Toyota's FR-S concept is worth the wait
Expecting Toyota, the world's ultimate manufacturer of beige-ness, to come up with a class-leading sportscar is like expecting the Dalai Lama to start a death metal band. But that's exactly what's happening — not the death metal band thing, but the Toyota sportscar…
Of course there is a twist to it yet again, because this wondrous concoction of curves, creases, chiselled indents and one giant, cartoonish manga grin unveiled in New York, isn't even a Toyota. It's a Scion, which is OK since that's a Toyota for the North American market anyway, and will just as likely be badged differently elsewhere.
Frankly, we don't care what they call it, as long as this feverishly anticipated sportscar gets a green light for 2012. After all, how can a mega-manufacturer like Toyota with billions of cash notes at the ready get this wrong? Oh, hang on, that's what they said about Toyota's Formula 1 project…
But anyway, let's forget about that and keep our high hopes. We have good reason to, because the Scion FR-S concept — another in the line of Toyota's FT-86 concepts — lives on a rear-wheel drive platform with much more in its favour.
FR-S stands for front-engined, rear drive, and sport, so we'll start with the front where resides a Subaru-engineered boxer four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transaxle for optimum weight distribution.
Even though Subaru got a hand in this one, there's no four-wheel drive to add weight and understeer. And with the compact packaging, Toyota has managed to build a sportscar with ideal dimensions and minimal overhangs — look how far the wheels are tucked into the ends. So it's shorter and lower than the last Celica — coincidentally also one of the last decent sporty cars Toyota built — but crucially it's also wider with a slightly shorter wheelbase. Translation? Awesome dynamics…
Toyota says the FR-S will represent the company's true sportscar genes, as it's most inspired by the AE86 generation of the Corolla, better known as the Hachi-Roku, meaning ‘8-6' in Japanese. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive coupé was the last of its affordable breed, being lightweight and well balanced and quickly becoming an icon for driving enthusiasts. The layout of the 2.0-litre engine in the FR-S allows it to be placed low and far back for a low centre of gravity, almost fulfilling some front-mid-engined criteria.
The good news just keeps on coming; the FR-S uses no force-feeding of any kind, allowing the flat-four free-breathing unit to rev high, and becoming the first boxer engine to use Toyota's new D4-S injection system; it's like direct and port injection in one, meaning more power and more economy.
And if you can't work your own gears, well, shame on you, but Toyota is including a six-speed automatic option anyway. The manual is of the short-shift kind, while the auto gets obligatory steering wheel paddles, and this being a proper rear-wheel drive drift machine, there is of course a standard limited-slip differential.
As for the awesome bodywork, Toyota's found inspiration outside of the AE86 too, including hints of the 2000GT — that was a Bond car, you know — and Lexus LFA. But there are clearly bits of a Maserati Gran Turismo up front, and Nissan 370Z in the window line, which is a good thing.
The concept's wheels are 20in centre locks, probably unlikely to make it to production but we're holding our thumbs. They're staggered too, being 8.5in wide up front and a portly 10.5in wide at the rear, suggesting we're in for well over 200bhp for this one.
Akio Toyoda, the president, has mentioned before how badly he wants to bring back the fun-to-drive spirit to Toyota. And what Toyoda wants, Toyoda gets. Except for the F1 thing, of course... OK, no, no, no. Positive thoughts, positive thoughts people…