The Truth About Cars » 86 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 86 Initial D Manga Ceases Publication With “Final Stage” Tue, 06 Aug 2013 11:30:17 +0000 D

Kodansha has released the final installment of the popular action comic Initial D in its August 6th edition of “Young Magazine” which hit store shelves at the end of July. For those of us in the United States who have followed Takumi Fujiwara’s story through the anime series via Netflix or Hulu, it matters little as we have not seen any new material in some time, but for readers of the comic, this marks the end of an epic 18 year run. Whether or not you are a fan, this is a series that has had a huge impact on car culture all over the world and so its passing is worthy of note.

If you have somehow managed to remain blissfully unaware of the world of Japanese comics, known as manga, some explanation is probably required. The first thing you need to know is that, unlike American comic books which are sold as individual books usually a just few dozen pages long, Japanese manga are huge blocks of recycled paper that appear to have more in common than a telephone book than they do a comic book. The pages are generally made of a grey newsprint that feels coarse under your fingers and the art, most of which is done in simple black and white, is easily smudged. Each publication has dozens of competing titles running in any given issue and only the most popular manage to work their way onto the cover or even into the foremost pages where they might, on occasion, be rewarded with a third color, red. Like the old fashioned American pulp fiction magazines of the 1930s and 40s, manga are mass marketed items that are cheap, quick to read and easily disposed of.


The Japanese marketplace is jam packed with manga and virtually every convenience store, train station kiosk and book seller has dozens of fresh titles on display each week. Their titles are almost always printed in bold fonts and garish colors to attract the eye and their covers are filled with risqué images intended to tempt young men into laying down their hard earned Yen. Although it is a little slicker than some of the competition, Kodansha’s “Young Magazine” is no different than the norm, really, perhaps a little thinner than most but offering a few more full color pages up front, pages on slick paper that usually feature photos of young “idols” with vulnerable expressions wearing skimpy swimsuits and showing surprising amounts of cleavage. Following these pages, in the back of the book, stories about sports, gangsters or the romantic entanglements of teens give the readers something only a touch more cerebral when they have exhausted the possibilities of those earlier pages. As I am not really a fan of Japanese manga anymore, and have never been a regular reader of this particular comic anyhow, it is hard for me to judge the quality or popularity of any of the series currently on offer; most seem unremarkable, but it is from these humble origins that Initial D arose, just one story in an already saturated marketplace.

That the series became a runaway hit and eventually an international phenomenon says something about the attention to detail involved in its creation. I say “creation” because unlike American comics, Japanese manga is not the sole work of one artist, but is instead the product of many combined talents. There is always the creator, the one who sits down and conceives the idea, determines the story line, exerts artistic control and manages the effort, but behind him or her are the artists, each a specialized part of the team, draftsmen to draw the buildings in the background, technical artists to ensure the accurate representation of the various vehicles in play, character artists to bring life to the people, letterers, inkers, shaders and probably dozens of other artists I have no idea about. The success or failure of the product ultimately depends upon each of these people, and it is safe to say that the artists involved with Initial D are all top notch.


To those of us who are auto enthusiasts, what makes Initial D special is the fact that the technical artists have got the cars right. We can look at a single panel and tell exactly the kinds of cars that are pitted against one another as they battle their way up or down a mountain road. Our eyes are drawn to the details and the way the cars are depicted in Initial D is usually spot-on as well, the suspension on one wheel squatting as the car’s weight shifts in a hard turn or the sweep of a tachometer frozen in time at the edge of a panel as we look over the driver’s shoulder and out through the windshield at the road rushing towards us. But Initial D is deeper than just that, it features characters that are more-or-less believable, guys who want to be heroes but who struggle with their own limitations, young men who suffer life’s trials both on and off the road. Moreover, the situations depicted are familiar to many of the kids who actually read the book, the reality of dead end jobs, life with drunken, abusive fathers, a girlfriend who has an “arrangement” with an older guy on the side, and all of the generally stupid, reckless things that guys will do in the pursuit of excitement. It is an unflinching look into a working class Japanese world that despite its harshness remains filled with an odd, forlorn sort of glory; something that few of us in the West ever get the chance to see.

Now, it has ended. To be certain there are plans for another movie and still another anime series to bring everything to a close, but the ending of the manga means the end of original creative work taking place with the characters. Looking back, I can see that Initial D was a product of its time. That special time in the mid 1990s when the great Japanese cars of the late 80s/early 90s were just beginning to outlive their usefulness to their original owners and were hitting the used market in ever increasing numbers. A time when the youth of Japan were really beginning to absorb the fact that no matter how well educated or hardworking they were that, thanks to the economic crash at the beginning of the decade, they would likely never be as successful or as wealthy as their parents. It spoke to those kids, drove countless numbers of them into the car hobby and gave them hope. Although it continues to draw new fans, I wonder if the reason that Initial D is ending has anything to do with the fact that so many of us who were young when it made its debut have now outgrown it. Still, it will always be a part of our youth and it’s fitting, I think, that it ends in the 8/6 edition. Its been a hell of a ride.


Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]> 24
Review From The Backseat: 2013 Toyota 86 GT Limited (aka GT86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ), JDM Spec, In Japan Mon, 03 Dec 2012 14:00:41 +0000

No car in recent history must have been so relentlessly covered at TTAC as the Toyota 86 and its dizzying assemblage of names and numbers. I don’t think there is an editor at TTAC who hasn’t reviewed the car at least three times. All except me. I only reviewed it twice. Something had to be done …

Dear reader, be warned: This review of a sports car with a multiple persona syndrome concentrates mostly on seating arrangements and extraneous observations in the field of bears, bodies, far-eastern religions, man-machine romance, and sex. You may miss some of the driving impressions commonly supplied. If you are interested in those, they are provided hereand hereand here. And especially here. You are welcome. Some of the more than 30 pictures may gross you out.

My inspiration: Diorama of hachi-roku at Japanese mountain pass

Originally, I had planned a hachi-roku review to end all hachi-roku reviews. The plan was to go back to the car’s birthplace, to Japan. Whip the hachi-roku around narrow, windy roads in Japan’s mountains, the car covered in mud and sweat just like Toyota had shown us on Hachi-Roku Thursday at Makuhari Messe. Then, contrast the machine’s raw power with the serene beauty of the golden-leafy Indian Summer, or whatever they call that in Japan. Fill a following Alphard with skinny lovelies screaming “sugoi desu neeee”, and take steamy NFSW photos in an outdoor onsen hot spring bath. Everything lit by a Mt. Fuji sunset. Something like that.

Then, Michael Karesh did beat me to the idea. He took the Scion FR-S to the Monongahela National Forest, during Native American Summer time. His choice of venue (the wrong side of the tracks in Roadkill, WV) was not at all as classy as my idea, but Michael was first. Damn.

But there is one format that cannot be taken away from me, and that is Bertel’s signature road-test, the Review From The Backseat. Yes, the back seat.

When I explained my new plan to my driver Martin, his first reaction was “Rücksitzbank? Ja bist du denn bescheuert?” Which meant that he was questioning my sanity. See, when Martin does not drive me around, he moonlights as Martin Koelling, Tokyo correspondent of Germany’s Handelsblatt. He writes and thinks in German. With Umlauts. Actually, his real name is Kölling.

Granted, the hachi-roku would not be a top-of-the-mind candidate for a regular From The Backseat review. The 2013 Lexus GS 350 we tested together BEGGED for being reviewed from the comfort of the rear. Even the well-appointed kei-car, the Honda NBOX, provided a pleasant back seat experience. But the back seat in a hachi-roku? Who wants to go there? Only the carpet-covered luggage shelf in the Porsche Carrera RS must have been more austere than the hachi-roku’s second row. “Dein Problem, nicht mein Problem” (your problem, not mine) said Martin with a raised eyebrow and a down-the-nose look at my 5 ft 11 and slightly debu-debu (that’s Japanese for “fat”) body. “Let’s go and get the car!”

Martin (he is persuasive and multilingual, ladies like that) had talked Toyota HQ out of a Toyota 86 GT Limited Edition. Don’t worry if you have never heard the name. At home in Japan, the little sports car is simply and zen-like called “86”.  In the rest of the world, the car changes its name more often than Richard Kimble did. In North America, it is a Scion FR-S. In Europe, it goes by Toyota GT86. I may have missed some.

Then, there is its Doppelgänger at Subaru, the company that actually produces the car, and which calls theirs – don’t say it with your mouth full – the BRZ. No wonder they wear those facemasks. At TTAC, we early on called the car “hachi-roku” (Japanese for 86), and the name stuck.

When Martin said, “Let’s go and get the car”, he meant it. We walked. If this would be America, a provocatively dressed lady with my name on an iPad would meet me at the airport, or in the lobby of a (“just sign the bill”) 5star, with my steed-for-the-day idling outside in a don’t-you-ever-park-here zone, and a guy would ask: “Any bags?” But this is Japan. In Tokyo, we go to Kudanshita station. There, not far from the Emperor’s Palace, Toyota dispenses its cars to properly credentialed members of the fourth estate.

The GT Limited is the top trim level in Japan. The “GT” buys you 17 inch wheels, a few aero doo-dads, and assorted useful gear such as aluminum pedals, more gauges, and a dual exhaust pipe. “Limited” adds heated Alcantara leather seats that were most likely hand stitched by certified Japanese virgins. If you’d buy this car in Japan, it would set you back some 3 million yen, or $36,000. Don’t do it, it will be cheaper in America, and it will have the steering wheel om the right left side. For full specs, go here.

Even if you never heard of the 86 GT Limited, you may have seen our car a few times in finer international publications. There is an orange and a black hachi-roku in Toyota’s Tokyo test fleet. Today, we have the black one. Before the car is handed over, it is carefully inspected by an attendant.

After the attendant marks the end of the inspection on his clipboard, the attendant’s boss inspects the inspection.

You may think this exercise is meant to assure that the reviewer receives a pristine car, but you will be disappointed. It is to document any nicks or scuffs present before the car is handed over. Any additional nicks or scuffs would go on our account, and they probably mean that quite literally. In our inspection process, the boss notes a tiny dent the size of an eraser tip in the roof, probably caused by a wayward acorn. The dentlet is documented in triplicate, and the car is ours with the understanding that there would be hell to pay if we return the car with more than one acorn-sized dent in the roof. It is unthinkable to return it covered in mud and rocks as in that picture we saw. Oh, by the way, the car must be returned washed and with a full tank. Hai, wakarimashita!

Dozo. Driver Martin opens the door for me. Note that he opens the left hand door of the right hand drive car. We are in Japan, in case you missed it. (Don’t worry, I miss it all the time. Even after years in Japan, my windshield wipers engage when I want to make a left turn…)

I see that a smirking Martin has the back of the passenger seat flipped forward. I eye the rear seat for a second, decide to break protocol, and to ride shotgun until we are somewhere with a little more privacy.

Getting into the front seat is challenging enough. This definitely is a car for young people with sexy bodies. Or for Japanese who love sitting on the floor. This is Yoga on wheels. Speaking of sex, once you are in the seat, it feels good. Turned on, it would even feel hot. Being among boys, we don’t test the heated seat feature.

I pull my legs inside, and we go.

“The suspension is tight,” says driver Martin as we thread our way out of Tokyo and into the hills. ”The suspension feels more European than Japanese. You feel the road, but bumps won’t kill you.”

We head towards Nikko, a mountain town north of Tokyo, famous for its Three Wise Monkeys (hear, speak, see no evil). That meme thrived for hundreds or years. Recently, it was killed by bloggers.

Wikipedia calls Nikko a “popular tourist destination” in Japan, and they aren’t kidding us today. We and what looks like half of Tokyo have the same idea: “Honey, how does afternoon tea in Nikko sound?”

The hachi-roku hates being in traffic jams, especially going uphill behind unending rows of Prii. That car likes to be revved.

Boxed-in by Prii destined for Lake Chuzenji or bust, we stab fingers into the on-board navigation system. Those guys kvetching about complicated systems are pansies – they should try one in Japanese! A road sign with “122” on it offers relief. We hang a hidari (left) on a really small and really winding road. The mood of both hachi-roku and Martin brightens instantly.

“This car seems to be happiest above 5000 rpm,” declares Martin as he (rrrrrrrm, brrmmmmm) downshifts into 4th. The manual has 6 gears, and Martin happily stirs the shifter as if there would be whipped cream for desert.

Martin has a crush on the clutch:

“The clutch is not as brutally hard as on some, shifting is pleasant.” It must be. He shifts a lot.

Skirting a few kei cars, we head into the hills. Martin shows off that he had done prior research:

“The low center of gravity really comes to life when going through the turns,” Martin announces to the tune of squealing tires singing “threshold range” in squeaky Japanese voices. “The seats hold you nicely in place. Look, no sliding.” Easy for him to say. He can hold on to wheel and stick, I must hold on for dear life.

Even in nasty hairpins, the car runs like on the proverbial rails. “Good hachi-roku” I say and pat its center console. The hachi-roku purrs back. Now I understand what Akio Toyoda meant when he said that he likes talking to cars while he drives them. The hachi-roku definitely is a car to have intimate conversations with. Other cars? Send a memo.

Going into a short piece of straightaway, Martin shifts down to make those little boxer pistons go crazy, and he is on his favorite topic:

“This car doesn’t have the brutal acceleration as some other sports cars, but it is fun to drive.“ One day I must ask him which car gave him nightmares.

A few twists and turns later, Martin finds the switch that cuts off the Electronic Stability Control. The tires greet this discovery with a rousing hymn. I should have brought Valium.

The road is getting narrower, the curves twistier, the ledges steeper, my breaths shorter. Fallen rocks on the road remind me of the man near Kudanshita station, his clipboard, and the dentlet. I declare a technical stop. The clean mountain air tastes of pines, sage and the sweet aroma of clutch lining. I pull myself together, and we are on the road again.

It is getting really remote now. But even in the remotest parts of Japan, someone looks out for your welfare: Signs by the road warn that bears may not be as friendly as they look. And they are not just any bears. They are “Crescent Moon Bears,” black with a white bib, ready to have us for dinner. With chopsticks. Oishii.

All by ourselves with a hachi-roku and bewildered bears, it is time to prepare body and spirit for the big Why We Are Here. We are here to test the hachi-roku from where no one has gone before, from the back seat. When Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of the hachi-roku, showed me the car last year, he quipped that the rear seats are “great for taking spare tires to the race track.” Sure, two of them, max. The hachi-roku is perfect for racing, and for a young couple in love: No back-seated parents or in-laws will ever disturb the romance.

After these meditative thoughts, I still don’t feel prepared to hit the rack in the rear. So we stop by the wayside to ask for divine inspiration at the Shinto shrine of Sarutahiko Okami. During Martin’s driving, I often felt like praying anyway. Driving a hachi-roku is regularly likened to a spiritual experience, and hachi-roku otaku can be driven by religious fervor. So, let’s talk roadside religion in Japan.

What, ladies and gentlemen, can be wrong with a religion where the world was saved from eternal darkness and probable damnation – by a stripper? Not a stripper car, an exotic dancer. A religion where the stripper then gets married to a top dog god, and instead of “you can take the girl out of a bar, but you can’t take the bar out of a girl”, the two become pillars of the community of Japanese gods, and are revered in more than 2,000 shrines, such as this one, all over Japan? Try a stripper in another religion and see where that gets you. This is a religion that is even more efficient that the Toyota Way: I throw 100 yen in the box, ring the bell to get the deity’s attention, I clap my hands in case he overheard coin and bell, and I am done. Not even a hint of muda. Faster than a hachi-roku can go from zero to sixty, I receive the spiritual equivalent of a 90 minute High Mass of my Catholic youth. This is the pagan religion your padre warned you about, and now you know why.

Having received the proper divine inspiration, I am ready for anything, even if this means the back seat of the hachi-roku.

Gong. Fail. Klaxon.

My attack on the back seat is repulsed before it even gets going. It’s not the car’s fault. It’s mine. Whoever fed me in the past did not consider that there would be a low slung sports car in my future, designed by skinny engineers who live on a diet of raw fish and wasabi. The hachi-roku is not for fat people, at least not in the second row. In the front, I sat (once I sat) comfortably with my,  Frau Schmitto-san’s energetic attempts on my paunch notwithstanding, still overweight 5 ft 11 frame. In the back? Forgetaboutit.

While I try to free myself, Martin stands outside and pontificates:

 “For the driver, his car is great. However, one must be quick on ones feet to help the passenger from the car. This is a very low slung car. As a driver, you have to run quickly around the car, open the door, pull your passenger by the arm, and pull the poor person from the car.”

And then he does it. He grabs me, and pulls me out. By the legs. This is no car for backseat drivers.

There still is a little bit left of that divine inspiration, and I recall from last year’s hachi-roku indoctrination that the rear seatback can be flipped forward, opening a cavernous space “with enough room for all four tires when going to the racetrack” as Tada-san had said with a smile.

That is much better.

In a pinch, that car sleeps two (if you are really in love) in the comforts of a capsule hotel.

It’s downhill from here.

“This car really grows on you. It is getting more fun once you get the hang of it,” Martin says over his shoulder as I loll and laze in hachi-roku’s rear. The position is also good on the nerves: I can’t see outside.

Martin, having more space up front, gets effusive:

“I like it. It’s nice in the turns, feels quite sporting, especially on side roads, and it won’t kill you financially, because the cost of gas remains within civil bounds.”

We drive by abandoned (or still working?) copper mines, and finally hit civilization, represented by the remains of a white convertible that would look grossly out-of-place anywhere in Japan, and certainly does up here in the mountains.

I wonder how it got here. Did a G.I. and a car full of screaming Tokyo Roses, “Leader of the Pack” blaring from the eight-track, find their watchout, watchout death in a turn taken too drunk and too fast? Or are we looking at the traces of an abortive attempt on bringing the Hard Rock Cafe to Azumachōgōdo, Midori-shi, Gunma-ken 376-0304, Japan?

(Murilee Martin tells me later that “it looks like a 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible that was once a lowrider project. There’s a big lowrider scene in Japan. The ’64 Impala is the ultimate lowrider, but this one is close. This is sort of like finding an old Skyline GT on blocks in the US.”

Last I heard, Murilee was on a flight to Tokyo. He just called me and asked whether he can borrow my wrench, they took his at the airport.)

At a rustic restaurant, we eat soba noodles, cold, as they should be eaten, and tempura, cold, as it really should not be eaten at all. As the only restaurant within a 30 mile radius, I guess you make the rules.

“When backing up, the view is a little limited. But the camera helps,” says Martin while we exit the parking lot. It’s good to have the top level trim.

Finally! REAL civilization! Our first roadside convenience store for 100 miles! We load up on strange drinks in small bottles, and chips with fish taste, and my favorite: Tiny fishes, dried in a bag. Oishii!

While we are at it, we take the opportunity of debunking two myths, namely that all Japanese cars are white, and that large cars don’t fit on Japanese roads.

After the sun sets, we meet again with our old buddies from in the morning: Half of Tokyo is done with Indian Summer (or whatever they call it in Japan), is calling it a day and is driving crawling back to town. The hachi-roku that had entertained us all day with raunchy revs and twittering tires suddenly becomes very quiet.

Martin also becomes introspective. I think he is in love. Me, too. Will this be a problem?

Be sure to tune in for the next episode of – Review from the Backseat!

Epilogue: In the morning after, a glistening hachi-roku was returned to its (well…) maker. The car had been washed, it had a full tank of gas. Before we gave it back. The car was checked whether there were any new blemishes in addition to the acorn-sized dentlet. None were found, we were good to go. Later, I asked a Toyota executive what would happen in the – strictly hypothetical, of course – case of us, god forbid, seriously damaging the car. His answer: “That would be most unfortunate and sad for all involved, and we want to avoid this.”

Disclaimer: Toyota provided the car. Martin Koelling paid for gas and car-wash. 

Bertel paid for cold noodles, cold tempura and sundry junk food.

Hear speak see no evil - Picture courtesy Wikipedia 1Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 2 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 3 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 4 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 5 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 6 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 7 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 8 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 12 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 13 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 14 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 15 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt `16 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 17 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 18 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 19 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 20 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 21 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 22 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 24 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 25 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 26 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 27 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 30 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 31 Toyota 86 GT - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 32 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 33 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 34 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 35 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 36 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 37 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 38 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt 39 Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Picture courtesy Google -




]]> 30
Off-Track Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:00:02 +0000  

[Editor's note: TTAC does not review cars, TTAC reviewers do. The reviews can be as different as the reviewers are, and they voice their opinions independently. Due to the high interest the FR-S has received, we put a whole squad of TTAC reviewers into the car, and we are not done yet.]

Alex’s initial look at the pre-production Scion FR-S had a few feathers getting ruffled in the comments section. Then came Derek’s discussion of the hype surrounding the car and his own disappointing drive, and even more feathers were bent askew. Now Jack’s had a go at dissecting the FR-S on the track (his natural environment, if not the car’s), and it’s basically been like firing chickens into a snow-blower.

So, while the little Toyobaru sits in the middle of crossfire of angry verbiage that is like, so totally not what usually happens around here, I’ll belly up to the bar. We’ve had the launch event, we’ve had the track comparo; I had the FR-S for a week to evaluate it as a daily-driver, and one thing right off the bat:

“Make no mistake; it’s a good car.” -Derek Kreindler
“First things first: your humble author kind of loves the FR-S.” -Jack Baruth

Unlike my colleagues, I’d like to avoid the mistake of simply stating that I like the car in the midst of a discussion of its foibles and short-comings. This erroneous method seems to have resulted in much furor including accusations that TTAC is anti-FR-S – we’re not.

Instead, I place my overall conclusion right at the beginning, in 72-point font so you can’t possibly miss it. This is a good car, and I liked it…


Initial Thoughts:
Five minutes or fifty feet: that’s all it takes to fall head-over-heels for the MX-5. I loved Mazda’s little red roadster so much I went straight to craigslist and starting hunting for used ones, temporarily forgetting that shopping for drop-tops shouldn’t be a priority when your wife is 38 weeks pregnant. Oops.

Not so with the FR-S. Those of you who’ve been able to snag a test-drive or a spin in a friend’s new purchase and walked away feeling fairly disappointed: you aren’t alone. My first reaction upon winding out the 2.0L boxer was, to paraphrase Katie Holmes on her wedding night, “Is that all?”

The double torque peak – and in-between crater – makes the FR-S a bit weird to drive in stop-and go. It’s got decent off the line punch, but then you’re revving through a wasteland with little to encourage you forward. Things pick up a bit towards redline, but the 6-7/10ths mid-range (where the MX-5 is such a joy) is lacking something.

What’s more, I couldn’t really fall for the engine note either. It was loud and somewhat tasteless, like – oh, to pick an example at random: this. Frankly, the whole first five minutes was a bit of a let-down. But I persevered.

Inner Space:
Things that do work well? The seats are fantastic. The interior is extremely cheap, but it’s also spartan and uncluttered: no buttons on the steering wheel to accidentally change radio-stations during an apex.

The sizing feels right, not quite as little-car chuckable as the roly-poly MX-5, but low and light, like an early Integra or 240SX. What’s more, if you don’t fit in a MX-5, you’ll likely fit in this car – it’s spacious enough, and the roof has bulges high enough to accommodate a helmet.

Forward visibility is pretty good, beltlines are low, and rear visibility can be perfectly ok if you set your mirrors correctly and trust in the shortness of your car. And then there are those kid-size back-seats: perfect for me you’d think, with a little hellion on the way.

Family Values:
Not even close. First, hoisting a pregnant lady in and out of the passenger’s seat isn’t winning you any purchasing points. Second, rear-facing child seats are all the size of Volkswagen Beetles these days: cramming one behind the passenger’s seat is going to require storing your spouse in the glovebox. Booster seats will be ok, but this is not necessarily an ideal young-family second car in the early stages of child-rearing.

Tofu Delivery Rating:
As a grocery-getter, the FR-S does fine. It’s got a trunk, not a hatchback for chassis-stiffness reasons, and at just seven cubic feet, you’d better be good at Tetris. For larger objects, the seats do fold down; obviously the marketing department is touting its effectiveness at loading up a set of race tires and rims for the track.

Unfortunately, there’s a height issue. Taking back the empties on a Thursday left me with puzzle I never had to face with my WRX: I couldn’t get the truck closed. Some careful rearranging did the trick, but there’s certainly a limit to the FR-S’s trunk capacity: nowhere near a huge practical advantage over the Miata.

Sorry, I mean “MX-5”. I know that’s currently the correct nomenclature for Mazda’s little roadster as the scripted “Miata” was seen as too girly. Here’s an advantage for the FR-S then: in the public view, it’s a dorifto-machine, not some limp-wristed mincing-mobile.

Admittedly, the Miata minces through the corners just fine, and I couldn’t care less about its supposed “girl’s-car” image anyway. But then there are those who worry about that sort of thing, so perhaps the imagined stigma was always too much for you.

Flip-side to this is the V6 Mustang: currently the automotive catch-all du jour. “Why not a V6 Mustang?” Why not indeed?

Here are two reasons: it’s a Mustang, and it’s a V6. Ford’s Pony car won’t work for everyone, and as good as the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter V6 is, it’s still seen as the lite option. Someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V8 version just as, if you go for the FR-S, someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V6 Mustang.

Either way, Saturday night found me at Canadian Tire, purchasing a cordless weed-eater for my tiny suburban lawn. The parking lot is fairly open in the evenings, and an impromptu car show had popped up: Oldsmobile 442s, some Mopar Iron, a Volvo 122s – a very mixed bag.

Just a bunch of guys shooting the breeze over their definitely-non-concourse machines. I strolled through briefly, admiring, listening and nodding, and found myself in a bit of a mood to go for a drive.

I took the long way home, after fiddling with the FR-S’s traction control system (engage sport mode, then hold down the traction control button for a further 2-3 seconds). The car was the same as it ever was. I pushed harder. It got better.

Here, finally, caning the FR-S along the curve, things started to click. It’s not the sportscar second coming of Christ, but it sure works when you thrash the bejesus out of it.

Finding Greatness:
Part of the deal with the old AE-86 is that everyone forgets what a piece of junk that car is, although good fun to flog. Modify it though, and things start getting interesting.

At the last track day I did, an FR-S owner on Dunlop Star Specs was fairly easily keeping up with more powerful machinery. How? He also had a brake upgrade swapped out of an STI. Looked like fun. Did it look like more fun than the NC MX-5 which showed up with Hoosiers stacked on a mini trailer? Uh…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Oh yeah, and there’s this. Want the power the manufacturer isn’t providing off the bat? No problemo. This turbo kit puts out a nice smooth power curve and still uses stock injectors. No need to overnight parts from Japan either – these guys are in Ohio.

Buying a first-year car is always a bit of a crap-shoot. Even the Miata buggered it up with early crank-nose issues. From leaky tail-lights to idle speed problems to erroneous panel-gap fitment, the FR-S has had what can be charitably called teething issues. Here’s a list.

Even still, would I recommend this car? Let’s see: it’s not a better drive than the Miata, but work at it and you’ll find the reward; there’s bound to be aftermarket support to correct most of the issues (the clutch uptake is horrible, but the community’s already all over that one); there’s enough space to just pip the practicality meter. Add this to the fairly reasonable fuel-consumption – though premium is required – and sure, it’s worth a good hard look.

But so’s the ‘Stang, and so’s the MX-5, and so’s a ‘Speed3, and so’s an Abarth, and so is the surprisingly good Genesis coupe. No two ways about it: we’re living in a golden age for cheap motoring. The FR-S is a good choice, but it’s not a no-brainer. None of them are.

Scion Canada provided the car tested and insurance.

]]> 122
NSFW: Stark Naked Pictures Of Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ, Scion FRS, Hachi-Roku Wed, 23 May 2012 11:56:07 +0000

It is a little bit like showing breasts at a plastic surgeon congress: At the annual meeting of the JSAE, the Japanese version of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Subaru totally disrobed its BRZ and shows it to a strictly professional audience.

According to a quick image search on Google, this would be the first time that the drive train of the Hachi-Roku has been shown without disturbing sheet metal.

The professional audience was impressed. Back home at the office, the engineers work on electric motors, or hybrid drives, so seeing a boxer engine was a bit like vintage porn, professional meeting or not.

The 2012 JSAE Annual Congress began today at the Pacifico in Yokohama. It lasts through Friday, May 25. If you hop on a plane now, then you will be able to brag that you saw a naked  Hachi-Roku in the flesh.

(Want a screen saver with belts and pulleys? There are high resolution versions of the pictures in the gallery.)

Naked Hachi Roku JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku HIGHRES JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku HIGHRES JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku HIGHRES JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Naked Hachi Roku HIGHRES JSAE Congress Yokohama. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt ]]> 24
Drifter-san Wed, 08 Feb 2012 04:50:54 +0000

As the man said: “Finally, we can exercise our capabilities in earnest.”

]]> 12
Scion FR-S: How To Say “Hachi-Roku” In American Thu, 01 Dec 2011 18:13:34 +0000

TTAC has long been bearish on the Scion brand, and in a lot of ways, Toyota’s global tri-branding strategy with its new “86″ sportscar (Toyota, Subaru and Scion versions are being sold) highlights how Toyota has lost its branding focus. On the other hand, the FR-S, Scion’s version of the 86, is by far the most compelling product that brand has offered… well, possibly ever (OK, since the Mk1 xB). If I were king of Toyota, I’d probably still kill off Scion and sell the 86 as a Celica in the US… after all, how much sense does it make to have two sporty coupes at Scion and none for the Toyota brand? But if Scion follows the FR-S up with a new truly compact pickup co-developed with Daihatsu, as has been rumored, I’d be willing to concede that Scion has a place in the market. After all, truly unique, funky vehicles justified Scion’s existence in the first place, before a watered-down second generation of products killed that positioning (and Scion’s sales). With the FR-S, Scion seems to be heading back towards focused and freaky niche confections… let’s hope it continues to return to those roots.
scionfrs001 scionfrs002 scionfrs003 scionfrs004 scionfrs005 scionfrs006 scionfrs007 scionfrs009 scionfrs010 scionfrs012 scionfrs015 scionfrs016 scionfrs017

]]> 60
Hachiroku Madness: Only 1000 (FT)86, All Hand Made? Tue, 29 Nov 2011 11:10:05 +0000

Tomorrow, the Tokyo Motor Show will open its doors at the Big Sight to the press. Pre-show madness is running in high gear. Every Japanese carmaker tries to outdo the other with pre-releases and hints. Sometimes, they go wrong. Especially, when there are gullible counterparts. On Sunday, the (FT)86 fans at the enthusiast site received shocking news from their special correspondent Leeky who was dispatched to the unveiling at the Fuji Speedway.

“The car will be limited to 1000 units per year only.
Each car I  can confirm will be hand made.”

This tidbit created outrage amongst the Hachiroku (86) fans. Many doubted the number and the production methods, but Leeky stuck to his guns:

“As I said, I am here as a guest of Toyota Japan with the head of advertising. These are the details that they have given me through all the questions I have been throwing at them. Hand made did indeed throw me for a second, so I asked again “Hand made!?”….”Yes, each one””

If Toyota Advertising really is so badly informed as Mr. Leeky alleges, no wonder that Tetsuya Tada, Chief Engineer of the (FT)86 a.k.a. Hachiroku had issues with his advertising department. In our sitdown interview on Sunday, Tada had remarked:

“When we first presented this idea to our advertising people, they were drastically opposed to this idea. They complained that the car doesn’t have a particularly fast time on the circuit, it does not use any new technology. They also could not think of a catchy headline for the catalogue.”

Also during the  Sunday sitdown, Tada steadfastly refused to set any production or sales targets. When asked, he admitted that he has no idea of how many will sell:

“We usually do thorough market research and produce them accordingly. This is not the approach we are taking here. But I do believe that this car will be doing well.”

Not a word about 1,000 units / year limit. Not a word about handmade. Production is outsourced to Subaru which in turn outsourced its complete kei-car production to Toyota’s Daihatsu. It would have been a raw deal for Subaru if only 1,000 Hachiroku are made by hand, while some 80,000 Subaru minivehicles are made by Daihatsu.

By now, there are 19 pages of comments at, all focused on the shocking 1,000 handmade Hachiroku per year “FACT.”

To put the fans at ease, I called Keisuke Kirimoto, official spokesman of Toyota Motor Corporation.  I asked him whether I had nodded off during the interview when those 1,000 handmade Hachiroku were announced. Kirimoto answered:


I told him that there are people who are under the impression that only 1,000 will be made per year. Kirimoto’s answer:

“Gee, I hope we will be selling more than that.”

Handmade? Please. The car will be made on a fully automated line at Subaru. Sure, that line is more suited for a “niche car” than the high volume lines at Toyota, Tada said, but nothing about handmade. This is an “affordably priced” car, and for that, you need more than artisians at a coachbuilder.

Shifting into official spokesperson mode, Keisuke Kirimoto officially confirmed that there are no production limits, and that they will sell as many as possible. In any case:

“Production plans and pricing will be released at a later date.”

Kirimoto asked me and the Hachiroku fanbase to keep in mind that what we saw on Sunday and what will be on display at the Tokyo Motor Show is a “pre-production prototype”, and that the final car will be  shown at its official market launch some time next year, along with pricing and possibly production targets.

]]> 27
Finally: TTAC Gets Its Hands On The FT86. And Its Chief Engineer Sun, 27 Nov 2011 18:17:06 +0000

Today was the day Toyota’s FT86 was officially revealed. Actually, it will be officially revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show, which will open its doors to the public on December 3. Today, the international media had a sneak preview of the car. Us, and maybe 20,000 people who lined the galleries of the Fuji Raceway where Toyota and Gazoo Racing held its TGRF (Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival).  The masses could witness from afar as Akio Toyoda climbed out of an orange sports car, removed his helmet and waved at the adoring crowds.

The press corps had a chance to drive the car. That opportunity that was immediately turned into hoonery by a rough and tumble contingent from Australia. One of them drove the car with so much enthusiasm that it spun out , did a few twirls and had a near-miss with an Australian cohort. We immediately had proof that the car provided only the barest necessities in computer control, and that one has to know how to drive, unless a rendition of Swan Lake is desired.

Before we get to that, the essentials. The name of the car had been the target of endless speculation. Until yesterday evening, Toyota steadfastly referred to the car as nothing else than a “compact real-wheel-drive sports car.”

Some at TTAC had recommended that the car should get a Japanese name. Toyota listens to its customers and complied.

The car will be called “Hachiroku.”

This is Japanese and means 86.

Yes, Toyota simply dropped the “FT”. It also wants to carry on the spirit of the AE86 of lore.

For me, the most interesting part of today was to sit in a quiet room with Tetsuya Tada, and a handpicked group of journalists. (The man on the right is Hans Greimel of Automotive News.) We could listen to Tada’s comments about the car. We had talked before, in August, but this time, the Chief Engineer of the 86 could be less circumspect and was able to talk openly. He sure did. For starters, I learn that Toyota’s test drivers had given him a very hard time:

“Mr. Toyoda almost continuously participated in the development of this car. Not as President, but as a test driver. Usually, when they say that the president of a company is test driving a prototype car, then it is mostly ceremonial. Mr. Toyoda’s participation was not simply ceremonial. He was a serious test driver and had some pretty tough comments. In some phases of the development. he said: “If that is the best you can do, why not quit now.” One by one, we overcame these problems.

In the grand scheme of things, Akio Toyoda had been polite. Stronger words came from Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s chief test driver who found an untimely death by crashing his LFA into a BMW 3series on a rural highway close to the Nürburgring. Tada remembers:

“When Naruse-san was still alive, he participated in the tests many time and gave us some quite harsh comments, like: ‘This is a miserable car. You are doing very poorly.’

We tested this car at the Nürburgring. Naruse-san died very close to the Nürburgring, and each time we testdrove the car later, we made sure to pass by the memorial of Naruse-san. We tried to keep Naruse-san’s spirit  alive.”

One by one, the challenges thrown up by the test drivers were met. But there were other people, Tada had to contend with.

“We visited with car enthusiasts in Japan, America and Europe. The feedback we received was almost always the same. They said there are a lot of sports cars with high horsepower that are very fast, but these are not the sports cars that they want to have. They want small compact cars that are controllable, that they can tune themselves. However, that kind of sports car is not on the market. Therefore, these sports car enthusiasts are forced to continue to use older cars from a long time ago, because there is no new alterative on the market.”

Their requirements clashed with another group: Toyota’s board. The board wanted a car that goes faster than other cars. Tada’s colleagues at other car companies had to contend with the same problem:

“We also went to competitors and asked them: “Why do you focus on fast cars?” The response almost always was: ‘Actually, we really don’t want to develop these kinds of cars. But once we bring a plan to develop that car to our board, the first question the directors of the company would ask is: How much faster is that car compared to what the competition has? How many seconds faster around the Nürburgring? What about the acceleration? These questions always come up because numerical performance is the easiest to understand.

Now how did we get the permission from our board? The only reason was that among the directors, there was a person called Akio Toyoda, who is a car enthusiast himself.”

Tada not only had to convince a board that was fixated on numbers. He also had to do something highly risqué: Ditch the Toyota Way of developing cars:

“There is a Toyota standard for designing new cars. This standard was to a large extent ignored. Why did we do this? There are cars that are accepted by a lot of people. Practical cars that are easy to drive and that do not break easily. These are standard Toyota cars. The 86 is not a car like that. We had to change our design approach for this car. We may have to do this again for other cars.

It is impossible to develop a sports car that appeals to everybody. If you try to please everybody, the car would be half-baked for everybody, and not particularly good for anybody.  This car is not developed by a committee, or by consensus.”

And would you believe that even Toyota’s advertising department did not like the car?

“When we first presented this idea to our advertising people, they were drastically opposed to this idea. They complained that the car doesn’t have a particularly fast time on the circuit, it does not use any new technology. They also could not think of a catchy headline for the catalogue.”

Someone should have a chat with that advertising department.

The word of mouth enthusiasm for this car is so strong, maybe it doesn’t need any advertising.  Thousands of grassroots racers around the world are looking forward to a car they can tinker with.  Tada built it for them:

“To make the car customizable, we did away with computers to the highest extent possible. A lot of the cars on the market today are controlled by computers. People have the feeling that they are driven by the car instead of them driving the car. That makes for a boring experience. That is why we decided to go back to the basics of car making. With the low center of gravity, the driver now is in personal touch with the road again.”

How much will this car cost? This remains a state secret. All Toyota says is that it will be “affordably priced.” Asked what that means, Tada launches into a dangerous discourse, with his press handlers getting visibly nervous:

“30 to 40 years ago, there was an AE86, and the price of this car was 1.5 million yen. At the time, that was the starting salary was for a university graduate. We kept that in mind when we priced the car. In the meantime, there has been a rise in prices, and the starting salaries rose also.”

The starting salary of a university graduate in Japan is around 2.5 million yen. In today’s undervalued dollars, this would be around $32,000. We will have to wait until early 2012 when the car is officially released. There will be no pricing announcement at the Auto Show.

All the specs that are available can be downloaded here.

Ah, the test-drive.

I drove the same 86 the Aussie hoons pirouetted through a sharp turn. All I did was make the tires chirp. At a test drive, I like to return the car as I found it. It drove very nicely. It does not press you into the bucket seat with jet fighter g-forces. I am told it will do 230 km/h (143 mph) and will go 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 6 seconds.

Would I buy it?


Toyota 86 - 7. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 8. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 1 Toyota 86 - 2. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 3. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 4. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 5. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 - 6. Picture courtesy Toyota Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_50. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_49. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_46. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_43. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_42. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_41. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_40 Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_38. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_37. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_36. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_35. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_34. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_33. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_32. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_31. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_30. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_29. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_28. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_27. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_26. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_25. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_24. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_23. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_22. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_21. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_20. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_19. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_18. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_17. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_16. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_14. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_12. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_11. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_10. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_09. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_08 Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_07. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_06. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_05. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_04. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_03. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_02. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota 86 Lauch_Fuji Racetrack_01. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Toyota-86-thumb ]]> 195