a modest 15mm suspension drop, chassis brace, sport seats and G’s “ribbon” graphics.

Toyota Vitz G Sports Concept (by G Sports)

The just-released in Japan 3rd-generation Toyota Vitz (the JDM version of the Yaris) is a quick beneficiary of the Gs treatment. The new front bumper sans upper grille with triangular small grilles growing from the LED-adorned headlights certainly changes the car’s look quite a bit, giving it an aggressive hawklike visage that, in an odd roundabout way, brings to mind its Tercel predecessor (Tercel being the British English word for a male falcon). Other modifications echo the G’s Prius above, such as larger wheels and performance tires (17″ in this case), a modest 15mm suspension drop, sport brake pads, chassis brace and G’s “ribbon” graphics. The rear gets more attention, with an aggressive race-inspired rear diffuser and a subtle spoiler over the rear hatch, while the interior décor includes leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter boot with contrasting red stitching and carbon fiber and piano black accents throughout.

Toyota Noah G Sports (by G Sports)

Notice that, unlike the Prius and Vitz, the third G Sports vehicle, the Noah minivan you see above, does not have a “concept” suffix to its name. As such, it is among the first if not the first G Sports model to enter production. For us in North America, the notion of a sporting, enthusiast-oriented minivan is, generally, an odd one, bordering on oxymoronic. The late 20th century saw sporadic and lame efforts such as Sport and ES versions of the Dodge Caravan, a handful powered by turbo 4-cylinder engines; a couple of Dodge Caravan R/T concepts that never went anywhere; supercharged Toyota Previa S/Cs; and Pontiac’s Trans Sport SE version of GM’s “Dustbuster” minivan as alternate take on the “Cadillac of minivans” Olds Silhouette. As we entered the new millennium, attempts at sporty minivans completely died, only to be brought back to life by the game-changing Toyota Sienna SE “Swagger Wagon” and, finally a proper rival in the just-launched Dodge Grand Caravan R/T “Man Van”. Yet, in Japan, the notion of sporty vans is old news, and they are a genre as quintessentially Japanese as “bippu” VIP luxury sedans and cars running insane amounts of camber.

As with the 2011 Toyota Prius G Sports, the current Noah G Sports was foretold by a 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon concept predecessor. Or two. Yes, last year Toyota and G’s showed concepts of both the Noah itself and its alternate badge-engineered fraternal twin, the Voxy. The production Toyota Noah G Sports rides on 18″ wheels shod in 215/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires over brakes with “sport pads” and lowering springs good for a 30mm (almost 1¼”) drop. A well-integrated body kit includes a neat row of LEDs in the lower grille’s brushed metal upper bar and a rear bumper diffuser. The interior includes leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob with contrasting red stitching and piano black accents throughout. The exterior is available in white, black, silver and gray, with black and red-bordered lower striping recalling that of the limited-edition iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN.

Don’t expect much get-up-and-go, though, given that this 3564 lb. minivan is propelled by the stock (save for the addition of a dual exhaust system) 3ZR-FAE 2-liter, 4-cylinder direct injection engine, producing 154 hp at 6200 rpm through a Super CVT-i transmission.