A RWD 5-door Toyota hatchback as baby GT-86?! Yes, please…

Toyota Rush Green

…but we’ll believe it when we see it.

The notion of a sub-GT 86 rear-wheel-drive sports Toyota is hardly a new one, and is one we previously discussed as recently as October 2012 and as long ago as August 2010, and the particulars remain much the same as we noted then: mechanical bits from Toyota’s sole remaining small and inexpensive rear-wheel-drive platform lurking under the Daihatsu Be‣go, Daihatsu Terios and Toyota Rush small SUVs which also formed the basis of the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch and TES Concept T-Sports Tokyo Auto Salon projects.

The latest rumors in this regard come to us via Japan-based Australian journalist Peter Lyon, who occasionally showns the rumormonger sensibilities of, say, Auto Express or Japan’s Best Car. The twist in this latest story (as reported on Motor Trend‘s website) is that the sub-GT 86 RWD Toyota would not be a 150″ long (think 7″ shorter than the current Mazda MX-5 Miata) sports coupe powered by the Toyota Rush’s 1.5-liter, 109 bhp 3SZ-VE inline-4 engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox – as the 2010 rumors went – but rather, as Lyon notes, it will be a

…new fun-to-drive car (with) four seats, five doors, a 1.5-liter engine developing around 150 hp, and be aimed at a global audience no sooner than 2016. The new car will totally redefine the company’s entry-level sporty cars by taking on a new hatchback-style shape, a rear-drive platform and a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine…the car will employ a sleek hatch-style silhouette and be priced around $20,000. A source told us that the hatch will employ a revised version of Toyota’s Rush mini-crossover pictured above but that the new iteration will employ a lower ride height and four-wheel independent suspension.

Certainly sounds like a true spiritual successor to the cult classic KP61 Toyota Starlet hatchback. And 100 hp-per-liter from a naturally-aspirated engine? None of Toyota’s current 1.5-liter engines (the aforementioned, Daihatsu-designed 3SZ-VE, the North America Yaris’ 1NZ-FE and the cheapo, VVT-i-less 2NR-FE from the India and Brazil-built Etios) produce anywhere near that much power. Sounds like, short of developing an all-new engine, the plan may well be to apply Toyota’s D4-S direct+port dual injection and give a high-revving, low-torque character to one of the existing 1.5-liter mills.

Some of the commentary on the Motor Trend forums cited fears that this hatchback would turn out to be heavier than the Toyota GT 86 / Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ. Not necessarily, we say, if they made it small enough, and we’ll cite the fact that the B-segment Mazda2 hatchback, at 2306 lbs (1045 kg) is 141 lbs (63 kg) lighter than the lightest version of the current Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster. A bigger issue, though, might be a ridiculously tight back seat if Toyota goes too small with a RWD hatchback.

Maybe we’re getting carried away here, and, much as we’d love to see this become reality, we’re taking this rumor with a bagful of Kosher rock salt. Even Peter Lyon seems unsure, as he hedges his bets noting that

Whether such a car will make it from the drawing board all the way to showrooms around the world – or in the U.S. – remains to be seen, but we’re hopeful Toyota can prepare an rear-drive four-door hatch for about the same price as a base Toyota Camry.

Sure, we’re hopeful, too, and we would certainly love to see this become a reality. But we’re not holding our breath…

Tetsuya Tada rekindles more Toyota sports car talk

Recently, Top Gear Philippines’ Editor-in-Chief Vernon B. Sarne (whom we were privileged to meet at the 2010 Paris Motor Show) was fortunate enough to interview Tetsuya Tada, Toyota’s chief engineer for the joint Toyota/Subaru sports car project that led to the widely acclaimed Subaru BRZ and its Toyota iterations variously badged as Scion FR-S, Toyota GT 86 or, simply, Toyota 86. Their conversation brought to light a couple of interesting revelations.

The first of these is Tada-san’s claim that

…the 86 is just the first of three sports cars that Toyota is planning to roll out, and that the 86 is the middle of the two in terms of market positioning. The first is more mass-market and cheaper than the 86, and the third is more upmarket than the 86.

The notion of a smaller and cheaper than 86 sports car is something that we at Kaizen Factor wrote about over 2 years ago as a derivative of Toyota’s sole remaining small and inexpensive rear-wheel-drive platform underpinning the SUVs sold under the Daihatsu Be‣go, Daihatsu Terios and Toyota Rush badges. In fact, enthusiastic Toyota engineers cobbled together what could be construed as a development mule for this idea in the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch , a neo-KP61 Starlet of sorts unveiled at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. One year later, the carmaker took the idea several steps further with a preliminary concept for just such a sub-86 sports car, the front-mid-engined TES Concept T-Sports built by the Toyota Engineering Society and shown below right. This seminal vehicle was amply discussed as part of our 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon coverage.

What about the “more upmarket than 86″ sports car? The last Toyota concept that addressed this segment was 2007’s FT-HS, powered by a variant of the Lexus GS 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6 hybrid powertrain. This was widely touted as a predictor for a production Mark V Toyota Supra that, as of this writing, has yet to see the light of day. Fueling fans’ hopes, Toyota renewed the Supra trademark on 16 July 2010. Trademarks carry a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision for a period of time after its filing. This author was always under the impression that it was 5 years, but Car and Driver‘s Justin Berkowitz swears that it is, in fact, 3 years. So, should we raise our hopes of seeing a reborn Supra next year? Not so fast, for, as the second revelation of the Top Gear Philippines interview informs us,

Tada said…that nothing is sure yet since his team is still in the process of conceptualizing the two other Toyota sports cars. He also noted that it takes five years to develop a sports car from conceptualization to production, as compared with the three years it normally takes to develop a regular vehicle.

Given that time frame, might Toyota once again lose the Supra trademark? Not necessarily, for Toyota can either renew it or, perhaps, slap the Supra badge on a concept predictor for the eventual production car and thus safeguard it that way.

Would a 21st-century Toyota Supra be built on the new rear-wheel-drive N-platform that debuted on the 4th-generation Lexus GS? Perhaps. Or it could be a lower-priced, Toyota-badged offshoot of the rumored production version of the Lexus LF-LC concept. Or it may be the joint BMW/Toyota “future sports vehicle” touted in the memorandum of understanding the 2 carmakers signed on Monday 25 June 2012.

A final noteworthy observation is the implicit promise that Tetsuya Tada will be an integral part of the development of the 2 new Toyota sports cars. Might Toyota be grooming Tada-san to be the successor of the late, great Hiromu Naruse?

Photo Credit 1: Joel Strickland

Scion sells 86 FR-S units in its first month in the U.S. Serendipitous coincidence, or not?

Anyone who has even casually followed the gestation and history of Scion’s FR-S is surely aware of the overriding significance and symbolism of the number “86”. Harkening back to the last of the rear-wheel-drive sporting, enthusiast-oriented Toyota Corollas, the AE86 chassis code Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno notchback and hatchback coupes, the number would go on to play a significant role in the development of its spiritual successor, the so-called “Toyobaru” coupe jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru. Although, for North America, Toyota opted to sell it through its Scion sub-brand and give it the FR-S moniker that channels MR-S (Toyota MR2 Spyder), in the rest of the world, Toyota’s new sports car proudly wears the 86 badge (prefaced by GT in Europe). Beyond the name, Toyota and Scion has also peppered the car with a number of 86-themed “Easter eggs”, from the FA20 engine’s 86mm bore x 86mm stroke to the “86”/horizontally-opposed pistons trademarked logo on the front fenders to the Scion “First 86″ sales program.

Now, as Toyota reveals its May 2012 Sales Chart, a very interesting fact emerges: Scion FR-S sales for the car’s first month in the United States were… 86 cars! Thus, the only units that left dealers’ showrooms last month were the so-called “First 86″, starting with the very first and continuing down the list, including Club4AG webmaster, administrator and events coordinator (and friend of Kaizen Factor) Motohide Miwa. So, was this casual coincidence or carefully calculated? Toyota isn’t really saying, but the May 2012 Sales Conference Call‘s offhand remark by Bob Carter, Toyota Division’s group vice president and general manager that “We sold 86 special FR-S models in May to a lucky group of buyers who won an online social media contest to be the first to take delivery in the U.S.” suggests the latter is the case.

It’s interesting to note that those 86 units sold in May make the Scion FR-S the third-lowest selling among Toyota’s models for the month, with only Lexus’ LFA supercar (with 3 units sold) and the outgoing HS 250h hybrid sedan (21 units moved) reporting lower numbers. Bear in mind, though, that this is merely indicative of a slow rampup of sales, since FR-S numbers are expected to skyrocket, based on anecdotal evidence, buzz and pent-up demand.

Meanwhile, Subaru of America reports that 271 BRZ sports coupes were sold in the United States during May 2012, more than triple the Scion numbers for the month! Don’t expect this to be a typical turn of events going forward, though, for Scion expects to sell more than double Subaru’s numbers on an annual basis.

EXCLUSIVE! The First Scion FR-S in North America Delivered At Longo Scion!

May 3, 2012 – El Monte, CA – It’s been a long wait, but history has been made. The first Scion FR-S (a.k.a. Toyota 86 & GT 86 outside of North America & Subaru BRZ globally) has been delivered to the first lucky enthusiast of the “First 86 Program”. Earlier this year at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, Scion USA announced a program where enthusiasts had a chance to be selected as one of the “First “86” to purchase an FR-S. Well, the time has come, and the first of the lucky “First 86 Program” has taken delivery at the #1 Scion dealership, Longo Scion in Southern California.

A little presentation was held before the “First 86″ owner was handed the keys. Tom Rundai, President and General Manager of Longo Toyota, Lexus & Scion presented the First 86 owner a few gifts including  a special carbon fiber plaque by Five Axis commemorating the “First 86″ delivery, a special “First 86″ gift pack which included a numbered carbon fiber FR-S license plate frame, an FR-S pen and a few other goodies.

Shortly thereafter, the fitted black FR-S cover was pulled off to reveal the first production Scion FR-S available for sale. The lucky owner had selected the pearl white exterior known as Whiteout (37J) mated with a proper Aisin TL70 6 speed manual transmission. After the keys were handed to the first FR-S owner, everyone gathered around to watch him get in the car and start it up for the first time. Shortly thereafter, the barrage of photographers surrounded the new FR-S owner to document the moment. A video crew was also on hand to interview the first Scion FR-S owner ever. Congratulations to the first Scion FR-S owner and his new delivery!

For those anxiously waiting to get their hands on this hot new Scion, get in line because the “First 86″ are receiving their FR-S as we speak! The 2013 Scion FR-S will be available to the general public this Summer at your local Scion dealer.

Special thanks goes out to Jeffrey Chang of Longo Scion, Tom Rudnai, President of Longo Toyota/Lexus/Scion and the folks at Scion USA for the opportunity to witness this historic event.


Article & Photos by: Flipside909