Toyota Prius c / Aqua illustration and info leaks from Japan

In the Internet age of automotive journalism, it has become something of a cottage industry to scan and post press brochures and internal training and information material ahead of their official release. This author certainly recalls the pivotal role played by World Car Fans in leaking the Lexus CT 200h press brochure a week ahead of the car’s 2 March 2010 world debut at the Geneva Auto Show. Now Carscoop has similarly obtained, via tipster i-Ryuji, 33 pages’ worth of scans of what appears to be illustrations and specifications of Toyota’s upcoming Aqua a.k.a Prius c, some of which also appear in this article.

Curiously, none of the otherwise detailed illustrations nor any of the Japanese text show any sort of badge or model name for this clearly hybrid Toyota, but there’s a 90+% likelihood that it’s Prius c / Aqua we’re looking at. Accurately described by Sebastián Blanco of AutoblogGreen as looking like a Toyota Prius / Nissan Leaf mashup with the barest hint of the original Prius c concept, the newest Toyota hybrid is attractive enough for a B-segment 5-door hatchback (except for the overwrought taillights), if lacking the absolute aero hybrid look of its big brother Prius.

Among the more intriguing bits to emerge is the trio of trim levels (G, S and L, from most basic to best-appointed) for the Japanese domestic market and a selection of exterior colors that includes new shades of white (082), red-orange (4V7), and a light aqua bearing either the 3V7 or 8V7 color code, plus the 2009-10 Yaris sedan’s 8T7 Blue Streak Metallic and the eye-popping 5A3 High Voltage yellow from the current Scion tC Release Series 7.0 (are you listening, ToyotaReference?)

Yet another image reveals specifications that include a 2550mm (100.4″) wheelbase that matches the outgoing Toyota Yaris sedan’s (as opposed to the 3rd-gen Yaris hatchback’s 2510 mm/98.8″), a 3995mm (157.3″) overall length, 1695mm (66.7″) width and 1,445mm (56.9″) height. Mention of a 1496cc 4-cylinder engine could be a tacit confirmation of this author’s earlier prediction that Prius c / Aqua would use the 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrain from the 2nd-generation Toyota Prius, itself a hybridized version of the 1NZ-FE engine used on all past and current Toyota Yaris models sold in North America. Unless, of course, Toyota’s North America operations decide on a zippier Prius c powered by the current larger Prii / Lexus CT 200h’s 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE powertrain.

As to the Prius c / Aqua’s debut, Carscoop is predicting a world debut at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show this coming December (where it threatens to get lost amidst the expected FR-S / BRZ hoopla) an on-sale date of January 2012 and a North American debut in Detroit (a possible world debut for the Prius c-badged version) that same month. In an unexpected 180-degree turn from their January 2011 prediction, Autocar now believes that Prius c stands a chance of being sold in Europe alongside the expected Yaris HSD, and predicts a European debut at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show in March. Curious, given the potential for cannibalization from the cheaper (yet, probably, more profitable in Europe) hybrid Yaris.

The full Carscoop gallery includes more goodies such as interior shots, alternate wheel styles and even a couple of accessory body kits (perhaps to be sold as Modellista, TRD or G Sports items in Japan, and as a Prius PLUS body kit in North America)

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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…

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.

Godspeed, Naruse-san, we’ll miss you.

The news came totally unexpectedly and out of the blue. But then, surprising sad and tragic news tends to arrive that way. A phone call from Kaizen Factor co-editor Ryan (Flipside909) on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 June asked, “Have you seen the story on Autoblog? Naruse-san, Toyota’s Master Test Driver, was apparently killed in an accident in an LFA near the Nürburgring.” I spent the next couple of hours at work in something of a stunned daze, unable to get to my computer to find out more. Once I finally did, I made up for lost time and sought out all the information I could about this unspeakable tragedy. Not much was out there, though, except for the fact that, on Germany’s highway 410 just outside the fabled German track, Hiromu Naruse, piloting a prototype Pearl Yellow Nürburgring Package Lexus LFA en route to Toyota’s nearby workshop entered a blind curve and collided head-on with a Vermilion Red Metallic BMW E90 3-Series sedan. Naruse-san perished in the crash, while the driver and passenger in the BMW were injured, but, according to BimmerFile, the driver in the 3 Series received minor injuries and has been released from the hospital. The passenger is still in the hospital with non life-threatening injuries and is expected to make a full recovery. Although some initial reports (such as Motor Trend and Automobile) erroneously mentioned a passenger in the LFA, Toyota officials have confirmed that Naruse was alone in the Lexus supercar. As of this writing, an ongoing police investigation has not determined the precise cause of the accident, but, ultimately, those particulars pale in significance to Hiromu Naruse’s enormous talents and contributions to the enthusiast performance legacy of Toyota and Lexus.

In 1963, Naruse joined Toyota. As his profile on the Gazoo Racing website reveals, he was nearly placed in the carmaker’s accounting department but, thankfully, wound up in the Vehicle Evaluation and Engineering Division instead. Soon enough, the first Toyota to bear Naruse-san’s touch appeared: the 1965 Sports 800, a rival for the Honda S600 / S800 sports cars. The “flat-twin” (two horizontally-opposed cylinders) two-seater also pioneered the concept of the removable “targa” top, beating Porsche to the punch. Two years later, Naruse helped develop the original Japanese supercar, the legendary Toyota 2000GT. Yet, another of his contributions from 1967 caught this author’s eye: the Toyota 1600GT, a sporting version of the 3rd-generation Toyota Corona 2-door hardtop with a 9R DOHC engine developed by Yamaha. Coincidentally, both the aforementioned Gazoo Racing page and Autoblog portray it in pastel yellow. Picture that very same car, in the same color, with a different grille, a black vinyl top, whitewall tires and a far more mundane 1.9-liter 3R overhead valve 90 hp 4-cylinder engine coupled with a 2-speed Toyoglide automatic and you have this author’s first car, received as a surprise 1972 Christmas present. After a less-than-stellar ownership experience, I strayed from the Toyota fold for nearly three decades, but, to put it in Biblical terms, another Naruse creation brought this prodigal son back into the fold: the Toyota Altezza, which was exported as the Lexus IS 200 and IS 300. Other Toyota models that are credited with Naruse-san’s input are the Toyota 7 racer, the original 1970 Celica, the AE86 RWD sports Corollas, the 1st and 3rd-generation MR2, the Mk IV Supra and, of course, Lexus’ IS F and LFA.

So, while we should be very grateful that Hiromu Naruse did not wind up as a “bean counter” accountant, he hints that, perhaps, he might have made a very talented Iron Chef, for both an interview titled What is “Automotive Seasoning?” appearing on the Gazoo Racing site and Lexus Magazine‘s Tales of a Lexus Test-Driver are chock-full of parallels between cooking and seasoning and getting a car to feel and handle just right. In the latter article, Hiromu Naruse succinctly reminds us to

Think about food. If the first, middle, and last impressions—look, taste, and finish—are good, people remember it with a good feeling. Creating a vehicle is the same. Test drivers are like chefs, and I take the role of head chef.

while on Gazoo Racing he goes into more detail:

People may think that seasoning a car generally entails replacing parts such as the suspension or the wheels to make the handling firmer and adding aerodynamic parts to enhance the aerodynamic performance. This, however, is remodeling, and is not seasoning. Seasoning (fine-tuning) and remodeling are completely different. We want the customer to feel that the product is delicious and be happy with their choice, and to think, Wow, I want to eat (i.e. drive) this again!

When making omelets, the flavor will vary depending not only on whether salt or soy sauce is added, but also on how much is added, in what order, and when in the cooking process. The very best chefs can make all the difference to a soup by adding just the right amount of salt at the very end. The “automotive seasoning” that we do is exactly the same. The feel of the ride can change completely by changing the shock absorber shims by just two-tenths of a millimeter. Also, the quality of the ride that humans feel when driving is related to longitudinal G-force (lateral G-force is related to fear), and through experience and training, we can feel and adjust the force in units of 1/1000 of a G. The longitudinal G-force normally felt in an elevator is about 0.2 G, so this gives an idea of just how subtle our adjustments are. If these minute differences are taken in isolation, ordinary people won’t feel anything different. But when combined together with all the other minute differences, a big difference can be made to the taste of the car.

An excellent, deeply moving must-read eulogy for Hiromu Naruse was written by Damon Lavrinc of Autoblog. Titled Seat Time with Hiromu Naruse, it tells of Lavrinc’s finally getting the opportunity to meet Naruse-san on Thursday 22 October 2009 at the Lexus LFA Press Preview at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Apart from his vivid, descriptive writing, it truly resonated with me, for I, too, along with Kaizen Factor co-editor Ryan (Flipside909), had just had the immense privilege, the day before, of meeting Naruse-san personally at the same event and venue. Frankly, I wrote relatively little about him on my The Pinnacle of the Passionate Pursuit of Perfection, Part 2 article for LexusFforum.com, yet, he certainly made an impression beyond my words:

First, though, came a familiarization lap as the passenger of a very distinguished driver: Hirose Naruse, Toyota’s Master Test Driver and the highest-ranked among Toyota’s 300 test drivers… Soon enough, Naruse-san presses the gas pedal, and the otherworldly, Formula 1-influenced howl makes this Lexus sound like no other one ever… The familiarization hot lap as Naruse-san’s passenger ends quickly enough, and now it’s my turn to get in the driver’s seat… Naruse-san was not my designated passenger for my drive, but rather, another of Lexus’ test drivers with a better command of English, all the better to curse me out if I do something seriously wrong, I suppose… As I got underway, I noticed that the shifts in the black LFA felt far sharper and rougher than they did in the White Avenging Angel. Car-to-car variation? Possibly, but a far more likely explanation is that gearshift speeds can be adjusted in seven stages – from approximately 0.2 seconds for intense track work to 1.0 second for smooth cruising – using the Shift Speed Selection dial, and I’d venture a guess that Scott Pruett prefers the faster response time even at the cost of smoothness versus Hirose Nasure’s slower but smoother shift setup… Shortly after returning from my date with the Matte Black Beast, this author learned that his Club Lexus counterpart Ryan had been given a lap on the Turn 3 and 4 portion of the oval with Hirose Naruse at the wheel. Hey, we’re not about to let that be a Club Lexus exclusive, are we? No, sir, and, soon enough, I donned my protective headgear and jumped into the passenger seat of the White Avenging Angel once more. (The stuff this author does for you people, I swear…) Naruse-san seemed more enthused this lap around, and as we made our way just to the right of the cones that politely suggested we enter Turn 10 instead, our entry onto the Oval Turn 3 meant that we were on the so-called Modified Road Course. Riding in the LFA on the banking and into Oval Turn 4 was a surreal experience as the car tilted leftward and paved track surrounded – no, enveloped – us.


Left to right: Ryan (Flipside909), Hirose Nasure, Scott Pruett, Joaquín Ruhi (jruhi4)

Hirose Nasure’s face showed every one of his 67 (or maybe, at that point, 66) years, yet his physical demeanor and an undefinable twinkle in his eye were certainly decades younger. We barely exchanged words, merely smiles, nods, bows and handshakes that transcended language. Unlike Damon Lavrinc, I didn’t have the presence of mind to “thank him for the ride with a (decidedly gaijin) ‘arigato’ “, but I will be forever grateful for the two laps of Homestead-Miami Speedway that we shared. Naruse-san was a fascinating mix of external zen calm and wisdom with an internal strength and intensity that was evident even in our brief encounter. American theater and film describes Southern women that are outwardly delicate but internally tough as steel magnolias, but, when it comes to veteran Japanese male test drivers, carbon-fiber bamboo stalks might be a far better analogy.

As authors Brian Gill and Doug Knox wrote in what would probably turn out to be Hirose Nasure’s final interview:

If you’ve never heard of Hiromu Naruse before today, all you really need to know is that he’s a legend. So much of a legend, in fact, that the performance-auto elite has nicknamed him the “Nur-Meister,” which sounds sort of amusing until you run it through a German-to-English translator: Sole Champion, Only Master, One and Only Master. To call that a nickname with cred is a major understatement, no matter what language it’s in.

It is also possible to view Nur-Meister as shorthand for “Master of the Nürburgring”, a title he would richly deserve. Yet, in an almost creepy premonition, the interview with Gill and Knox reminds us that constant high-speed driving isn’t all fun and games. Here’s a quote from Hiromu Naruse:

I have to say, when I drove the LFA for the first time, it was scary. It was like a monster. When we raced the LFA in Nardo, Italy, I thought I might not return to Japan alive. The purpose of this “test” was to evaluate the car’s durability at 200 mph for a long period. The race was in the dark with no lights on the track, plus there were birds flying at me—and imagine if a tire burst! We created the final LFA through these kinds of test experiences.

With Naruse-san gone, the question remains as to which of Toyota’s other roughly 299 test drivers would fill his awe-inspiring Pilotis or Pumas. Toyota certainly has a broad and deep bench to draw from, but he won’t be easily replaced. Naruse himself expounded on the Gazoo Racing site as to what qualifications his successor should bring:

A restaurant has a person who is responsible for determining the flavor of the dishes. That is the chef. The decisions of the chef are final. Dishes that the chef has determined unacceptable are never brought to a customer’s table; if the chef gives the okay, the dish will appear on the restaurant’s menu and will be served to customers no matter how many others object. Determining the flavor isn’t done by a majority vote. Deciding things by compromise is also highly objectionable. European automakers employ a master craftsman (meister) who is responsible for determining the flavor of the cars, and until that person gives the okay, the cars cannot be sold. I believe that Toyota needs this type of person in the future. A restaurant chef not only determines the flavor of the dishes, but has the authority to make decisions on all stages of preparation, right from procuring the ingredients. To me, the ideal would be for a member of the Toyota management team to be such a chef who understands completely the ingredients and the flavors.

It is rare to find an internet article, blog entry or thread on Hiromu Naruse’s untimely passing whose commentary doesn’t include at least one plea to rename the Nürburgring Package option outfitted to 50 select Lexus LFAs the Naruse package as a fitting tribute to his irreplaceable legacy, and we wholeheartedly agree.

Our most heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Toyota family and, above all, to his wife, to whom he referred thusly in the July 2008 Gazoo Racing interview:

It has been commonly said that people get tired of a beauty after three days. With a car, as in the case of my dear wife, the true flavor comes out after years of being together, through thick and thin. As with one’s spouse, it is the odd imperfection that gives a car its unique character and appeal. Even at my age, I feel that I still have a long way to go.

Godspeed, Naruse-san, we’ll miss you. You are surely giving God Himself the ride of His life in the ultimate LFA.