Were we (and Aisin) wrong about the BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 manual transmission? Or is Scion?

Almost 2½ months ago, Kaizen Factor indulged in some of our much-loved Informed Speculation and attempted to delve into the specifics of The BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 transmissions and driveline. No sooner had we posted it, however, that Paul Williamsen, National Manager of Lexus College (this being the brand’s product training division, and an integral part of new model long lead press previews) made the following observations:

…we’re still getting contradictory info out of TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation) on which 6-spd Aisin tranny we’ll have in the FT86, FR-S, & BRZ.

One of the obvious differences between the old IS 200/Altezza box (TMC type J160) and the current IS 250/Cadillac/Porsche box (TMC type RA6X) is that the former has gear reduction on the input side, while the latter has its reduction at the output end. We’ve seen references to both types.

Perhaps, then, things weren’t as clear-cut as they first appeared.

Flash-forward to Wednesday 25 April and the end of the press embargo on the Scion FR-S long lead preview. Although we at Kaizen Factor were not blessed with an invitation, FT-86Club.com‘s stellar coverage was the next best thing to being there. Their correspondent Ichitaka went as far as scanning and posting the Long Lead Press Presentation Outline, in a format familiar to this author from multiple Lexus press previews. Curious over the transmission information contained therein, we were gratified that our prediction of the Lexus IS 250-sourced A960E 6-speed automatic with upgrades such as earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts was spot-on. This author did a stunned double-take, however, to see the 6-speed manual identified as an RA62 – just like the less-than-stellar Lexus IS 250 Manual’s transmission – in both the Page 2 index and Page 26, as shown below.

A quick primer on Toyota’s 6-speed manual RWD transmissions
Although our earlier article covered this ground in far greater detail, a recap on Toyota’s 6-speed manual rear-wheel-drive-centric transmissions is in order. In essence, there are only three of them: The Getrag 233 / Toyota V160/V161 used in the legendary Supra Mark IV Twin Turbo; the Aisin AY6 / Toyota/Lexus RA60 series and the Aisin AZ6 / Toyota/Lexus J160. The AY6/RA60 series is, essentially, a beefy truck transmission whose vague shift feel is decidedly subpar for a rear-wheel-drive transmission. Except for RA62 (Lexus IS 250 and, allegedly, Scion FR-S and its derivatives) and RA63 (Europe’s Lexus IS 200d and IS 220d diesels), its other Toyota applications are in Tacoma and FJ Cruiser. The AZ6/J160, on the other hand, is a far more logical basis for the so-called Toyobaru coupe’s manual, having graced not only Toyota Altezza and 1st-generation Lexus IS 200 manual models, but such legendary sports cars as the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8, 2nd-gen (NB) Mazda MX-5 Miata and the final S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R. Frankly, we thought that the picture below (from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show), as featured in our prior article, had settled the issue.

Were we (and Aisin) wrong, then? This skeptical author investigates
Although we’ve never seen such an egregious error in any Toyota/Lexus/Scion press preview printout, this author remained deeply skeptical. Another of the Scion FR-S long lead press materials, the “86” Development Story brochure delves into the transmission issue on page 14, as shown below. This starts out with by noting that “…transmission development began with an effort to shorten the stroke of the 6-speed manual transmission used in the Altezza…” – an implicit admission that they started out with the Aisin AZ6/Toyota J160 transmission. Beyond that, the story twists and turns, and informs us how engineers from Toyota, Subaru and Aisin AI engineers came together and brought in Takeshi Kaino, a researcher specializing in shift feel to help implement the ideal 6-speed manual transmission. They go on to say that

After creating five different prototypes and executing a final, daring overall design change, the team finally succeeded in creating the ideal 6-speed manual transmission for a sports car…

(Tomohiro) Ishikawa (6-speed manual transmission development director): “Perhaps 80% of the design had changed. More than that, if you look at blueprints for individual parts. Most of the parts were changed I bet.”

No word one way or the other, however, on whether or not at some point they changed from the J160 to the RA62 as a basis for the FR-S / BRZ / GT 86 manual transmission.

Mild skepticism morphed into full-on raging doubt, however, when comparing the Scion FR-S “RA62” individual gear ratios as shown in the second illustration above to those of the undoubtedly RA62 Lexus IS 250 Manual (as shown in a PDF document linked to the Lexus USA Newsroom’s 2012 Lexus IS 250/350 Product Information page). Except for a direct 1.000 5th-gear ratio, none of the individual gear ratios (not even reverse!) are shared by the two so-called RA62 iterations! And, given past Toyota history, when the slightest changes to an individual gear ratio or two warranted a new transmission denomination (see the RA60, RA60F, RA61, RA62 and RA63 family, or, going further back, the W55, W56, W57, W58, and W59 family of RWD 5-speed manual transmissions, which are externally and internally very similar aside from the gear ratios), we doubt that 2 transmissions that share but one of 7 gear ratios would carry the same code.

Paul Williamsen sets the record straight
Beyond his impressive talents that include Product Engineering, Design, & Development and Curriculum Design & Development, Mr. Williamsen is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to all things Toyota. Thus, he seemed to be a natural source to shed some light on the murky subject of the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ / Toyota (GT) 86 manual transmission. And his reply certainly did just that:

Preliminary info from TMC Engineering Div. did not allow us to make a positive identification of origins of the 6-speed manual transmission used in the the FT-86/FR-S/BRZ.

Newer, more thorough, information from TMC identifies the FR-S/BRZ transmission as an all-new type, the TL70.

A technical drawing of the TL70 shows that the order of the gears on the shafts (below) DOES NOT MATCH the RA60: the TL70 does match the sequence of the Aisin AZ6 (TMC type J160) 6-spd manual gearbox fitted to the original Toyota Altezza 2.0 (in Japan) and IS 200 (for Europe).

Similarly, illustrations of the TL70 internal shift linkage indicate that it is more like the J160 than the RA60 series. The ratios are unique to the TL70, with a closer overall spread of ratios than the RA62 of the current IS 250.

I have not been able to personally inspect any of these parts out of the new car and compare them to the earlier models.

There you have it, then. In summary, Toyota, Subaru and Aisin engineers started with the AZ6/J160 manual from the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200, changed at least 80% of it in the quest for improved shift quality and came up with the AZ6-derived TL70 manual that graces the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota-badged stablemates. The only connection to the AY6/RA62 was the one erroneously made by whoever put together the Scion FR-S Long Lead Press Presentation Outline. Thus, we can accurately state that we and Aisin were closest to the truth.

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The Forester factor: an unexpected reason why BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production capacity is limited

As the universally rave reviews come in and hoopla builds over the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota and Scion 86 / GT 86 / FR-S stablemates, the flip side of this popular acclaim becomes evident: a high demand/low supply situation. On March 6, Reuters reported that the first month’s worth of orders for the Japanese domestic market Toyota 86 totalled roughly 7000 vehicles, or 7 times the 1000 unit per month JDM sales target. Three weeks later, a news release from Subaru corporate parent Fuji Heavy Industries reports 3551 BRZs sold in Japan in the nearly 2-month period between February 3 and March 27, nearly quadruple the JDM target of 450 BRZs per month. And, on Friday 13 April, FT-86Club‘s blog cited a Nikkei report that due to the huge backlog of orders, Japanese market deliveries of the Subaru BRZ will be pushed back to January 2013.

Does that mean that Subaru is prioritizing export BRZs? Maybe, but don’t expect a much brighter supply-and-demand situation here in the United States. As Diana T. Kurylko of Automotive News reported on April 2,

…only about 500 (BRZ) units will be available each month for the U.S. market.

That means that some of Subaru’s 620 U.S. dealers won’t have a BRZ at launch and most will get only one car a month.

It is unlikely the United States will receive more than about 6,000 of the rear-wheel-drive coupes a year even in a full-year of production, said Michael McHale, Subaru of America’s director of corporate communications.

“The only way we get more is if another market doesn’t sell its share,” he said.

Subaru will produce 100,000 units annually of the BRZ and its two sister cars, the Scion FR-S and Toyota 86, at its Gunma factory in Japan. The worldwide allocation for the three brands has not been disclosed.

McHale said Subaru of America asked for only 6,000 annually. He said the U.S. sales arm made a conservative request because little was known about the car during most of its joint development with Toyota.

Earlier this year, Scion boss Jack Hollis said his brand expects to sell 10,000 to 15,000 units of the FR-S in 2012.

Those 100,000 units of annual joint BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production, by the way, are an increase versus original plans for 60,000 cars per year, and were officially confirmed by Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. on March 16. As to Michael McHale’s contention that “the U.S. sales arm made a conservative request because little was known about the car during most of its joint development with Toyota”, at least one pundit has suggested that it was skepticism over the salability of a rear-wheel-drive Subaru in a corporate culture so ingrained with “the beauty of all-wheel-drive” that led to the low BRZ take rate by Subaru USA.

The Gunma five
As we were reminded a few paragraphs above, and as hardcore Toyobaru coupe fans fully well know, the sports cars are built at a Subaru facility in Japan’s Gunma prefecture (the equivalent of a state or province). More precisely, they are located in the vicinity of Ota city. And, yes, we use “they” advisedly, for, as the official Fuji Heavy Industries Corporate website’s Domestic Facilities page informs us, there are, in fact, 5 distinct Gunma plants: Ota North and Isesaki manufacture automotive parts; Oizumi is the powertrain (automobile engines and transmissions) facility; and then come the two actual carmaking plants: Yajima, which builds Legacy, Exiga, Impreza and Forester (and, presumably, their Outback and XV Crosstrek offshoots); and the Gunma Main Plant, which, according to that page, builds R2, R1, Pleo, Sambar and Stella kei microcars.

Outdated info and an unexpected revelation
Needless to say, copyright 2012 at the bottom of the page notwithstanding, the above information begs for some serious updating. Besides the obviously-missing BRZ and its Toyota/Scion siblings from the Gunma Main Plant information, none of the Subaru models listed above are currently built at Gunma Main. The R2 kei 5-door hatchback and its even shorter R1 3-door sibling were discontinued in March 2010. The original, Subaru-engineered-and-built Pleo ceased production in December 2009, replaced in April 2010 by a rebadged Daihatsu Mira built at the Oita (Nakatsu) Plant No. 1 of Daihatsu Motor Kyushu. Similarly, the original, Subaru-engineered-and-built Stella was replaced in May 2011 by a rebadged Daihatsu Move built at the latter’s Shiga (Ryuo) Plant. Subaru’s last surviving self-engineered kei vehicle, the Sambar microvan ended production on 29 February 2012, as shown above right.

Doesn’t this mean, then, that the Gunma Main Plant is free and clear to build nothing but BRZs and its Toyota and Scion variants? Apparently not, according to Dominick Infante, National Manager, Product Communications at Subaru of America. At the second New York Auto Show press day, he informed this author that, because worldwide sales of the Forester compact crossover SUV had barely dropped off even after the current, 3rd-generation (SH)’s fifth year in production, a number of them are produced at the Gunma Main Plant to supplement the majority that is built at the Gunma Yajima Plant. A surprising and unexpected revelation, then, that suggests some potential Forester vs BRZ conflict in allocating Subaru resources and production capacity.

We should note, however, that in the United States, 2011 calendar year Forester sales totaled 76,196, a 10.44% decrease from 2010’s 85,080 units, a decline undoubtedly fueled by the aftermath of the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. As for 2012 sales thus far, January saw sales of 5117 Foresters, a steeper 11.87% decline versus January 2011’s 5806 units sold. Similarly, February saw 5565 Foresters sold, a 12% drop compared to February 2011’s 6334 units moved.

Looming large: the Impreza factor
If the notion of some Foresters being built at Gunma Main potentially curtailing BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production concerns you, you may be downright troubled by a passage from the fifth Subaru USA March 2012 News Archive entry that has also been echoed in a number of Fuji Heavy Industries English language news releases:

Subaru Gunma Main Plant, where minicars were previously manufactured, was recently renewed for the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 production. FHI plans to produce the Impreza at the same plant by March 2013.

The new 4th-generation Impreza (GP/GJ) has certainly been an unequivocal success, with an almost 87% U.S. sales increase in December 2011 versus year-earlier numbers, and 2012 increases soaring into the triple digits, including a 175.51% jump in January 2012 vs January 2011. And don’t even get us started on what might happen when the successor to the current GE/GH/GR WRX and STI emerges some time next year.

What about Subaru’s Indiana facility in the U.S.?
With all this potential jostling over capacity at Gunma Main, we can’t help but wonder if Subaru’s major production facility outside Japan, the United States’ Subaru of Indiana Automotive facility in Lafayette can’t help somehow. It would certainly bolster FHI’s bottom line by building more in a weak dollar locale as opposed to the less profitable strong yen Japan. Yet, here, too, production capacity constraints collide, with U.S. 2011 Legacy and Outback sales having increased 9.49% and 12.09%, respectively, over 2010, and 2012 thus far also showing year-on-year increases for the two lines versus year-ago figures.

With Toyota Camry maintaining its lock as the United States’ best-selling car, we wouldn’t bet on them surrendering capacity to their factory “landlord” in Indiana, either. As Wikipedia informs us, Toyota began producing 30,000 to 40,000 Camrys per year at SIA in 2007, with plans to gradually increase this to 100,000 units per year.

One logical suggestion would be to discontinue the Indiana-only sourced Tribeca mid-size crossover SUV and free up that capacity for something else. After all, the Tribeca isn’t even sold in Japan. Yet, U.S. sales of the largest Subaru increased almost 13% in 2011 (for a total of 2791 units), and an even higher 15.15% in January 2012. February’s 21% year-over-year dip, however, may well be a more typical Tribeca sales pattern.

Should Subaru eliminate the Exiga?
Similarly lackluster (if not more so) numbers are probably posted, we’re willing to bet, by the fourth Subaru line built at Subaru’s Gunma Yajima facility, the Exiga. This is a marginally shorter and narrower 3-row boxier 4-cylinder Tribeca alternative on the same 108.2″ wheelbase that is only offered in Japan and some nearby right-hand-drive markets such as Australia and Singapore.

What should Subaru do? Kaizen Factor suggests…
Tight production capacity may certainly appear to be an enviable problem, especially if you’re a volume European carmaker with excess capacity such as General Motors’ Opel, Fiat or Peugeot/Citroën. Nonetheless, juggling all these successful car lines at Subaru facilities in Japan and the United States in order to meet demand and maximize profitability is a task not to be taken lightly. It is at this point that this Kaizen Factor author plays armchair quarterback, indulges in informed speculation and suggests the following:

Kill off Tribeca and Exiga. If there’s one niche in which Subaru has seen marginal success, it’s in the 3-row crossover SUV/wagon segment. Neither Tribeca nor Exiga will be particularly missed if discontinued, and their demise will open up some production capacity at Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) and at the Gunma Yajima Plant, respectively. And what if Subaru dealers clamor for an entry in this segment? With all the rebadged Toyotas and Daihatsus sitting below Impreza in Subaru’s Japanese domestic market lineup, one more large one wouldn’t be a big deal. Europe has also seen a handful of those, powered by their inline engines of origin. A Subaru-badged version of, say, the Toyota Verso small minivan (itself the foundation for the Prius v) would be a viable solution, and might even finally give the Mazda5 some long-overdue competition in the United States. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first time Subaru goes down this route. Under General Motors’ partial ownership, Subaru offered the Traviq (a rebadged 1st-generation Opel Zafira 7-seat compact MPV). Of course, if Subaru did something like this and offered a rebadged vehicle in North America with an inline or vee cylinder configuration instead of the company’s signature flat (horizontally-opposed) engines, we can already hear the cries of bloody murder from Subie loyalists already up in arms over the BRZ’s lack of all-wheel-drive…

Bring all Legacy and Outback production to the United States. A number of Toyota models that sell primarily or exclusively in North America are only built here, namely Matrix, Avalon, Venza, Sienna, Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia, with Highlander set to join the list in late 2013. Honda and Nissan (including their luxury brands) also offer a number of North America-only built models, as has Mitsubishi in the past, so why shouldn’t Subaru do the same with its now quite large Legacy sedan and Outback wagon? We’d imagine that the U.S. is by far the largest market for those models, anyway, so building them all here sounds like a good way to increase Subaru production capacity back in Japan for all the fun, sporty, truly Subaru stuff. And we say that advisedly, since the company in the U.S. has just discontinued for 2013 its last link to Legacy’s enthusiast-friendly past: the 2.5GT turbo manual sedan. A shame, for the line that in the past included such tantalizing variants as the spec.B sedan and 2.5GT wagons now signals its new mission as just an all-wheel-drive Camry/Accord/Altima alternative.

Bringing all Legacy and Outback production to the States also means that those sporting spec.B Legacys, available in sedan and wagon versions that still have a following in Japan and Australia even in their current BM/BR 5th-generation would also be built here. And, given that fact, perhaps Subaru can be persuaded to leave and sell a few of them over here…

As to a potential Legacy/Outback vs Camry fight for capacity at SIA, maybe Toyota could be persuaded to give up a smidge of Camry output in favor of Subaru if it means more capacity at Gunma Main for potential Toyota or Lexus-badged FR-S / GT 86 spinoffs. Wishful thinking, I know…

Keep most if not all Forester and Impreza production away from the Gumna Main Plant. With Exiga gone and Legacy/Outback coming exclusively from the U.S., that would leave the Gunma Yajima plant building just Forester and Impreza/XV Crosstrek. As such, any need for Gunma Main to produce overflow Foresters and Imprezas would be minimized, or even curtailed altogether, in turn maximizing production of BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 and any future variants thereof.

What about a new factory or production location?
The suggestions above are seemingly the least disruptive and most cost and time-effective solutions to an apparent capacity crunch facing Subaru (and, by extension, Toyota). There are always, of course, a myriad of other alternatives, from further, more elaborate juggling among or between the five Subaru Gunma facilities in Japan and SIA in the U.S. to building an all-new Subaru factory (such as a rumored Russian assembly plant by 2015) to the flip side of the current SIA Camry arrangement: setting up a Subaru or “Toyobaru” line in one of Toyota’s North American production facilities. With most of the world’s excess carmaking production capacity centered in Europe, the Old Continent could also provide alternatives. Given the strong Japanese production presence throughout Great Britain (think Toyota, Honda and Nissan) and a likely strong Japanese supplier base there, buying and repurposing General Motors’ endangered Ellesmere Port facility in northwest England is but one possibility that comes to mind.

These options, however, are far more involved, convoluted and time and money consuming. Needless to say, this is an area of expertise far above this humble scribe’s capabilities, and we’ll leave it to the corporate honchos, bean counters and production engineers to determine if, ultimately, Subaru might be on a growth spurt beyond what its six current major production facilities can handle.

A hardcore enthusiast’s ultimate dream goal: meeting demand, and creating a BRZ / 86 family
Toyota and Subaru’s short and mid-term goal, we’re sure, is meeting burgeoning demand for the current 4-cylinder, 2-liter naturally aspirated FA20-powered 86, GT 86, BRZ and Scion FR-S 2+2 sports coupes. Longer-term, though, this author believes, as many car forum posters and blogosphere denizens do, that the creation of Tetsuya Tada, Yoshio Hirakawa and Toshio Masuda is simply too good to confine to that single coupe. And, indeed, beyond the obvious more powerful version of that coupe, all sorts of additional body styles have been suggested and rendered, from a 4-door sports sedan (one we hope doesn’t look like the Best Car illustration above right with its fussy side sculpturing and odd Toyota badge/Lexus spindle grille mashup) to a convertible to speedster to the fanciful illustrations by FT86Club.com member Ichitaka05 that include targa and shooting break body styles, not to mention a Lexus-badged small 2-seater.

A final, parting thought
Perhaps, though, Subaru and Toyota have more downbeat and levelheaded notions of BRZ’s and FR-S/86’s long-term sales potential, with our wishful flights of fancy shot down by the numbers crunchers. Maybe, beyond the convertible shown above (as famously rendered by Germany’s Auto Bild) and go-faster powertrain tweaks, there won’t be any spinoffs or derivatives. In that case, the carmakers might be sobered by the traditional trendiness and brief shelf life of many past sports coupes. Perhaps adding some Forester and Impreza capacity at Gunma Main could, instead, turn out to be a visionary move.

BRZ, FR-S and GT 86 as a one or two-year wonder whose sales will then fizzle out faster than a bum firecracker? Heaven forbid things turn out that way…

Does Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ sharing even extend to exterior colors?

During the years-long gestation of the so-called Toyobaru coupe, one of the favorite guessing games was how much or how little differentiation there would be between the Toyota/Scion and Subaru versions. As both were finally unveiled, we learned that there is far less distinction between the two than there was between the old-school Detroit 3 ponycar siblings (Ford Mustang/Mercury Cougar, Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Challenger/Plymouth Barracuda). Heck, even the later Diamond-Star triplets (Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon) showed a bit more differentiation among themselves than the Toyota/Subaru collaboration coupes. Yet, when the carmakers invited the press to the Friday 16 March production launch ceremony of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ at Subaru’s Gunma Main Plant in Ota City, Gunma Prefecture, the two companies strived for maximum distinction by showcasing a Subaru BRZ in the brand’s signature WR Blue Pearl and a Toyota 86 in their exclusive Hot Lava orange hue, as shown above. What about the rest of the color palette, though? Is Subaru’s Dark Gray Metallic any different from Scion’s Asphalt hue? Does Scion’s Whiteout imply a “refrigerator white” as opposed to Subaru’s Satin White Pearl?

The surest way to answer these and other similar questions is to seek out the all-important 3-character alphanumeric paint code for each individual color and see whether or not they are common across both brands. Traditionally, Toyota and Lexus’ official Japanese websites identify exterior colors by that code. Sure enough, Toyota Japan’s Toyota 86 Exterior Bodycolor Index page does not disappoint. In contrast, official Subaru sites are not as forthcoming with this information. Fortunately, there are plentiful other Internet sources, such as the Automotive Touchup site. Following is what we’ve gathered and learned from those sources.

The unequivocably shared colors
Of the seven exterior colors available for each brand (Scion/Toyota and Subaru), four emerge as unequivocably and undoubtedly shared, and use Subaru-sourced paint codes, even in their Toyota/Scion applications. They are:

Dark Gray / 61K / Asphalt (Scion) / Dark Gray Metallic (Subaru)
Red / C7P / Firestorm (Scion) / Lightning Red (Subaru)
Black / D4S / Raven (Scion) / Crystal Black Silica (Subaru)
White / 37J / Whiteout (Scion) / Satin White Pearl (Subaru)

Thus, fans of “refrigerator”, non-pearlescent whites will be disappointed, since, at least for the 2013 model year, this will be the only shade of white to be offered for both brands.

Dark blue and silver. Shared or not?
Figuring out whether or not the dark blue and silver hues are shared between Toyota and Subaru took a bit more detective work, since their respective D6S and E8H color codes do not appear on the 2012 Automotive Touchup site. It turns out that the silver is the equivalent of a throwback jersey or a revived Nike shoe style, since D6S Sterling Silver Metallic was last offered by Subaru outside of North America in 2009 and 2010. Confusingly, in 2009 Subaru used both the Sterling Silver Metallic and Platinum Silver Metallic monikers to describe D6S. Thus, we can add

Silver / D6S / Argento (Scion) / Sterling Silver Metallic (Subaru)

Similarly E8H dark blue was last offered by Subaru outside of North America in 2010, discontinued for the 2011 and 2012 model years and brought back for the 2013 BRZ.

Dark Blue / E8H / Ultramarine (Scion) / Galaxy Blue Silica (Subaru)

WR Blue Pearl, yes, but which one?
Beyond the D6S Sterling Silver Metallic / Platinum Silver Metallic example we quoted earlier, Subaru color name / paint code alignment can be a bit convoluted. For instance, 37J, 925 and 926 paint codes all bear the Satin White Pearl name. And two separate paint codes (02C and 42C) both share the WR (World Rally) Blue Pearl denomination. What is the precise difference between the two? And which one does the BRZ use?

Page 3 of an official Japanese Subaru BRZ Options chart is inconclusive, for it only lists the last two characters of the three-character Subaru paint code, and 2C can equally refer to 02C or 42C. We know for a fact, however, that the current U.S. market WRX and STI use the 02C iteration of WR Blue Pearl. Further confusing matters, some sources outside the U.S., such as Pro-Spray Automotive Finishes list Subaru paint code 42C as Jet Silver Metallic. Fortunately, a visit to the 2012 New York Auto Show during press previews clarified matters, for the sole BRZ on the Subaru stand just happened to be WR Blue Pearl, and opening the passenger-side door revealed the 02C color code.

Two different color codes for Hot Lava? What’s up with that?
After ragging on Subaru for applying the same name to 2 or 3 different color codes, we must note that Scion has seemingly done something similar with the Hot Lava color name. While the signature 86/FR-S orange bears the H8R color code on Toyota Japan’s Toyota 86 Exterior Bodycolor Index page, on other Scion applications, namely the just-launched iQ, 2004 xB Release Series 1.0, 2008 xD Release Series 1.0 and 2012 xB Release Series 9.0, the color code is 4R8.

Why the two different codes (4R8 and H8R) for Hot Lava? We have a couple of possible educated guesses:

1) There is some sort of subtle difference between the FR-S Hot Lava and the version on iQ plus the myriad Release Series models that justifies the two separate color codes.

2) The Hot Lava hue itself is identical on FR-S and the FWD Scions but, given that the other GT 86 / FR-S exterior colors use Subaru paint codes (not to mention the Subaru-only WR Blue Pearl), then the H8R is a Subaru paint code for what is, at heart, a Toyota/Scion paint color.

The answer is something of an “all of the above”. Given that the Toyota/Scion is built in Subaru’s Gunma assembly plant (and, indeed, the inside door jamb/sill information labels clearly state that the vehicle is built by Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries even for Toyota and Scion-branded versions), it is only natural that FR-S Hot Lava would use a Subaru-specific color code in line with all the other exterior hues. Yet, as luck would have it, the Scion stand at the 2012 New York Auto Show had a Hot Lava iQ and a Hot Lava FR-S not even 50 feet from each other, and consensus was that the FR-S H8R hue is a bit lighter and brighter than the iQ and previous Release Series models’ 4R8.

The BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 transmissions and driveline: what we know so far

Although the Toyota GT 86 (or, simply, 86) / Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ triplets have finally been revealed, there still remain a number of half-answered or unanswered questions, such as North America pricing and precise curb weights, Scion equipment levels and detailed driveline information, such as which Aisin manual and automatic transmissions and Torsen limited-slip differential the sports coupes will use.

First, though, some background on Aisin, which has been widely acknowledged as the production FT-86 variants’ transmission supplier. Aisin, which is over 30% owned by Toyota, is an integral part of the carmaker’s vertically-integrated keiretsu group of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. Indeed, a vast majority of Toyota vehicles use an Aisin transmission or transaxle, even including the mighty Lexus LFA. Quite notably, the parent Aisin Seiki Company has separate divisions (and even individual websites) for manual transmissions (Aisin AI) and automatic transmissions (Aisin AW). In spite of Toyota’s historic dominant role in Aisin transmission usage, however, the latter has grown and branched out to supply virtually every major carmaker on the planet. This makes for some mighty unexpected transmission-sharing bedfellows, as you’ll read further on.

The manual transmission: Aisin’s AZ6
Since the demise of the 1st-generation Lexus IS manual transmissions in 2005, Toyota’s sole remaining shift-it-yourself tranny for longitudinal rear-wheel-drive and RWD-centric all-wheel-drive applications for cars and light trucks has been the 6-speed Aisin AY6, which, in Toyotaspeak, is the RA60 series of transmissions. It actually exists in a plethora of versions, with varying individual and differential gear ratios. The RA60 proper is used on current 2-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma pickups, the beefed-up RA60F for 4-wheel-drive Tacomas, RA61F for 4-wheel-drive FJ Cruiser, RA62 for the Lexus IS 250 and RA63 for Europe’s Lexus IS 200d and IS 220d diesels. The Aisin AY6 is also used by General Motors in V6 manual versions of the Cadillac CTS, reborn Chevrolet Camaro and Australia’s Holden Commodore. With the AY6 receiving generally tepid reviews for its vague and rubbery shifter feel in both its Toyota/Lexus and GM applications (including yours truly’s thoughts on the Lexus IS 250C Manual), this author dreaded the possibility that this might be the leading row-your-own contender for putting the power down to the rear wheels of the FT-86 family of coupes.

Fortunately, Aisin also makes a far more appealing manual option: the AZ6 6-speed. Notably absent from the Aisin AI website’s FR (front engine, rear-wheel drive) transmission page, Internet research (including Wikipedia) reveals a veritable cornucopia of vehicles that use the AZ6: Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8, 2nd-gen (NB) Mazda MX-5 Miata, the final S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R… and the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200!

So, which Aisin 6-speed manual would BRZ, FR-S and (GT) 86 use? AY6 or AZ6? This author certainly wasn’t alone in wondering. Members of ft86club were asking this very question as far back as March 2010! A stroll through the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show produced the “smoking gun” you see above, brought to us courtesy of the response.jp website.

Bear in mind, however, that the Aisin AZ6 is but the basic “framework” or “structure” for the transmission. Each carmaker is able to tweak and tune such parameters as individual gear ratios, transmission cases, internal architecture, drive shaft coupling, clutch actuation and even shift “feel”. The fiercely independent, go-it-alone Honda, in particular, is understood to have widely modified its take on AZ6 for its S2000 sports car. The carmaker, which develops its own widely-praised transaxles, saw the need to swallow its pride and turn to archrival Toyota’s keiretsu for its first front engine/rear-wheel-drive transmission in decades in order to meet S2000’s cost targets.

Toyota and Subaru enginers also tweaked the AZ6 for the “Toyobaru” sports coupe, shown above, with Christie Schweinsberg of WardsAuto reporting that “The (manual) is 80% changed…to maximize shift feel”. Club4AG webmaster, administrator and events coordinator Motohide Miwa was fortunate enough to drive one of the Scion FR-S pre-production prototypes, and shared these impressions on the Club Lexus forums:

The shell case and most of the mechanical elements seem similar to the Altezza, S15 transmission, however clearly there are guides and larger gear teeth than the previous units. From what I felt in the short drive in the FR-S, though, is that the issue of 3rd gear being slightly sloppy to throw in quickly has been eliminated and that the new transmission feels firm and smooth into each gear when nice and warm. I have high expectations for this gearbox as well as the all-new Torsen LSD equipped differential box. (at least from comparison with AE86, everything is much bigger and smoother…and it looks to handle whatever duty cycle a tuner has for this light car…)

I see nice deep splines on the output shaft too…

IS/Altezza feels similar, I suppose, but it always felt a but clumsy going into 3rd when warm, but overall it was great.

This FR-S unit feels quicker to shift, throw is very short and positive, and just feels like it wants to run through each gear on a raceway… (I haven’t done that yet, but I will let you know if I ever get a chance. So far everyone who DID drive says it’s glass smooth and precise, easy to operate.)

Perhaps what I wanted to say is that it feels like the best attributes of all Toyota RWD transmissions converged to make this one feel better than ever.

For those of you who are looking forward to turbo or supercharge your BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 via the aftermarket, however, we must remind you of a crucial caveat that appears on the second photo of this article: “Medium Torque Capacity RWD 6-Speed Manual transmission (AZ6)”. A cursory glance at all the vehicles that have used the Aisin AZ6 reveals that the torquiest of the lot is the S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R, producing 202 lb/ft. All other AZ6 users produced somewhere between 124 and 163 lb/ft of torque, with stock BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 rated at 151 lb/ft. Notably, when the North American market demanded a manual transmission option for the Lexus IS 300 and its 2JZ-GE 3-liter inline 6’s 218 lb/ft of torque, the Aisin AZ6 (or J160 in Toyotaspeak) was deemed to be too weak. Instead, a W55 variant of the W58 5-speed manual from the naturally-aspirated Toyota Supra and Lexus SC 300 was used. Thus, it’ll be quite interesting to see what Subaru and Toyota engineers would do for a possible future manual supercharged or turbocharged FT-86 variant. Further modifying the existing AZ6? Or doing so with the higher-capacity AY6 (which can reportedly handle over 345 lb/ft of torque)? Or reach out to Getrag as Toyota did for the 233/V160 when it needed a stout yet sporting 6-speed manual for the Mk4 Supra Twin Turbo?

Also of interest is what designation Toyota will give to the Aisin AZ6 manual as applied to the Toyota (GT) 86 and Scion FR-S. We concur with Jeff Lange’s suggestion of J161.

The automatic transmission: a trio of Aisin possibilities, with one the likeliest
In stark contrast to the manual transmission situation, answers are more nebulous and speculative when it comes to determining which precise Aisin 6-speed automatic is used by the BRZ / FR-S / GT-86 triplets. And three is indeed the operative number here, for a trio of possibilities emerge in this author’s eye.

Most reports claim that “a 6-speed version of the IS F automatic” would be used in 2-pedal versions of the Toyobaru sports coupes. This would be a Toyota AA80E (or Aisin TL-80SN) 8-speed automatic morphed into an AA60E / TL-60SN 6-speed. These reports claim as evidence Part 2 of the 27 November 2011 Presentation by TMC Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada and the translator’s comment around the 1:40 mark. This would mean that the GT 86 / FR-S / BRZ automatic would be one of the most responsive automatics in the world, with a lock-up torque converter in 2nd thru top gears and downshift rev-matching. Fantastic as that would be, color this author deeply skeptical, for the AA80E-to-AA60E changeover is not just a matter of removing 7th and 8th gears. Merely doing so would leave a top direct 1:000 6th gear, with no overdrive top gear for more relaxed highway cruising and better fuel economy, and would fly in the face of current Toyota/Lexus practice of a direct 1:000 4th gear and overdrive 5th and 6th gears for its 6-speed automatics. Thus, all individual gear ratios would have to be revised. Would Toyota go to all this trouble when it already offers a couple of more viable and less expensive Aisin automatic alternatives in other Lexus models? We think not.

For the 4th-generation Lexus GS 350 just reaching U.S. dealer showrooms, the A760E high torque capacity 6-speed automatic has received a number of welcome tweaks versus the previous GS and current IS 350, such as earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts, thus going a long way towards granting this author’s wish list from 2009.

But why use the A760E when the less powerful and less torquey rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 250’s A960E 6-speed automatic is roughly 40 lbs lighter? And this, precisely, is what Toyota and Subaru seem to have done, for a comparison of Toyota Japan’s official 86 site’s Spec page and the Lexus IS 250/350 Product Information PDF document from the Lexus USA Newsroom reveals that 86 and IS 250 automatics share identical individual gear ratios of 1st 3.538 / 2nd 2.060 / 3rd 1.404 / 4th 1.000 / 5th 0.713 / 6th 0.582 / Reverse 3.168. Not a “smoking gun” in the manner of the Aisin AZ6 manual photo you saw earlier, perhaps, but very strong circumstantial evidence, nonetheless. Notably, though, the differential (or final drive) ratio for Japan’s Toyota 86 is the lower (numerically higher) 4.100 from all-wheel-drive Lexus IS variants (presumably for better low-end acceleration), as opposed to the RWD IS 250 Automatic’s 3.909. Best of all, numerous reports and early reviews suggest that the upgrades to the beefier A760E (earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts) have also found their way to the lighter A960E as applied to GT 86, FR-S and BRZ.

The limited-slip differential: Torsen’s T-2/Type B
Although a number of automotive suppliers, such as OS Giken, Eaton and Quaife offer limited-slip differentials, the name most associated with this valuable handling and performance helper is Torsen. Based on Vernon Gleasman’s pioneering work on the Dual-Drive Differential he invented in 1958, this Torque-Sensing (hence the name) limited-slip differential’s manufacturer has changed hands and corporate overlords a few times. The official Torsen site’s home page’s History Brief section summarizes the boardroom gyrations, but it was this passage that caught our eye:

Toyoda Machine Works Ltd., in 2003, purchased the worldwide Torsen division from Robert Bosch / Zexel Corporation. Zexel Torsen, Inc. was then renamed Toyoda-Koki Automotive Torsen North America Inc. to reflect this change. The company name change became effective on September 1, 2003.

Koyo Bearing Corporation merged with Toyoda Machine Works and formed JTEKT.

Thus, Torsen, like Aisin, is an integral part of Toyota’s keiretsu group of companies with interlocking shareholdings. Given this fact, it’s mildly surprising that the carmaker has made relatively little use of Torsen’s limited-slip differential in production Toyota, Lexus and Scion models. For one thing, none of the company’s numerous front-wheel-drive offerings have followed Alfa Romeo, Ford, Honda and Nissan’s lead in using LSD with FWD in their performance models from the factory, even though TRD does offer a FWD-compatible unit in its accessory catalog. (What performance FWD models does Toyota offer, anyway, many will rightly ask?) In fact, Torsen’s OEM Applications – Worldwide PDF document only lists recent all-wheel-drive Lexus (GX, LX and AWD versions of LS, GS and, presumably, IS) and Toyota (4Runner, FJ Cruiser and sundry Land Cruiser variants) models as using a T-3 (Type C) planetary type differential; and Lexus’ LFA supercar and post-2010 IS F as using a more rear-wheel-drive appropriate T-2 (Type B) unit. The contemporary Torsen applications listed there, however, ignore not only the upcoming Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S and Toyota (GT) 86, but historical enthusiast models such as Toyota Altezza/1st-generation Lexus IS, Mk III and IV iterations of Toyota Supra and numerous Japanese Domestic market platform-mates of these much-beloved vehicles.

The T-2 (or Type 2 or Type B) denomination, however, simply informs us, in broad terms, that the Toyobaru triplets use a rear limited-slip differential with a parallel gear arrangement. Beyond that, a number of variables come into play, such as the differential gear ratio, the number of teeth in the drive pinion and ring gear, and the ring gear size. As we learn from an overseas 1st-generation Lexus IS Differential information page from a technical/training manual, these emerge as notable differences between the IS 200’s F19TX limited-slip differential and the torquier IS 300’s F20TX unit. While both use a 43-tooth ring gear, the F20TX gains an extra pinion tooth (12 versus 11) and, most crucially, the ring gear size is 190mm (7.48″) for the F19TX and 205mm (8.07″) for the F20TX. A third possibility (again?!) is the 2010-and-newer Lexus IS F’s FD21AT unit, but we’d rule that one out quickly, given that it would probably be overkill for a car with half the power.

Further informed, intelligent discussion on this subject comes to us from an ft86club thread titled Confirmed Torsen Differential.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Official Toyota Japan 86 site
Photo 2:
Response.jp
Photos 3-5 and 7: Keishin Tamashiro
Photo 6: Scion USA Newsroom

Is a Toyota 86 / Scion FR-S sedan derivative worthy of reviving the Toyota Altezza badge?

As the final production iterations of the so-called “Toyobaru coupe” triplets (Toyota GT-86 [or, simply, 86], Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ) are finally rolled out for sampling by the world’s automotive press, the reviews are unanimous in their praise, and there is a clear consensus that the hard work of Subaru and Toyota engineers in kick-starting the revival of the no-frills rear-wheel-drive affordable sports coupe is, simply, too good to be confined to a single 2+2 two-door model. This author has long lobbied for a 2-seat roadster Lexus-badged derivative to rival the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster. Many others, however, have been moved to suggest (and render, as is evident in this article) stretched 4-door sports sedan versions of the new 86.

Speculation on an 86 sedan version hit a fever pitch back in autumn 2010, starting with Peter Lyon of Autocar‘s suggestion that Toyota made plans to spin a new small sports saloon (sedan to us Yanks) off the rear-drive platform as an “insurance policy” if the coupé never made it into production or failed to meet sales expectations. This author was certainly no stranger to the frenzy back then, penning related articles both for Kaizen Factor and my.IS, the latter shooting down Sam Mitani’s ridiculous notion that the “FT-86 sedan” would become the 3rd-generation Lexus IS.

In our Kaizen Factor piece, meanwhile, we mused that

…the notion of a 4-door sedan sibling for the FT-86 is a very tantalizing one as a “son-of-Toyota Altezza” (and Lexus IS 200), the Toyota brand’s last unqualified sport sedan hit.

Taking this one step further, if Toyota were, indeed, to build an 86-derived sedan, would it be worthy of bringing back the Altezza badge, not only in Japan but throughout the world? Please, no Scion-badging nonsense for this sedan in North America, they’ve already got their coupe. Given the number of Altezza-badged Lexus IS 300s this author sees as part of the active Florida my.IS / Club Lexus community, perhaps the world is ready for a proper sequel to the smaller, lighter and more agile 1st-generation Lexus IS for those who feel let down by the heavier and more luxury-oriented current 2nd-gen version. Or do you feel that there can only be one true, worthy, deserving Altezza, and that the notion of slapping that hallowed badge on a Toyota 86 sedan is almost sacrilegious? Perhaps the imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery trend of slapping “Altezza taillights” on all manner of old Hondas and beyond has tainted the name in your mind forever? How do you feel about this notion?

Illustration credits:
1) Theophilus Chin via Paul Tan’s Automotive News
2) Best Car
3) CarsGuide.com.au

Supercharger or turbocharger? Which way will a hotter GT 86 / FR-S / BRZ go?

The Subaru BRZ and its Toyota sibling (badged Scion FR-S in North America, Toyota 86 in Japan and Toyota GT 86 elsewhere) have finally been officially launched and, in spite of its light for our era curb weight, the respectable 100 hp-per-liter power density of its FA20 2-liter naturally aspirated direct+port injection flat four and a power-to-weight ratio that betters that of the current Mazda MX-5 Miata, there is a rising clamor for more power via turbo. Never mind that such a power increase begs for larger, stickier tires, bigger brakes to slow things down and a concomitant increase in unsprung and curb weight, some people just value pin-you-to-your-seat acceleration over the finesse required to maintain momentum (i.e., don’t slow down that much when you hit a curve) in a lightweight, naturally aspirated fun-to-drive car. Yet, even GT 86 / FR-S Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada unwittingly added fuel to the fire when, back in August he admitted to Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars that the FA20 flat four shares its mounting points with Subaru’s older EJ assortment of flat fours. This would, of course, make it relatively easy to swap in, say, an EJ257, the most powerful (think North America’s WRX STI) iteration of Subaru’s 2.5-liter turbo boxer 4. Yet, perhaps, Toyota isn’t thinking turbo when it comes to a possible faster future GT 86 or FR-S…

A supercharger?!
Given all the Subaru componentry inside GT 86/FR-S/BRZ and the Pleiades-logoed carmaker’s long history of turbocharged rally-inspired go-fast sedans, coupes and wagons, it’s hardly surprising that everyone expects a turbo version as a future variant of the Toyobaru sports coupe. Yet, England’s Autocar, in an article by Andrew Frankel, reports that

Chief engineer Tetsuo (sic) Tada says that not only is a supercharged GT 86 envisaged, test cars have already been made and are being evaluated by Toyota Racing Developments (sic), the Japanese giant’s in house tuning division.

Tada-san favours the supercharger approach because it is simpler to achieve than increasing engine size and doesn’t wreck throttle response as turbocharging might. Indeed Toyota says that turbocharging along with four-wheel drive and wide tyres are what make sports cars boring to drive.

Supercharging is also a key competence for TRD which has been offering this kind of forced induction as an aftermarket kit for Toyotas since 1998. He would not be drawn on what kind of power a supercharged GT 86 might develop but Toyota is known to consider the car’s chassis could easily handle an additional 50bhp to go with the 197bhp already generated by its Subaru 2-litre flat four motor

TRD’s most popular supercharger conversion is applied to the American market Tacoma pick up, boosting its 4-litre V6 engine from 233bhp to 301bhp suggesting that a 280bhp GT 86 with, critically, a massive boost in the low down torque the car currently lacks would be easily achieved. Even in the unlikely event that all the modifications added 100kg to the weight of the car, its power to weight ratio would still at least equal that of the 326bhp Nissan 370Z, a car capable of hitting 62mph from rest in 5.3sec and recording a top speed of 155mph. The standard GT 86 needs around 6.8sec and does 143mph. It is not yet known whether, if approved, the supercharged GT 86 would be offered as an aftermarket pack or as a model in its own right.

Although this all sounds feasible and true enough, we should note the Autocar isn’t the most credible of sources, ranking just a bit above their compatriots Auto Express and the Japanese rendering mags such as Best Car in their rumormongering sensibilities. And, please note, Mr. Frankel, that Tada-san’s first name is Tetsuya, not Tetsuo. Also, the “D” in TRD stands for Development in singular, not in plural.

Toyota’s checkered history with supercharging
When looking back at Toyota’s boosted gasoline powerplants, the company’s history is akin to Audi’s, with a mix of turbocharging (Supra, 2nd-generation MR2, Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo/GT-Four) and supercharging (1st-generation MR2, TRD aftermarket kits and Australia’s Aurion TRD). The new millennium, however, has seen nothing but superchargers. Besides the aforementioned blower for the Tacoma’s 1GR-FE 4-liter V6 (that also fits the 2007-09, single VVT-i FJ Cruiser), TRD offers superchargers for the older 1FZ-FE 4.5-liter inline 6 and 5VZ-FE 3.4-liter V6 truck engines, as well as a state-of-the-art Eaton TVS (Twin Vortices Series) blower for the 3UR-FE 5.7-liter V8 that is currently the most powerful engine offered in the Tundra and Sequoia.

The moderate, niche success of those truck applications, however, stands in stark contrast to Toyota’s luck with car superchargers. The first-ever application of the Eaton TVS blower was atop the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 which, thus boosted, received the 2GR-FZE moniker. As installed in Australia’s Aurion TRD, an upmarket sports Camry V6 variant, it produced 323 hp, making it, by some accounts, the world’s most powerful front-wheel-drive car. That’s nothing to brag about, though, as prodigious torque steer, early blown engines and the worldwide economic meltdown saw Toyota shut down Aurion TRD production after selling barely 537 units in a 15-month period between August 2007 and November 2008. Similarly discontinued is Scion’s TRD supercharger for the 1st-gen tC and 2nd-gen xB’s 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, a victim of claims of questionable quality and reliability. And long-time 1st-gen Lexus IS and 2JZ-GE 3-liter inline 6 fans may recall rumors of a TRD supercharger for that engine that ultimately turned out to be vaporware, and current rumors of a blower for the current IS and GS’s GR-FSE V6 may well meet a similar fate.

A 2-pronged approach, with each brand going its own way on boost?
Even though the latest rumors on FT-86 pointed towards the barest of differentiation between the Toyota/Scion and Subaru variants, some were still surprised to see that the front bumper/grille unit, side vent inserts and wheels are the most overt differences between the two companies’ versions. Even the head and taillight insert variances are barely perceptible. Whether this was by deliberate design or financial cost-cutting needed to make the project happen in the first place is unclear, but we suspect that the two carmakers are banking on its success to allow for more differentiation in the future. It’s certainly difficult to envision Subaru giving in on its long history of turbocharging its boxer engines, while, if the Autocar account is true, Toyota prefers supercharging. Might this become an all-important point of distinction between the two marques?

Our thanks to the my.IS community, which inspired and informed our story via this thread.

Photo Credit: Autoblog still from a Toyota YouTube video.

Will the next-gen Subaru WRX and STI migrate to the FR-S / BRZ platform?

Although previewed by the Subaru Impreza Concept at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show a year ago, it was still something of a surprise to see the production version of the 4th-generation Subaru Impreza unveiled at the 2011 New York Auto Show in April and going on sale as a 2012 model in November 2011. After all, its 2nd-generation GD (sedan) and GG (sportwagon) predecessor was offered for six full model years (2002-2007), whereas the 3rd-gen GE sedan / GH hatchback naturally aspirated Imprezas would have a scant 4-year life, the sort of new model cadence not seen since Honda abandoned it before the turn of the millennium. And, yes, the naturally aspirated clarification is vital, for the 4th-gen WRX and STI variants were nowhere to be found at the New York debut. When this author asked, everyone there from Subaru of America Executive Vice President / Chief Operating Officer Tom Doll and Product Public Relations Manager Dominick Infante on down turned coy and evasive as to when, precisely, we would see the next WRX and STI.

Three months later, however, Peter Lyon, writing for Motor Trend, made a novel prediction that garnered scant attention at the time, and was dismissed as fanciful rumormongering by some:

Remember the drama around removing the “Skyline” prefix from the GT-R when the all-new supercar debuted in late 2007? Well, it looks like nomenclature surgery is about to happen again, only this time Subaru is doing the separating. That’s right, the Impreza and famed WRX — joined at the hip since 1992 — are going their separate ways…the next WRX will take a completely different path of development and will not surface until 2014. We know this because Subaru president Ikuo Mori said at a recent shareholder’s meeting: “We will launch a new sporty car in 2014.” The WRX is that car.

“Apart from a few nuts and bolts, every part on the WRX will be unique. Even the engine and body. Obviously the WRX’s platform will be inherited from the new Impreza, but it will be radically modified and significantly shortened,” says our source.

The WRX…will employ the very best from Subaru’s parts bin, starting with an updated version of the company’s rally-proven AWD system and a turbocharged boxer engine.

“The first thing you must understand about our all-new WRX is that we have developed it from the ground up to win in motorsports events. That’s why we have focused so heavily on weight issues, not to mention a shorter wheelbase that permits faster, more precise turn-in. Marry that to our proven AWD system, and we think we have a winner”.

On the short list for the WRX’s powerplant is a turbocharged 1.6-liter boxer pumping as much as 270 hp, and a twin-charger system involving a supercharger is being tested as well. The car’s body is rumored to be a little bigger than a Toyota Yaris, while its tread width is said to expand significantly. As for the STI, we are told that the flagship will also employ the WRX’s 1.6-liter boxer turbo, but that the engine will be reworked to generate upwards of 300 hp for motorsport competitiveness.

The notion of an STI with over 187 hp per liter in a street engine is one that strains credulity (why not use at least the 2.0-liter FB20 instead of the 1.6-liter FB16 boxer four?), and I wouldn’t expect a new WRX to look like that latest Subaru Legacy / Honda CRZ mashup by way of Hot Wheels rendering that Holiday Auto came up with. Sure enough, though, as Subaru announced its 2012 model year lineup, we saw the unprecedented offering of a 4th-gen naturally aspirated-only Impreza selling alongside 3rd-gen WRX and STI models. Then, in late October, Diana Kurylko of Automotive News’ story titled Subaru separates performance models from Impreza garnered more widespread attention, even though it was far less detailed than Lyon’s earlier account. Kurylko notes that

Subaru will begin marketing its Impreza WRX and STI performance models separately from the conventional Impreza when the car is redesigned next month.

The “Impreza” name will be dropped for the derivatives, and they will get their own platforms when they are redesigned in 2013.

The WRX and STI variants will continue on the current Impreza platform until the 2013 redesign. The two sporty versions account for 10 to 15 percent of Impreza sales.

(Senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America Bill) Cyphers said the change will allow Subaru to market the WRX and STI more easily as performance cars and to give them interiors and features more appropriate for models that start at about $8,000 more than the Impreza. Cyphers would not give engine or performance details for the 2013 models, but he said the STI will continue to have an engine with 300-plus horsepower.

In his commentary article on the Automotive News story Viknesh Vijayenthiran of Motor Authority takes a stunning flying leap of logic when he suggests that the new Subaru WRX and STI could use an all-wheel drive version of the upcoming BRZ (Scion/Toyota FR-S) platform. Sure, we’ve written plenty about rumored and hoped-for additional Toyota and even Lexus derivatives of FT-86, but never really thought that Subaru might want its own additional offshoots as well. They’re certainly entitled. At the same time, though, even as rumors persist of eventual all-wheel-drive FT-86 platform models, we should remind you that moving the Subaru flat-four engine 4 inches down and 9 inches back (for optimum rear-wheel-drive handling and balance) versus the current Impreza tends to complicate if not preclude adding back the all-wheel-drive.

Hoping for further clarity, this author chatted up Subaru staffers at the 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. They told us that the next Subaru WRX and STI would remain all-wheel-drive, would not be a BRZ derivative and would arrive some time during calendar year 2013 as a 2014 model, thus essentially confirming Lyon’s and Kurylko’s earlier reports and putting the current-generation GE Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan, GH WRX Hatchback and GR WRX STI on a 6-model-year (2008-2013) cycle, just like its immediate GD/GG predecessors.