Lexus and Toyota at the 2012 Paris Motor Show: what to expect

As the 2013 model year international auto show season kicks off, the current even-numbered 2012 calendar year means that the action starts in early autumn in Paris, France (odd-numbered years see Frankfurt, Germany as the fall kickoff, and the Tokyo Motor Show in December that is absent on even-numbered years). In the runup to the Paris preshow press conferences to be held on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September, most carmakers have already tipped their hand and given clues as to what they will be unveiling, and Toyota and Lexus are certainly no exceptions.

Internationally, the Toyota brand’s first major unveiling for late summer/early fall 2012 is the 2nd-generation of the Auris C-segment line. A Toyota Corolla derivative roughly analogous to North America’s Matrix 5-door hatchback, the Auris is the third of the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla variants to debut in 2012, behind the Japanese domestic market’s Corolla Axio sedan and Corolla Fielder station wagon models. The Japanese version of the Auris debuted on August 20, with 2 engine options echoing those of the Corolla Fielder: the 1NZ-FE 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine as used on the current Toyota Yaris and the 2ZR-FAE 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine (essentially a more powerful yet economical version of the current Corolla’s 2ZR-FE engine benefiting from the addition of the Valvematic mechanism that continuously controls the intake valve lift volume). Unfortunately, the Auris’ Japan-only Blade fraternal twin, which included the intriguing Blade Master model powered by the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6, was discontinued in April without a 2nd-generation successor.

For its European debut, the British-built iteration of the Toyota Auris offers a different – and far more extensive – range of engine options. The two gasoline-powered European models offer 4-cylinder engines that have smaller displacements than their Japanese counterparts: 1.33 liters and 1.6 liters. The former is clearly the carryover 1NR-FE, but it is unclear at this point whether the latter is the 124 hp, Dual VVT-i-only 1ZR-FE or its peppier 130 hp Dual VVT-i plus Valvematic 1ZR-FAE variant. Those preferring 4-cylinder diesel power have a choice (according to an official Toyota Europe news release) of 1.4-liter or 2-liter displacements. Given that Toyota won’t begin to purchase diesels from BMW until 2014, we’re certain that these are Toyota’s current 1ND-TV and 1AD-FTV, respectively. Finally, the Auris Hybrid returns for the new generation (and is shown above right), powered by the carryover 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline-electric powertrain shared with the Toyota Prius, Prius v and Lexus CT 200h. Auris fans may note that the current generation offers several more powerful gasoline and diesel options than the quintet listed above, but bear in mind that the new Auris has a lower (0.28) coefficient of drag, lower height and center of gravity, 10% stiffer body structure and, most crucially, is as much as 40 kg (88 lbs) lighter than its predecessor. This, combined with revised steering and suspension – including wider availability of a double-wishbone rear suspension – should make the new Auris a more compelling drive.

It is uncertain whether or not the slow-selling 3-door Auris body style will return with the 2nd-generation, but we’re inclined to say no, for reasons outlined back in January 2011. On the other hand, a 5-door station wagon body style alternative has become de rigueur in the European C-segment, where 25% of sales in the class are wagons. Even such familiar models as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Verano/Opel Astra and Hyundai Elantra/i30 offer station wagon variants unavailable in North America. Thus, Toyota felt compelled to add a second Auris Touring Sports body style. Shown as a darkened teaser (which was lightened and enhanced by Autocar in the photo shown above left) it will be fully unveiled at Paris later this month. The Auris Touring Sports will be available with the regular Auris hatchback’s full suite of 5 powerplant options, thus making it Europe’s first wagon in the segment available with a full hybrid powertrain. Quite notably, Toyota is predicting an even 1/3 gasoline / 1/3 diesel / 1/3 hybrid split in European Auris sales for the new generation when it goes on sale in early 2013 as a hatchback, followed by the wagon during the second half of the year.

Toyota debuts for the 2012 Paris Motor Show extend beyond the newest iteration of the Auris. The carmaker proudly trumpets a “new Verso“, as teased in the cropped, highlighted and enhanced Carscoop picture shown at right. For the uninitiated, the Verso is Toyota’s entry in the hotly contested European MPV (C-segment mini-minivan) category. In the United States, the sole class representative currently in new car showrooms is the Mazda5, while, north of the border, Canadians may also choose a Kia Rondo or Chevrolet Orlando. Another way to describe the Toyota Verso is as a rebodied, non-hybrid version of the Prius v/Prius +/Prius Alpha wagon with shorter rear overhang and a 3rd-row seat. In fact, both sit on the same 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase. In this case, however, take the “new” with a grain of salt, even though Toyota Europe’s official news release describes “(a) new design language with a clear family identity, an improved interior, a revised 2.0 D-4D (1AD-FTV diesel) engine with improved performance and lower CO2 emissions, and enhanced driving dynamics and reduced NVH levels”. Given that the current Verso was introduced in March 2009 at the Geneva Motor Show, expect a mid-life refresh akin to that received by the Toyota Avensis last year, and not an all-new generation.

Also debuting in Paris is a new Yaris Trend edition featuring, in Toyota’s words, “unique exterior styling and model-specific interior finishes, textures and colours to attract young, urban-based, design-focused customers”. Carscoop offers us far more insight, however, as the Yaris Trend was actually launched in the United Kingdom on August 8. Essentially, this is the top-of-the-line sporty Yaris SR (which includes fog lamps, part-leather upholstery, a rear roof spoiler and lowered suspension) with the addition of 16″ Podium anthracite machined alloy wheels, chrome tailpipe finisher and a Jaguar XJ-inspired blacked-out C-pillar, in a choice of Tyrol Silver or Cirrus White exterior paint. And, we should add, some goofy swirling pinstripes along the front fenders and doors.

For the hardcore European enthusiast, however, the best news is the Continental debut of a full suite of TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Performance Line Accessories for GT86. This is a comprehensive range of exterior, interior and mechanical components that enhance style, aerodynamics and performance, all offered individually, as opposed to being grouped or bundled into packages. Also of interest is a GT86 Racing Simulator, a fusion between a real Toyota GT86 and an advanced computer simulation system. The driver steers, shifts, brakes and accelerates the GT86 using the original controls. The simulator then uses a state-of-the-art motion system to respond to driver input and deliver an un-paralleled realistic driving experience. The windshield is a Full HD monitor for the drivers and a Lucas Arts THX Surround system is used to supply sound from the racetrack.

The Toyota stand at the 2012 Paris Motor Show will also feature the Yaris Hybrid, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the TS030 Le Mans prototype (LMP1) racer which recently saw its first podium finish and the FCV-R Fuel Cell Vehicle concept, the latter perhaps in anticipation of the European Hydrogen Road Tour 2012. All this detailed information, needless to say, leaves little to no room for surprise at the Toyota press conference which will take place at Pavillion 4, Stand 114 at 8:30 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September.

In stark contrast to the above, Lexus has, thus far, been more elusive and coy as to its 2012 Paris Motor Show plans, except for a brief news release promising the reveal of “a brand new concept car” alongside the Western European premiere of the all-new LS 600h F SPORT shown at left at 8:45 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September (15 minutes after the Toyota press conference) at Pavillion 4, Stand 120 next to Toyota.

Naturally, the blogosphere has been rife with speculation as to what, precisely, this new Lexus concept will be. We can certainly rule out the second iteration of the Lexus LF-LC sports coupe, since that is earmarked for an Australian unveiling in mid-October. What, then? Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast posted a poll with ten distinct possibilities: Compact Crossover, City Car, CT-Based Variant, Four-Door Coupe, GS Coupe, GS F, IS Coupe, IS Sedan, LF-LC Convertible or the eternal catchall “Other”. This author concurs with most pundits that it’s a tossup between an IS Coupe predictor and the long-awaited sub-RX, RAV4-derived compact crossover that everybody refers to as CX but is far likelier to wear the TX prefix in production.

Even this concept will not be a true “Paris surprise”, as Lexus has promised to reveal further information and pictures on Monday 17 September at 8:00 AM Central European Time, 10 days ahead of the actual press reveal.

And what about Subaru?
In 2010, Subaru didn’t even bother to appear at the Paris Motor Show. The carmaker will be there in 2012, at Pavillion 3, Stand 215. As of this writing, however, it does not appear that they will unveil anything new, nor that they have even scheduled a press conference.

Toyota at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon, Part 2

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

Toyota FJ Cruiser JAOS Selected by Modellista (by Modellista)

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

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

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

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

Toyota Ractis Modellista version (by Modellista)

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

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

Toyota Vitz Modellista version (by Modellista)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota Corolla Axio äpr GT (from Fuji Speedway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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