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Dissecting Jack Hollis’ “RWD Scion” comments

On Wednesday 4 August and Thursday 5 August, San Diego, California hosted the Press Preview for the 2nd-generation Scion tC coupe. Our co-editor Flipside909 was there on Thursday, and his impressions of the new tC will be told in an upcoming Kaizen Factor story. The day before, on Wednesday, comments made by Scion vice president Jack Hollis (pictured at left) on the prospects for a rear-wheel-drive Scion generated a good deal of Internet buzz.

The first report came on Wednesday itself from Erin Riches of Edmunds Inside Line who managed to get this expansive quote from Mr. Hollis: “A rear-wheel-drive car could absolutely work. If you look at Scion’s entry into racing and drifting itself, the fun [associated with that], there’s no question that a rear-drive car would be great for Scion. It would probably have to be a car that was a little over $20,000…The marketplace still demands fun, high-performance vehicles. Scion has positioned itself perfectly in that world with tuners and accessorization, and it would be great to top that off with a rear-wheel-drive application. Whether we can pull it off or not remains to be seen, but it won’t be for lack of trying.” Further fanning the flames of speculation came Ms. Riches’ quote attributed to an unnamed Toyota official, “We’ve never said the FT-86 would be sold as a Toyota in the U.S.” Ah, so is it possible that the rumored Toyota FR-S badge for the production version of the so-called “Toyobaru coupe” will be used outside North America, with our version receiving, say, a Scion fR badge? Could be…

A more perplexing account was posted the next day by Mark Vaughn of AutoWeek. Once you get past the loopy comparisons to Horshack of Welcome Back, Kotter fame, you see Jack Hollis’ earnest passion for a rear-wheel-drive Scion. He emphatically ruled out the possibility of a convertible, hybrid or electric Scion, but expressed the fervent hope that rear-wheel-drive would one day be a part of the Scion lexicon. Hollis refused to say whether or not FT-86 would be a Scion, but then came this odd exchange between Mark Vaughn and Jack Hollis:

Vaughn: “(What about) the Toyota Avensis, which exists in other markets as an all-wheel-drive platform and was used by drifters making cars for D1 and other drifting competition?”

Hollis: “Sure. The marketplace still demands fun-to-drive vehicles. It would be great to top that off with having a rear-wheel-drive application. Whether we could pull that off remains to be seen.”

Vaughn: “How soon could such a car come out? Four, five years?

Hollis: “Honestly I have no way to answer that question because we’re still in the study phase.”

We’ll definitely take our rear-wheel drive any way we can, but the whole notion of taking the front-wheel-drive transversely-mounted engine and transaxle Toyota Avensis platform and turning it into a rear-wheel-drive car is patently absurd. Sure, if the Avensis platform were one of the now-rare longitudinally-engined front-wheel-drive platforms, they could certainly pull it off. After all, the Subaru platform and powertrain that forms the basis for FT-86 started life as a front-wheel-driver with a longitudinally-placed engine, thus making it feasible to convert to RWD-only. The old Chrysler LH large-car platform (Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision and Chrysler Concorde and LHS) is another example of a longitudinal-engine FWD platform flexible enough for RWD, and, indeed, it forms the basis of the later LX platform that underpins their current RWD large cars (Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger). Defunct British sports car maker Triumph also made a plethora of 1300, 1500, Toledo and Dolomite sedans that came in a bewildering array of longitudinal-engine FWD and RWD variants. On the other hand, to our knowledge, nobody has ever made a RWD car from a transverse-engined FWD platform.

With talk of the production FT-86 heading upmarket and, possibly, turning into something softer and plusher than originally envisioned, the Japanese rumormonger car magazines (such as Best Car and Holiday Auto) started to report accounts of a smaller, less-powerful, lighter and less-expensive little brother to FT-86. Road & Track‘s Sam Mitani was the first to bring those accounts to our shores, back in 14 June. My first reaction was to dismiss the notion of a smaller, sub-FT 86 as an absurd a notion as that of a front transverse-engined RWD car. After all, if the original FT-86 was the subject of so much back-and-forth insofar as yes, they’ll build it/no, they won’t and yes, it’s delayed/no, it’s not, why would they embark on a second similar (but smaller and cheaper) project? Yet, Mitani is specific about a 150″ length (roughly a foot shorter than the FT-86 concept) and a powertrain consiting of a 1.5-liter, 109 bhp 3SZ-VE inline-4 engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox.

Then, on 5 August comes a report from Peter Lyon for Motor Trend magazine that significantly builds upon Mitani’s information. If Peter Lyon rings a bell with you, it’s because his musings on an all-electric Lexus supercar was the basis for our recent Might Lexus produce an all-electric LFB? story. In his newer article, Lyon suggests that the basis for the “baby FT-86” would be the Daihatsu Be‣go (exported as the 2nd-generation Daihatsu Terios) and its JDM-only Toyota Rush twin. This is a small SUV available in RWD and AWD variants, powered by the aforementioned 3SZ-VE, 109 hp engine. An underpowered cute-ute (albeit a RWD one) as the basis for a sporty coupe?! To quote Lyon, “it might not sound like much, but given that curb weight is expected to be in the neighborhood of 2000 pounds, you can expect some reasonable performance.”

Championing the efficient, lightweight “doing more with less” approach was no less than the late great Toyota master test driver Hiromu Naruse, who, while strongly supporting his young engineers’ quest to develop a fun, rear-wheel drive car priced low enough for young buyers, also reminded them that “the only way to create the type of car they yearned to build was to use already existing engines, drivetrains and other key components. So the word went out not only to Toyota’s worldwide design and engineering centers, but to its suppliers as well. We must build this car using what we already have. That’s the only way to keep cost down.” In keeping with Colin Chapman’s “add lightness” mantra, Naruse-san and his engineers developed the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch Concept that received surprisingly little notice when unveiled at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. Looking outwardly like a fat-fendered version of Toyota’s lightest model, the Aygo (an A-segment FWD car that is the product of a joint venture with France’s Peugeot-Citroën), a peek at its mechanicals reveals the heart of the Be‣go/Terios/Rush. Yes, Lyon got it wrong, for the engine is longitudinally, and not transversely mounted. As the FR Hot hatch Concept page on the Gazoo Racing website puts it, “The engine is positioned as if it almost dives under the bulkhead. It is a front midship!” Its performance credentials are further reinforced by Naruse-san’s mandate that his team employ a double wishbone rear suspension and avoid a rigid rear axle.

Perhaps I was too hasty in dismissing the prospects of a sub-FT 86 after all. FT-86 is built around pricey Subaru components such as their horizontally-opposed “flat” engines that, pundits remind us, are significantly more expensive to build in comparison to inline 4-cylinder engines. Also a possible factor is Scion’s reticence in venturing above the $20,000 price range. Thus, a two-pronged 4-cylinder sports coupe strategy may well be evolving, with FT-86 becoming a more powerful, slightly “softer” and more expensive Toyota FR-S and a cheaper, less powerful but lighter Scion-badged, inline 4-powered RWD coupe becoming more of a true AE86 successor.

Photo from Toyota USA Newsroom

Published inFT86Scion


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